A visit to a national park always brings back the best of my childhood memories, born as I was to a family that hiked and explored most of the Western parks. We saw bears up close, visited the monuments, scampered up trails and slept under the stars. We were tent and trailer campers, so we never stayed in any of the grand lodges at Yellowstone, Glacier or Rainier. But we’d walk into them for a meal or souvenir, craning our necks to take in the wooden cathedral-like lobbies that were supported by huge fir planks and pillars.
So, on a visit last summer to Montana’s Glacier National Park that ended a week of camping in Banff, my husband David and I decided we’d spring for a few days at the Many Glacier Hotel, then celebrating its 100th year in existence. Located on the eastern part of the park near Browning, Mont., it was built by the Great Northern Railway as one of a series of destination hotels that promoted travel to the “American Alps.”
The Many Glacier is a long Swiss-style chalet that borders Swiftcurrent Lake and faces the Rockies at their most majestic. The rustic lobby is four stories, with a huge copper hood suspended over a fireplace. Twenty four-story pillars made from massive Oregon Douglas firs support the lobby and mezzanines. The main dining hall is similarly grand, and the food is good and reasonably priced.
We have always found it fun to meet people from all over the world in America’s parks, and you’ll be able to do that among tourists and hotel staff alike. On Friday nights, a decades-old tradition demands that hotel staff perform music and sometimes sketches in the basement auditorium.
But the main attraction of the Many Glacier, as is the case with most of the NPS hotels, is that the view encourages you to go out and explore. Whether by the fabled NPS red touring cars, by foot, hoof or boat, oh the places you can go.
David and I decided to hike up to Grinnell Glacier, a day trip that starts with two boat rides: one from the hotel across Swiftcurrent, and then after a short climb, another on the Morning Eagle across Josephine Lake’s sparking waters. I wondered who brought the gas up to the second lake every day, and how they got the boat up there in the first place. (By hauling it on rollers up a dry creek bed, I found out).
Our hike included meeting up with a mountain goat, which took a steady, stately pose for David. Less than two miles later, we passed yet another small lake in the chain (Grinnell Lake) and saw a grizzly mom foraging with two cubs far above us on a steep slope. Far above us. I kept checking.
Finally, we arrived at Grinnell Glacier Overlook and at Upper Grinnell Lake. Less than 200 acres in size, it sits above a lake, ice-green from the glacial till reflected in its waters.
A park lodge is always most welcoming after a long hike. We sat out on the Many Glacier’s balcony above the lake, ordered beers and traded stories with other travelers. No TV. No wi-fi. Some cribbage, at which I almost always lose. Soaking up the most magnificent scenery, which always puts life in perspective and recharges the soul.
Editor's note: Many Glacier hotel is undergoing a major renovation and upgrade. Limited services are available until June 2017.
Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming. His credits include PIE, Something in the Water (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase. Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.More stories by Stephen Hegg