I will admit, as an east coast girl I “was” woefully ignorant of the incredible beauty of the northwest area of our country. We have mountains in New England, but there are MOUNTAINS in Montana. Overnight on our westbound train from Chicago we arrived at the West Glacier Train Depot close to 1:00 a.m. It wasn’t until we woke the next morning and opened our hotel room door that we saw the MOUNTAINS for the first time. It felt like the best of surprises on a Christmas morning, just unbelievable.
We chose the West Glacier train station to visit Glacier National Park. Amtrak does consider West Glacier a station, but I would put it closer to a “flag stop”. Due to delays, we arrived closer to 1:00 a.m rather than the scheduled 8:23 p.m., however, we were aware of these delays going in to our trip. It is not easy to arrive in the dark in what I consider to be a remote area with a warning from our hotel owners to beware of Bears! (As it turns out you can buy bear spray in Montana as easily as you can buy a cup of coffee in Boston.)
Belton-West Glacier turned out to be a fantastic place to disembark our train and spend a day seeing Glacier National Park (GNP). According to Amtrak’s Empire Builder Magazine:
“Belton-West Glacier is the western entrance to Glacier National Park, set aside as a national park in 1910. Note the original Belton Chalet on your right, the first lodge built by the Great Northern Railway for the park. The lodge is now restored and open to guests year round. Snowfall here averages 100-200 inches per year.”
The train depot is directly across the street from three places to stay as well as a terrific restaurant. Walk under the railroad bridge and you are at the Alberta, Canada information center (don’t be confused, you have not reached Canada yet). Here there are camping supply stores, tourist gift shops and more restaurants.
To visit GNP you will need to do a short hike (very flat, easy walking path and serene scenery, but do watch for bears) of approximately two miles. This short hike will bring you to the Apgar Village Center where you can hop on and off a free bus that tours from Lake McDonald to St. Mary. Additionally this bus will take you up the famous and incredible “Going to the Sun Road” to reach Logan’s Pass.
It is hard to truly appreciate the beauty of this trip up the mountain and more importantly the sheer terror of the narrow road and substantial drop! Overall an adventure not to be missed and a picturesque, snow covered treat at the top!
This was truly a full one day adventure beyond the rails. There are opportunities for horse back riding, swimming, boating, tours and hiking. We utilized the bus systems and stopped at the lookouts as well as at Lake MacDonald. Read more about our excellent accommodations and food options that are not to be missed.