Do you want to enjoy travel lodging in the northern Rockies as it was more than 100 years back in time? You can at Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park. The Lodge was very upscale when it opened in 1914, a few years after Glacier National Park was created in 1910. In the present day, Lake McDonald Lodge still offers visitors a unique and special lodging experience.
Lake McDonald Lodge is a complete package: Guests experience a page from history in a beautiful wilderness setting, while enjoying the normal amenities of travel. The Lodge faces Lake McDonald, a story-book glacial lake. Mountains are a prominent part of the landscape near the Lodge. The Lodge, lake, and surrounding alpine environment are nothing short of spectacular.
The Lodge was designed in Swiss-style architecture common to structures found in the Alps of Europe. The Lodge features a huge lobby which rises three stories, nearly to the top of the building. A massive stone fireplace is a focal point in the lobby. Adding to the Lodge’s historical appeal, many furnishings from when the Lodge was first built remain for visitors to awe over.
Lake McDonald Lodge has 82 rooms for guests, many in the main Lodge, a few in nearby cabins and two other buildings, Cobb House and Snyder Hall. Rooms inside the main lodge have a rustic vibe even while retaining many comforts for guests to enjoy.
The Lodge offers three dining options: Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria; Lucke’s Lounge; and Russell’s Fireside Dining Room. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on premises. And visitors can order beer, wines, and cocktails. An Elk Burger, with grilled mushrooms, swiss, lettuce, tomato, onion, goes for $12.95. Huckleberry ice cream is a special delight on the menu.
The Lodge has a General Store to pick up a few supplies. In the Lodge’s Gift Store, visitors can buy niffy gifts, some crafted by Montana artisans, and cool souvenirs.
Lake McDonald Lodge is owned by the United States federal government. The Lodge is, at present, assigned to Glacier National Park Lodges to operate as part of a concessions contract.
Lake McDonald Lodge is located on Going-to-the-Sun Road about 10 miles inside the west entrance of Glacier National Park, not far from the small village of West Glacier, Montana. A classic for sure, Lake McDonald Lodge!
Okay, so you are going to Glacier National Park. Your journey will take you through the center of the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road, an iconic mountain highway. Going-to-the-Sun Road runs west to east from the town of West Glacier to Saint Mary, Montana, over a distance of about 53 miles. The road passes through America’s most spectacular wilderness country.
Glacier is a land of mountains. Pushing up toward the clouds, mountain peaks near Going-to-the-Sun Road reach elevations as high as 10,014 feet (Mount Siyeh) and are often in view. That gorgeous mountains, pristine alpine lakes, and alpine valleys and meadows are all bundled together is a huge part of the allure of Glacier National Park.
Going-to-the-Sun Road was constructed in the early part of the 20th century, and it opened for the public in 1933. After eleven years of construction, 1921-1932, the road was completed. Drivers will experience a narrow, winding road, with some hairpin curves along the way. This is a two-lane and paved road, an engineering masterpiece.
Going-to-the-Sun Road features spectacular scenery in every direction, mountains, forests, waterfalls, alpine lakes, rock walls, and alpine valleys. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, grizzly bears, and other wildlife live here and can often be seen not far from the road.
Historic lodges and engineering marvels, such as tunnels and bridges, add to the wonder of it all. Many scenic outlooks along the road allow motorists to stop, take pictures, and simply enjoy.
From the Park’s entrance near the town of West Glacier (3,198 feet in elevation), Going-to-the-Sun Road follows McDonald Valley for several miles in a northeasterly direction, gradually gaining in elevation until the road reaches about 3,572 feet in elevation.
At this point, the road veers sharply to the northwest toward an area called the Loop. Here the road runs northwest for a short distance before it abruptly turns back to the southeast and continues in a southeasterly direction toward Logan Pass.
At the beginning of the Loop (elevation 3,572), the road starts its ascent up the side of the mountains. Along a path of several miles, Going-to-the-Sun Road increases in elevation, as it hugs to the side of the mountains, until it reaches Logan Pass at 6,646 feet elevation.
From the head of the Loop, going in a southeasterly direction, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts to get scary for some drivers. Along the shoulder of the road (passenger side of car), a steep cliff goes down slope, several hundred feet in many areas.
On the driver’s side is the rock face of the mountains. Drivers need not worry as a low speed limit and guardrails protect vehicles from going off the road. However, as if anyone needs a reminder, drivers must keep eyes centered on the road. Passengers can enjoy the awesome scenery.
At Logan Pass, Going-to-the-Sun Road starts a gradual descent to Saint Mary Lake at about 4,718 feet in elevation. The road runs along the north shore of Saint Mary Lake for about 9.9 miles before ending near the Park’s Saint Mary Visitor Center at an elevation of 4,495 feet.
Logan Pass is not unusually high in elevation by Montana standards. Near Red Lodge in south-central Montana, the Beartooth Highway starts from Red Lodge at 5,568 feet in elevation and ascends into the mountains until the highway reaches Beartooth Pass at an elevation of 10,947 feet.
Some have suggested that Going-to-the-Sun Road is less scary if driven from east to west. If this is the case, the face of the mountains is on the passenger side of the car and the steep cliff side (the drop-off) is one traffic lane over from the driver and thus seems less worrisome. Regardless, drivers must be extremely careful and keep eyes on the road ahead.
Accidents occasionally happen on the road. In July 2018, a two-vehicle collision snarled traffic for hours west of Logan Pass, near Triple Arches. No personal injuries in this one, but traffic from the West Entrance was stopped from entering the Park, and traffic that had reached Logan Pass in the east was turned back.
The wonders along Going-to-the-Sun Road are almost endless. A short list of things to experience and enjoy, traveling west to east, over the distance of 53 miles, includes:
START OF ROUTE: Apgar Visitor Center at west entrance to the park
Mile 3.0: Fabulous Lake McDonald, a 10-mile long glacial lake
Mile 10.9: Historic Lake McDonald Lodge
Mile 12.8: McDonald Falls
Mile 16.2: Avalanche Creek Campground
Mile 20.8: Start of The Loop at Goose Curve where the road veers sharply left to the northwest
Mile 23.3: West Side Tunnel, cut some 192 feet through a mountain
Mile: 23.9: Head of The Loop where the road bends back and continues in a southeasterly direction toward Logan Pass
Mile 29.8: Triple Arches, a 65 foot long stone bridge built across a gap in the mountain side
Mile 32.0: Logan Pass Visitor Center on the Continental Divide at 6,646 feet elevation
Mile 32.9: East Side Tunnel, a 408 feet long structure cut though a mountain
Mile 39.2: Saint Mary Lake, a 9.9-mile long glacial lake
Mile 43.0: Wild Goose Island in the middle of Saint Mary Lake
END OF ROUTE: Saint Mary Visitor Center and the town of Saint Mary
Due to deep snow blocking the roadway, a section of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed during the winter months. A few reports say the snow can get over 80 feet deep at Logan Pass.
Officials at the Park do not give an exact date when the full length of the road will be open. They say opening is typically late June or early July. Usually the road remains open until the third Monday of October. However, portions of the road at lower elevations are open year-round giving travelers access to some locations and activities inside the Park. In alpine environments all depends on the weather which can change quickly, causing officials to close the road at any time.
Visitors flock to Glacier, some 3,049,839 came in 2019 alone. Many who travel on Going-to-the-Sun Road spend a half-day or longer to drive the full distance of the road. So much to see and do. When the journey is over, visitors take home memoires that will last a lifetime.
Lodging is limited along Going-to-the-Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. Guest rooms are available at Lake McDonald Lodge, Apgar Village Lodge and Cabins, and Motel Lake McDonald on the west side of the Park. Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins offers rooms near Saint Mary Lake on the east side of the Park.
Campgrounds are another option on Going-to-the-Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. Three campgrounds are on the west side of the Park: Apgar (194 sites); Sprague Creek (25 sites); and Avalanche (87 sites). The east side of the Park has two campgrounds: Rising Sun (83 sites); and Saint Mary (148 sites).
On any journey surprises are always best. However, in this case a quick read in advance is recommended. The book is Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park’s Highway to the Sky, by C.W. Guthrie.
Lose of a Young Person’s Life in Glacier NP
A tragedy occurred on Going-to-the-Sun Road on August 12, 2019. A car was traveling westbound from Logan Pass when rocks from the face of a mountain broke loose and fell to the road below hitting the car. A 14-year-old girl was killed and four others in the same vehicle were injured. NPS reported that the rockfall would have filled the bed on a small pickup truck.
Safety is always first on the minds of Park officials, but nothing could have averted this catastrophe. Of the sorrow and pain felt by the family, no words can convey.
The speed limit on Going-to-the-Sun Road is 45 miles per hour at lower elevations, 25 miles per hour at higher elevations (alpine areas).
There are no gas stations on Going-to-the-Sun Road. So, fill up in small towns near the west or east entrances to the Park: village of West Glacier or village of St. Mary.
The city of Kalispell (pop. 23,938) and the region around the city are a major tourist destination in northwest Montana. Glacier National Park, a few miles to the east of Kalispell, draws more than 3,000,000 visitors annually. Many arrive during peak season, June thru September.
It is not only Glacier Park that attracts. Vast wilderness areas near Kalispell offer limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Fishing, hiking, and boating to name a few. Outdoor recreation is king in the area around Kalispell.
Many tourists arrive in Kalispell at Glacier International Airport. Many others arrive by auto, train, or tour bus. No interstate highways reach Kalispell. Two main U.S. highways connect Kalispell with the rest of Civilization. U.S. Highway 93 runs north-south from the Canadian border to Missoula and U.S. Highway 2 runs east-west connecting Kalispell with Spokane to the west and Havre and other cities to the east.
Many hotels and other types of lodging are available in Kalispell and the surrounding towns and rural areas. Due to the influx of so many visitors, an amazing variety of places to stay can be found here. Cabins, resorts, bed & breakfasts, lodges, and more. As for traditional lodging, the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel may be a better choice than most of the chain hotels in town. The Kalispell Grand offers a continental breakfast, massage studio, and art gallery to make your stay more enjoyable. (406) 755-8100.
Flathead Lake is a few miles south of Kalispell. Fishing and boating on Flathead Lake are a common activity. Five State Parks offer facilities for outdoor activities near the shores of Flathead Lake. Wayfarers/Flathead Lake, close to the village of Bigfork, draws many visitors: Picnicking, fishing, camping, boating, and swimming are a few of the activities allowed at this state park.
A couple of nice attractions are found in the city of Kalispell. The Conrad Mansion Museum, built in 1895, is a window into early pioneer days of Kalispell. Mr. Conrad, a rich businessman, built the house with income from hauling freight and other business activities. The museum features many exhibits and well-manicured gardens enhance beauty of the grounds.
For history buffs, the Northwest Montana History Museum is a must see. The museum showcases the history of early frontier days. A neat glimpse of the old central school in Kalispell is a special attraction in the museum. Artifacts and displays of Native American culture are also interesting.
For upscale dining in Kalispell, try Jagz Fine Dining. A full pound center cut ribeye, char-grilled and topped with bourbon onion sauce goes for $32.95. The Desoto Grill is wildly popular too. The Desoto Grill serves BBQ, sandwiches, desserts, and beer. A smoked chicken sandwich, $12.25. Banana pudding, $4.75. Yum!
Natural beauty is the hallmark of the region around Kalispell. Mountains, pristine lakes, and wild rivers add to the splendor. This part of the country is hard to match anywhere else in the United States. The Visitor Information Center,15 Depot Park in Kalispell, is ready to give good advice and help make your stay more enjoyable. Phone: (888) 888-2308.
Many folks like to stop for a cup of Starbucks coffee when traveling or on a vacation. There is often more than one Starbucks store in most larger cities. Stores can vary in size depending on the location and some stores can look a little different from other stores even in the same city.
Starbucks serves tasty coffee and more: Featured on their Website this week: creamy, all-new, iced coconutmilk drinks and Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino Blended Beverage. Always something new at Starbucks. Yum!
Starbucks stores in Montana are modern as the chain arrived here later than in many other cities. Stores are easy to find, on or near major streets, in every city. Just look for the mermaid. A few favorites:
Billings: Starbucks at 910 Grand Avenue (close to downtown)
Bozeman: Starbucks at 1122 West Main Street (close to downtown)
Kalispell: Starbucks at 10 North Main Street (in the heart of downtown)
Missoula: Starbucks at 5260 Grant Creek Road (just off the interstate highway)
Butte: Starbucks at 2307 Harrison Avenue (south of downtown area)
Helena: Starbucks at 1300 Prospect Avenue (close the state capitol)
Great Falls: Starbucks at 1000 10th Ave. South (south of downtown)
Vacations homes and other properties are popular in Montana. Out-of-state buyers, many from the West Coast, find Montana a place to get away and enjoy the splendor of wonderland at the same time.
Few people live in Montana. This makes the state an even more attractive place to hang out away from America’s big crowded cities.
Two areas are especially sought after for vacation properties: Flathead Valley in far northwest Montana and the Bozeman area north of Yellowstone in southwest Montana.
In 2020, be careful if you are a Buyer. The real estate market is red hot in Montana’s prime vacation home areas. Chaos in some areas of the United States may be creating additional interest in remote vacation properties as people search for places of refuge. Driving the boom, also, are exceedingly low interest rates in the summer of 2020. At this time, it may be a real estate bubble in Montana, who knows.
Be aware: Montana is in a very remote part of the United States. It may be a long drive to get to your new vacation home. Still, all the hot spots are well connected to the world by major airlines. The Glacier park International Airport in Kalispell serves northwest Montana and the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport serves parts of southwest Montana.
Drive over or fly-in and check out these prime vacation home destinations. Good luck and bring deep pockets.