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.
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.