Monday, July 11, 2011


I don't normally do packaged tours but for my Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary trip it seemed like the perfect solution. Not only would we get to visit Glacier National Park, we would stay in wonderful historic lodges. I've been a big fan of "parkitecture," the architecture of our National Parks, since I visited the amazing Ahwahnee in Yosemite. Since then I've had lunch at the Yellowstone Lodge, enjoyed dinner at the lodge on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and watched as snowboarders went down Mt. Hood from Oregon's Timberline Lodge. But this tour allowed me the opportunity to actually stay overnight in four of the these wonderful places, something I probably would have never done had I booked the trip on my own.

Glacier National Park was established in northwestern Montana in 1910. Railroad magnate Louis W. Hill, who's Great Northern Railroad passed just below the Park's boundary, saw an opportunity to turn the Park into a destination for his passengers and he built the Glacier Park Lodge in 1913. Located on the Park's eastern boundary, the massive timbers used in the lodge were shipped by flatcar from Washington and Oregon and inspired the Blackfeet Indians to name it "Big Tree Lodge."

The view of the mountains was outstanding from our rooms, but the architecture was just as inspiring. The giant tree trunks acting as columns in the lobby are immense and the scale of the space is enormous. In the early twentieth century, visitors stepping of the train would be met by Blackfeet Indians who set up tee pees on the lawn leading up to the lodge. Today no Native Americans inhabit the lawn but the view from the train platform is sensational.

In 1914 Hill added the Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake, and over the border in Canada's Waterton National Park he constructed the Prince of Wales Hotel in 1927. The other lodge on the trip was the Lake McDonald Lodge which originated as the Lewis Glacier Hotel built before the creation of the National Park. These three all have the feel of Swiss Chalet hotels with varying degrees of rustic-ness.

After spending our inaugural evening at the Glacier Park Lodge, we headed to Prince of Wales Hotel in Alberta, Canada. Located high on a point protruding into a long glacial lake, the wind howls down the valley and buffets the hotel so that it was blown out of plumb twice during its construction. The most refined of the lodges we visited, it offered a high tea in the afternoon, and was delightful to stay in despite the constant howling of the wind.

Our next stop was Many Glacier which is the midst of a much-needed restoration. The views at each property was outstanding, but Many Glacier was the most breathtaking in my opinion. The bone-chilling winds followed us from Canada and the lobby was packed as few were brave enough to venture out into the elements during our time there. I braved the cold to glimpse an incredible sunrise and was taken enough with the place to consider another visit after the restoration is completed.

Our final stop was the Lake McDonald Lodge, competed in 1914. The lobby is home to many of the specimen's of stuffed large game from the property's days as a hunting lodge before the creation of the park. The west side of the park was much warmer, free from wind and crowded on the holiday weekend I was there. It had a very good restaurant and a cozy bar, however, and it seemed a fitting place to relax for two nights and absorb the incredible natural and man-made wonders of this great National Park.

In addition to having meals overlooking spectacular mountain views and the best rooms in the house in these historic lodges, the tour allowed us to get a more complete picture of the park as a whole, more than I would on my own. And staying at these wonderful properties renewed my desire to seek out historic places in my own state, both rustic and refined, and continue to find survivors of Old Florida in our contemporary state.

Our transportation for the week was in these brightly colored red buses known as Jammers. These restored 1936 vehicles have canvas tops that can be rolled back in good weather for incredible mountain views.