After we drank our way through Missoula, paddled around Seeley Lake and got our massage on in Whitefish, it was time for the main attraction of our Montana vacation: Glacier National Park.
Since my first visit to Glacier Country in 2011, I’ve received many queries about how much time you need to do the national park justice. I’m just going to be honest and say anything less than five days and you’re going to be on the move constantly, as we were on my most recent visit, and a week is the bare minimum you should allot to Glacier, though obviously the more time you have, the better.
One thing’s for certain: With more than 700 trails crisscrossing the one million acres the park comprises, you won’t grow bored here.
From Whitefish, it was hardly a drive to reach our first stop, Columbia Falls, as just 10 miles of highway separates the two. Once we reached Columbia Falls, we immediately checked into our accommodation for the night and spent a couple hours getting the lay of the land.
Meadow Lake Golf Resort occupies a gorgeous slice of real estate just beyond the entrance to Glacier. As seems to be normal for my road trips, we were very in-and-out of Meadow Lake, arriving just before dinner one night and leaving at 8am the next.
I really wish we’d had more time here, as it’s such a peaceful property. The rooms were gorgeous and large, and mine overlooked the golf course. I may not be a golfer per se, but I can definitely appreciate such well-kept grounds and a room with a view!
There were also condos scattered around the resort for larger groups, but our rooms were in the main building. It was a bit of a walk to the fitness facilities, which we took advantage of—I’m really trying to be better about working out while traveling—and which also housed a large, inviting hot tub. You better believe we hit that up after dinner. While the weather was glorious the duration of our trip, we were still on the border of a park with “glacier” in its name, so summer evenings have a bit of a chill to them. I love any excuse for an outdoor hot tub dip, so I was fine with this!
Dinner was surprising in that I wouldn’t expect a restaurant called Three Forks Grille in a tiny town like Columbia Falls (pop. 4,688) to have such upscale cuisine. But dang, we ate well, from mac and cheese risotto to hazelnut pie.
And with the playful dynamic of my travel buddies, each meal was a full-on adventure, not only because we sampled everything on the menu between the six of us, but also because we didn’t stop laughing for seven days straight. Man, I sure miss these guys. Good thing I’ll see every last one of them at least once—more like five times for my girl Jade—between now and November!
Even though I lived a summer in Denmark and spent most of last in Scandinavia, land of the midnight sun, it was still surprising each night in Montana to emerge from dinner and it still be light out. The sun doesn’t set until 10pm in Glacier in summer months, so we were able to make it back in time to catch the changing colors over the mountains that flank Meadow Lake.
The next morning was another early-ish start, which began with a hearty breakfast at Basecamp Cafe on our way to Kalispell for our spectacular helicopter ride over Glacier.
It was here that I discovered such a thing as a huckleberry latte exist (say what!), and now I’ll never be happy with my regular, boring old coffee order again…until the next time I return to Basecamp Cafe, that is.
Also, it goes without saying that all waffles are made better with huckleberry topping! (Pretty sure there’s a 12-step program somewhere for people like me….)
The next couple hours were spent briefing for our ride in the chopper, then soaring over the park. After we were back on the ground, we hopped in our family suburban then continued along our way to West Glacier Village. But before we reached it, we saw something that prompted us to pull over for a second look.
You didn’t honestly think that a quintet of whiskey lovers and our loyal designated would pass up an opportunity for a distillery visit—in a whiskey barn, at that—now did you? Not. A. Chance.
Glacier Distilling Co. was founded at the end of 2010 by a pair of Southerners, one of whom we met while there. Nic, as it turns out, was raised “next door” to in North Carolina and brought up on ‘shine (as all good Southerners are); a few years back, he and his wife Lauren decided to ditch their day jobs for a more meaningful career of creative expression through spirits. A couple after my own heart—love it!
The facility was large, with a tasting room in back and one in the front, and everyone there could not have been friendlier. I love a place where you can just drop in and get your sip on, with no appointment needed.
I may be a bit of a whiskey snob having grown up less than 15 minutes from both Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel—and having developed an affinity for Kentucky bourbon later on in life—but this stuff is the real deal, y’all. We sampled several different kinds and all fell in love with the Fireweed, a cherry bourbon reminiscent of an Manhattan, each of us buying a bottle to take home as a Montana souvenir.
I’m pretty sure we could have spent all afternoon hobnobbing with our fellow whiskey aficionados, but we were on a schedule, so alas, after an hour—and OK, maybe a slight buzz—we said good-bye to our new pals at Glacier Distilling Co. (though I will definitely be on the lookout for their whiskey if they ever begin to distribute nationally).
Once we arrived in West Glacier, we really only stopped in Apgar long enough to take a few snaps of Lake McDonald, our first glimpses of the magnificence of the park itself, as our distillery visit put us on more of a time crunch.
From there, it was another 45 minutes to Essex, where we grabbed lunch at Izaak Walton Inn. This place, originally built in 1939 for use of railroad personnel, was just about as charming as could be and located as a stop on the Amtrak Empire Builder line. You could literally get off the train and check right in; gotta love that level of convenience.
My travel buds Kent and Canaan are regular visitors and huge fans of the newly renovated lodge, and next time I’m back in this part of the country, you better believe SVV, Ella—yes, the inn is pet friendly!—and I will budget for a couple nights here.
But this time around, we just stopped for bison burgers and brews in the inn’s cutesy cafe.
I might have mentioned in the past that I’m slightly obsessed with huckleberry—in fact, SVV woke up today with a hankering for huckleberry pancakes and promptly made me some; that’s a good husband right there—so like I was going to pass up an opportunity to try huckleberry beer and huckleberry cobbler, both in one sitting.
Food comas in tact, we hopped back in the car for a brief stop at Goat Lick, where we didn’t actually see any goats (not this time, at least), just down the road.
The vista itself was worth it, and I can see why the goats would want to camp out in these parts, notwithstanding the combination of steep cliffs and heavy currents that often wind up being their demise.
It had been a relatively long day of driving, though we didn’t cover any large distances, and our next stop—the final one for the day, replete with huckleberry margaritas—was calling our name, so after the requisite photos and Instagrams, we moved right along.
Ooh, I just love that third picture!
There’s so much of the USA that I have yet to see!
Well, put Montana at the top of that list, girlfriend!
It’s awesome to know that the mountain resort awesomeness that you can find all over the Alberta Rockies continues south of the border in Montana … great places to eat and drink! 🙂
Are you from Alberta then? Because I am truly, madly, deeply in love with that section of the Rockies! So ginormous and breathtaking! =)
I lived outside of Seeley Lake for four years and would travel up to Glacier National Park a couple of times a season! It is a spectacular National Park with so much to do, great food and wonderful Montanians! Everyone should visit at least once in their lives!
Ahhh how cool! That area around Seeley Lake is simply stunning, as well.
Wow!! its so fun. such a amazing place and delicious food. thanks for posting nice views.
Thank you for these recent posts on Montana. I have definitely moved this state to the top of my bucket list. 🙂
It should be—so so so worth it. I can’t believe it was my 48th state when I visited for the first time in 2011 and that I’d gone my whole life without seeing the majesty of Big Sky Country!
This is why I tell everyone and anyone to visit America’s National Parks. Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Death Valley, Glacier…these are America’s finest treasures and deserve a place on every American’s travel itinerary.
Seriously! I spent two summers in college working in the national parks of Arizona and Utah, and that whole area of the United States all the way up through Montana and to the Canadian border is simply unrivaled.
Sorry but I’ve got to say this is a LAME attempt at portraying GNP.. As someone who has spent multiple trips and hiked hundreds of miles in the park, I can tell you if you don’t at least drive the Going to the Sun Road, you haven’t seen Glacier. It’s the only road that travels across the park. How could these people go that far and not even drive through the park? The only in-park reference I find is in Apgar on the West. This report is about various resorts in Montana and has little value to anyone wanting to se GNP!
Then you clearly did not read the post AT ALL because it ends with us reaching Glacier National Park, as the post title suggests.
Chill, dude; I have a total of 14 posts from my most recent Montana trip that have published or are in the queue. And the last time I was in MT for three weeks, Going-to-the-Sun Road wasn’t even open—and that was in June. You simply can’t bank on being able to drive it, unless you’re going in the height of tourism season in July maybe.
John, I love your passion for Glacier National Park! But, I’ve got to say, that there is so much more to see and do besides the Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you only come to the park to drive the road, you’re totally missing out on some of its most special parts.
That area looks spectacular, I would love to do some road trips like this some day and see the landscape.
You definitely need a couple weeks to do it justice. Our seven days was so rushed, but it just gave me a taste of what all there is to do there and an idea of where I want to return to next time!
This looks amazing! Great photos. I’ve been considering moving my base of operations to Montana. It’s amazing how once you start travel blogging you turn to other travel bloggers as a primary source of information. Now if we could only displace trip advisor in the search results!
Ha! I like the way you think.
What a wonderful trip! I am really delighted with the rich details that you booked this article.
Photos, places that were cuisine. Really congratulations on the great work you do on this blog.
I do luv Glacier and I should be out there at the end of August, 2016!! My spirtual brother lives up in the mountains outside of Kalispell. I’ve been out there several times and love it. Reminds me of Bavaria which I also toured in the 60s while in the Army!! I’ll probably fly into Missoula!! I found your site on the piece U did in Sioux Falls, SD, where I grew up, south of Mitchell!! My brother use to live a couple of miles from the 3 state site where U can stand in all three states, southeast of Brandon, SD!! Love your short stories on traveling!! Maybe I should start writing on travel adventures because I love the different places I’ve been!!! Keep on truckin’ woman!! Be free, enjoy & peace, Casey
Casey, I’m so excited for you for your trip this summer! I’m really hoping to get back to Montana myself at the end of the year—maybe in December to see it in snow for the first time! Missoula is such a lovely town, I hope you have a blast. I loved going up to Swan Mountain and kayaking around Seeley Lake en route to Whitefish/Glacier NP. Have an awesome time!
My dream vacation 😀
The views are absolutely stunning! Complemented by delicious food? So jealous. Hope you had some time to tackle at least a couple of those 700 trails. 🙂
What an amazing trip! If you ever make it back, I’d recommend you check out my neck of the woods, Trout Creek, MT. It’s about 2.5 hours southwest of GNP. Given your love of all things huckleberry, you’ll be pleased to find out that it’s the Huckleberry Capital of Montana. We host an annual Huckleberry Festival every August. I entered the dessert competition this year and won 2nd place for my white chocolate and huckleberry blondies. So good! Until next time!
Shut the front door! Adding that to my life list as I MUST attend that festival!!!
Thanks for the tip, Haley =)
I could smell those mouth watering cuisines, those exciting time you people had in swimming pool, those exciting times by being so close to nature. In short, lots of enjoyment. Just one query, How do you lovely guys manage to smile all through the way, I mean don’t you get tired?..lol
A whole lot of practice, Afzal, and some mighty fine company 😉
thanks for sharing!! i didn’t know the place! great pics!
I visited the glacier national park last year and it was excellent – I gotta try that huckleberry latte next time! West glacier was gorgeous though we didn’t get to go out on the water. Loved seeing all your pics, makes me want to post mine!