Glacier National Park, and nearby towns (Whitefish, Essex, East Glacier, West Glacier)

Discussion in 'West, Alaska and Hawaii' started by Rail Freak, Jan 17, 2012.

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  1. Jun 26, 2019 #26

    lbrandon

    lbrandon

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    I'm headed to Glacier National Park via the eastbound Empire Builder in September. I decided to stay in Whitefish since the town is a little larger and I could use points for a chain hotel there. Has anyone else rented a car at the Whitefish Amtrak station before? Looking for some feedback regarding Budget vs Hertz there. I know Hertz actually has a rental office at the station but I see that Budget also shows rentals at the Amtrak station. I can prepay for a rental from Budget for about half the price of Hertz but I'm a little nervous about car availability and pickup method given that they don't have a physical office at the train station.
     
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  2. Jun 26, 2019 #27

    Rasputin

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    You can certainly travel around the Park on the Park shuttle or on the Red buses and that is fine if you are looking for a sedentary trip through the Park. If you want to get out and do some serious hiking or if you want to be more independent you really need to rent a car usually at Whitefish or the Kalispell Airport on the west side or at East Glacier on the East side.

    We rented a car at the Amtrak station in Whitefish once and that was fine but it was years ago. We have also rented through Enterprise at Whitefish and that worked out well. Last time we went to the Park we flew to Spokane (due to low air fares there), rented a car there and drove to the Park for about ten days.
     
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  3. Jun 26, 2019 #28

    Barb Stout

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    Wonderful! I went there 2 or 3 years ago prior to discovering train travel. Nobody has mentioned the NPS site for information which is always my first go-to when planning a trip to a national park. Here is the link for Glacier. https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm We had a wonderful trip. Whenever I go to a national park, which is sort of a lot, my first stop is the visitor center for more personal and pertinent advice about hiking trails suitable for me as well as information like weather and fires. I do recommend taking the park shuttles on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, although they are not actually operated by the park, but by a contractor. They are free and stop at various hiking trail heads and instead of watching the road and traffic, you can watch the scenery instead which is much better. In fact, I can't even remember what the traffic was like when we were there which was in August. One bad thing I did, which I want to warn you about, is no matter what time of year it is, bring a jacket. We took the park shuttle to Logan Pass, got off, and walked around. A storm came up with heavy winds. I had not brought a jacket and got very cold to the point of becoming incapable of thinking clearly.

    My next trip there will be via train.
     
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  4. Jun 26, 2019 #29

    Siegmund

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    Budget and Hertz both keep cars at the Whitefish station. Parking lot is across the street and one block east.

    My memory is that there is one service counter inside the station, from which both Budget and Hertz keys are given out, but I've never rented there (I live there and depart/arrive from that station but haven't paid close attention to the rental counter, beyond observing that it is there.)
     
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  5. Jun 26, 2019 #30

    Rasputin

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    As I mentioned it has been a few years since we rented a car at the station in Whitefish but I believe the counter is only staffed at train time and perhaps only when someone has made a reservation. I think they send someone from the airport rental counter.
     
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  6. Jun 27, 2019 #31

    dogbert617

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    I was doing 3 full days at Glacier, for this trip next week. Next time I may consider renting a car, since for sure there are sections of this national park which I concluded don't have any way to get up to those areas unless you have a car(i.e. Polebridge, Bowman Lake, Kintla(sp?) Lake, and probably others I'm forgetting). And perhaps to do such a trip in like May, June, or September, when there are less crowds. Who knows yet how I'll try to do a 2nd trip there like, in terms of logistics.

    Was trying to figure out, are there any places near the West Glacier train station to rent a car? Or is it just any of the rental car agencies in Whitefish, or that one by East Glacier(as I remember, Dollar had its cars out of a lot near Sears Motel over there). Also, I certainly do suspect there are times when traffic is heavy, on Going to the Sun Road.

    Finally, this page is interesting( https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/crowds.htm ): "
    2. On the Roads
    You are likely to encounter congestion and long wait times around parking lots, visitor centers, and entrance stations. At times of extreme congestion, access to whole areas of the park may be temporarily restricted to allow for emergency vehicles. In the summer of 2018 access to Many Glacier was restricted 26 times and access to Kintla Lake was restricted 52 times and access to Bowman Lake was restricted 68 times.

    Wow-za! I wonder if most of these temporary closings of parking lots due to cars in parking lots or on roads hitting capacity, occurred during July and August?
     
  7. Jun 27, 2019 #32

    dogbert617

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    That was the gist I got, while doing research. That if you aren't trying to do a lot of exploring of Glacier and more of that immediate area, that it's fine. But to me it doesn't seem like Izaak would be a good home base hotel to stay at while in this area, unless you had a rental car to get over to the western or eastern part of the park. I did notice however, that Sun Tours did have at least one tour(a full day tour for $120, from 7:30am to 4pm) that picks up from Izaak Walton(Red Bus tours OTOH, does NOT have a single tour that does pick ups of guests from there btw): https://www.glaciersuntours.com/tour-details/
     
  8. Jun 27, 2019 #33

    Ziv

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    Not so fast, Bob. It didn't get a lot of coverage, but the glaciers may be lasting a lot longer than the doom and gloomers predicted. In fact, the NPS took down the signs predicting their early demise recently. Glaciers in the park have actually been growing over the past couple years. They will probably continue to shrink in the years to come since we are coming out of the Little Ice Age, but they aren't shrinking nearly as fast as had been foreseen.

    https://dailycaller.com/2019/06/07/national-park-glacier-warnings/


     
  9. Jun 27, 2019 #34

    Rasputin

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    the Belton Chalet and the Glacier Highland are both virtually right across the highway (U.S. 2) from the Amtrak station at West Glacier. This is a very active rail line and an active highway. People who stay at both places complain about the highway noise and the train noise. This does not bother us. Our family normally stays at the Glacier Highland when we are on the west side of the Park and they have a decent restaurant. Glacier Highland is a very adequate motel type facility but I believe there are some rooms in the main building right beside the highway. It is reasonably priced for the area. Belton Chalet is more upscale and is priced higher. There is also the West Glacier Motel a short walk from the station.
     
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  10. Jun 27, 2019 #35

    Rasputin

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    There used to be a place at West Glacier which rented cars. It was as I recall an outdoor center or guide service. A call to your place of lodging may provide the answer or you could call the Glacier Outdoor Center (google them) and ask them. They rent about everything else so they ought to know about car rentals in the area.

    Keep in mind that you will have much more choices for car rentals in Whitefish or Kalispell than at West Glacier (if it does exist) or at East Glacier. At West Glacier and East Glacier I suspect that you are paying for the convenience.

    As far as I know, the Going to the Sun Road is not closed due to congestion but parking lots esp. at Logan Pass, a prime attraction, do get full and are closed. Best advice would be to go early in the day, also in the evening. this time of year, daylight lasts a long time in the Park and evening can be a beautiful time of day to drive around the park (and can be a great time to see wildlife compared with mid-day.)

    Stopping at the Park Visitors Centers at Apgar and St. Mary will provide you with current Park info and status.

    the Park shuttles provide transportation for hikers and visitors over some routes in the Park but they are not tours. Some complain that there are long waits and they are often delayed but we have had no issues with them. The Red buses provide narrated tours. You can call the company for further info on schedules and prices. they can be a fun ride. (Company used to be called Glacier Park inc. but they have changed their name - you can probably still google them under the old name - they also operate the Glacier park Lodge hotel and the Prince of Wales hotel and they recently purchased Belton chalet.)
     
  11. Jun 27, 2019 #36

    Barb Stout

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    Based on my experience when I was there in August, I would guess that the parking lots were full rather than the roads were congested. Another possibility is that there may have been fires in those areas. There were a few fires when we were there, so some areas were restricted.
     
  12. Jun 27, 2019 #37

    Palmland

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    We stayed at Belton Chalet several years ago and loved it. We had a room on the top floor (just 2 floors) with a shaded balcony that looked directly on the tracks. There was a passing siding that was often occupied that ended at the mouth of the tunnel, a short distance away. Easy walk to the station and the restaurant at the time we were there had the best food in the park, so many repeat visitors told us. So, Palmetto, I would consider the restaurant on the property it is so close, as the photo in this link shows. https://www.beltonchalet.com/

    While there is some traffic on the road daytime, it virtually disappears at night. We slept with the window open and the occasional rumble of a freight was not a problem. The big event of the day was train time at the station. If on time, a good after dinner stroll. We rented a a car in the seasonal rental office in E. Glacier, where we arrived on the westbound EB. After touring the park and staying at Glacier and McDonald Lodges, we left the car at Whitefish and took the train to Seattle.
     
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  13. Jun 27, 2019 #38

    Ziv

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    Dogbert, hitting parks early in the season works well but remember that one of the coolest features of Glacier Park, Going to the Sun Highway, doesn't get cleared until mid-June, sometimes close to July. It gets a LOT of snow!
    One other thing mentioned already but that is worth point out again is just how much fun a basic tour on a Red Bus is. I usually meet people that I like on the tours, so I do the Red Bus tour first thing, then I do my hikes. The Red Buses aren't cheap but even a short one is worth it.

     
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  14. Jun 27, 2019 #39

    Rasputin

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    The best Red bus tour would be Apgar to Many Glacier and return. It is also the longest I think and most expensive but it would a great trip. Hope to do it with family next time. (Wouldn't be great to do in the rain however, but on a good day when they roll back the canvas top - that's really great.)
     
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  15. Jun 27, 2019 #40

    Rail Freak

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    A few years back, I took the east bound train (from PDX) to West Glacier. The Park hotel shuttle was there waiting when I arrived. I checked in at the Apgar Village Inn (Highly recommend). Spent the rest of the day taking the free Hiker Shuttle up to Logan Pass & back. The next day took the Red Bus Tour over to Many Glacier, had lunch, & returned back to Apgar. The final day, I took the Hiker Shuttle back to my favorite spots I'd found the previous days. (No Car Rental on this trip) That evening hotel shuttle back to the station to catch the EB back to PDX. Best Vacation Ever!!!!
     
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  16. Jun 27, 2019 #41

    Rail Freak

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    Oh,BTW, I had the Co-Pilot seat on the Red Bus Tour, TOO COOL!!!
     
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  17. Jun 27, 2019 #42

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    That sounds like a great trip and I would say that you made really good use of your time in the Park!
     
  18. Jun 28, 2019 #43

    dogbert617

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    If you're referring to Crown of the Continent tour from the west side of Glacier National Park as a Red Bus tour, yes that's the tour I booked. Actually I was really hoping to do a Red Bus tour from the east side, but as I was hoping a damn hard time finding a spot where it'd work with dates of hotels on the east side not sold out, I compromised and booked Lake McDonald Lodge, and also the Crown of the Continent tour on the west side.

    Was also a little disappointed that when I was booking shuttles going south from St. Mary Village to Glacier Park Lodge, I'll only have an hour and 45 minutes to check out the Two Medicine Lake area. As the only times they had spots left for, would allow a 1:45 layover at Two Medicine. Next time if I come back, I will try to do a plan that allows for greater exploration of Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. And who knows on that 2nd Glacier trip I do someday, maybe I'll bite the bullet and rent a car?
     
  19. Jun 28, 2019 #44

    Rasputin

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    I can't recall all of the names of the tours but it sounds to me like you have the best, or one of best ones. Two Medicine is a nice area but you can spend more time there on your next trip Hope you have a great trip and will post a report.
     
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  20. Jun 28, 2019 #45

    Barb Stout

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    Also, some of those above
    Two Medicine is where we camped when we went (via car). Nice and peaceful compared to other areas on the Going to the Sun road and St. Mary's.
     
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  21. Jul 3, 2019 #46

    Rasputin

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  22. Jul 9, 2019 #47

    dogbert617

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    As for Two Medicine, I talked to one of the drivers who was doing the St. Mary to Two Medicine to Glacier Park Lodge, and he didn't mind me instead going on the shuttle that was closer to arriving at Two Medicine around 4-4:15pm(give or take on exact time), so I chose to do that instead of go south to Glacier Park Lodge at the 12:45pm time(woohoo). And that was enough time so I could do a quick boat cruise across the Two Medicine Lake, and back. Along with hikes along the South Shore trail to two different parts of the trails going that way(Paradise Point, and I forget the name of the other part I hiked to), before rain came in. I know there's an optional guided hike to Twin Falls you can do on the other side of where that ferry goes to(away from the camp/general store), but I chose not to do that hike since it was raining a little much for me IMO.

    Honestly, what I booked all worked for the best, and well for me. Since while I didn't go through with my original Red Bus tour idea for one starting from the east side(Big Sky Circle), I still could see the Goat Lick area of Glacier National Park from the train, so it's okay. And of course, saw Izaak(sp?) Walton Inn from the train as well, which was a nice treat to briefly see on the way to West Glacier/Belton. Which was that I spent 2 nights at Lake McDonald Lodge. One night in the main hotel part, the other night in Snyder Dorm which actually was nicer to stay in, than I thought it'd be like. And if it wasn't for me staying in Snyder, I don't think I ever would've discovered a nice reading room(w/a few historical books on the local towns, plus Glacier National Park as well) they had between the main hotel room and Snyder, and also an auditorium where NPS rangers do at least 2 presentations/talks inside of each night.

    Second full day at Glacier also went well, which was exploring places along Going to the Sun Road, and ultimately heading east towards St. Mary Village Hotel. It was nice that I did manage to hike the Avalanche Gorge/Creek trail to the end, and I enjoyed that hike a lot. It left a bad taste in my mind about Pursuit's computers(parent company of both St. Mary Village and Glacier Park Lodge, and they run a few other hotels in that area that I'm forgetting), when NEITHER of the 2 hotels would properly read my card. Despite that I called my bank to check on things, told me everything was fine and that I had more than enough funds in my account, and like I thought confirmed that Pursuit's computers were the annoying problem! At the first place(St. Mary Village) thankfully the manager was understanding and let me stay without paying the refundable security deposit, but for Glacier Park I annoyingly had to go to an ATM outside that place to withdraw money to pay the security deposit. :( Aside from that, exploring Two Medicine was nice, and I did like seeing the historic inside of the Glacier Park Lodge building. I did have my revenge with St. Mary Village and Glacier Park Lodge in a way, via eating at local places outside those 2 hotels. Frog's Cantina at St. Mary and also Curly Bear Cafe for ice cream(you even can get Huckleberry ice cream there, and it was great!), and Two Medicine Grill and Brownie's Hostel(for the fact I thought they'd have Huckleberry Pie per reports I'd heard about that place, but sadly they were out of that so I settled for Huckleberry ice cream) for the East Glacier Park Village area. I was bummed Two Medicine Grill wasn't open for me to do a last breakfast before boarding #8/28 back home, but assumed that it was probably closed(oddly no sign was posted on the door they'd be closed that day) due to the 4th of July holiday. Also it was a nice plus about Brownie's Hostel, that you can get single cans of beer to go, unlike other places where you don't have any choice except to get a 4 or 6 pack of beer to go(i.e. at the Cenex gas station east of Two Medicine Grill, Circle R Motel, etc). Finally, it was a little bit of a shock to me that no businesses(including gas stations) were open after 10pm in both the St. Mary and East Glacier Park areas, except for a bar in the area of each place(Kip's Beer Garden, and Trailhead Saloon). And back to that security deposit at Glacier Park Lodge, at least I got my cash back on the morning I checked out no prob.

    On a different note I wasn't surprised about no phone reception, since I already heard the reports about that in advance and was expecting that'd be the case for inside most of Glacier National Park. The exceptions were in the Apgar area of the park a little past the west entrance(i.e. Village Inn, Apgar Campground, a few miles northeast on GTTS Rd. is where you lose Verizon reception), in the St. Mary area by the St. Mary Village Hotel and other nearby businesses along US 89(yay for the Blackfeet Tribe, that it was probably their doing per talking to a hotel employee, as to why a cell phone tower does exist in this area), and by Glacier Park Lodge in that area near the train station.

    The shuttles that aren't the official Going to the Sun Road free shuttle work well btw, for anyone who may be nervous about that issue before arriving. When doing a hotel reservation for any place within the park, at THAT time you also do a reservation for Xanterra's shuttle to places just within Glacier National Park. And of course, you should either buy your 7 day pedestrian pass($20) either at the gate, or online in advance via yourpassnow.com (I did the latter). When westbound train #7/27 got to West Glacier, the shuttle already was waiting for passengers in the parking spaces just next to the platform, and is a white van with Glacier Park Lodges and Xanterra company logo on the outside of the van. From what that driver told me, they also do dropoffs to other places just within the gate on the west side of the park not ran by Xanterra, such as to some cabins that were close to Village Inn at Apgar. And at St. Mary Village, you just wait inside the lobby, for the driver to arrive and announce that he/she is picking up those using the shuttle. The same is done, also at Glacier Park Lodge for those using the shuttle north to Two Medicine, or all the way north to St. Mary Village. I should NOTE however, that if you want to use the shuttle going further north from St. Mary Visitor Center to Many Glacier Hotel, you do a short walk west from the hotel to the visitor center, then the Many Glacier Hotel shuttle will pick its riders up from there. That shuttle does NOT pick up at St. Mary Village Hotel, for everyone's info. Oh yeah as for picking up the shuttle at Two Medicine, the driver goes inside the camp/general store, and announces his/her presence that he/she is picking up passengers either heading southward to Glacier Park Hotel, or north to St. Mary Village. Plus I thought it was a nice touch at Glacier Park Lodge, that they have a complimentary shuttle(and you don't need to tip either, as I didn't see anyone else doing so) you can ride from the dropoff/pickup area outside the lobby(especially if your bags start to feel heavy at the end, like mine did!), over to the East Glacier Park Amtrak station. I imagine Glacier Park Lodge does the same thing for those arriving at East Glacier Park(has that vehicle parked by the train station till the train arrives), and has their shuttle pick up those arriving from the train and heading over to that hotel?

    Well this trip went great, and for sure it'll only be a matter of time before I do some sort of return trip there! Just not sure yet, when that will be.
     
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  23. Jul 9, 2019 #48

    dogbert617

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    Very late and belated response to your comment, but when I further researched Izaak Walton Inn, it didn't seem as bad as I worried at first glance for hikes near there. What one may easily miss, is that there also are a few hikes you can do into the Flathead National Forest(south of US 2), such as one going towards Marion Lake. I think still I want to do a trip to stay either at Many Glacier Hotel or Swiftcurrent Motor Inn first, but down the road for sure I'll look into Izaak Walton.
     
  24. Jul 10, 2019 #49

    Rasputin

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    The Izaak Walton Inn in Essex is a great place to stay and the food is good. It is prime spot for watching trains. However people should be aware that it is far from the prime scenic areas of Glacier National Park. Although there is some hiking available at Essex in the National Park and in the National Forest, none of these hikes would be considered prime hikes. The prime hikes in Glacier would be at Two Medicine, Lake McDonald, Many Glacier and the North Fork areas. The prime hike in the Essex area would be the Scalplock Lookout hike which is a strenuous uphill hike with no significant views until the top. In my opinion if your goal is to visit Glacier National Park, Essex is not the right place to be. If your goal is to see a lot of trains and helper locomotives, Essex is the place to be.
     
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  25. Jul 11, 2019 #50

    dogbert617

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    Did I read correctly on a bunch of the online reviews that Izaak Walton is open all year, unlike many of the other inns, hotels, and motels that seem to only be open during May or June-September? I find that interesting if true, that they choose to be open all year. And like I said earlier, perhaps someday I'd like to try staying at Izaak, so that I could have a chance to visit once. At this point I'm itching a little more to do another trip within Glacier, and also do some sort of visit into the town of Whitefish.
     

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