The majestic Rocky Mountains run through Montana
across the border to Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana is
a wonderland of nature and scenic beauty.
Montana is arguably the prettiest state in America and the prettiest place is certainly Glacier National Park.
Glacier National Park in northern Montana has
just celebrated its 100th birthday as a tourist destination, and the
jewel in this Rocky Mountain crown is the magnificent Going to the
Sun Road, described by many as America's most fascinating drive.
Montana's Going to the Sun Road views
A great way to get to Montana is to do a road trip from picturesque Seattle on America's west coast through the beauty of Washington State, including the Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth. It's about 8 hours from Seattle to Montana via Leavenworth.
You'll know it when you hit Big Sky Country. The Rocky Mountains appear in front of you and you're quickly at the west entrance to Glacier National Park at Columbia Falls.
The other way to get here is to fly straight into Glacier Park International Airport at Kalispell, only 15 minutes from the west entry to Glacier Park.
This is serviced by major airlines including United, Delta, Alaska and North West.
The big attraction in Glacier National Park is unquestionably the famous Going to the Sun Road, which winds through 50 miles of stunning scenery in the Rocky Mountains from the west at Columbia Falls, to the east at St Mary (or vice-versa).
Red bus tour on Going to the Sun Road
This is breathtaking scenery with majestic snow-capped mountains around every bend in front and behind, and natural wildlife everywhere. You'll drive through waterfalls pouring off the mountain, while the young and young-at-heart are thrilled to stop and play in snow right by the road, even in warm weather.
The higher part of the Going to the Sun Road is buried by deep snow in winter around Logan Pass, and usually opens up in time for the Fourth of July holiday period.
On the east side at the pretty town of St Mary, the countryside quickly becomes flat, so we highly recommend the adventure of staying on the west side. Don't stay in the plainer towns of Columbia Falls or Kalispell; instead stay near the mountains right at the west entry to Glacier National Park.
There is a place here at the west entry called the Great Bear Inn that is both luxurious and comfortable for a reasonable price. If you want something historic, see the lobby of Lake McDonald Lodge near the start of the Going to the Sun Road, but it's older and the walls can be thin. More on that later.
McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Road
Historic Lake McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Road
Tourists started flocking to the beauty of this Montana landmark exactly 100 years ago as the Great Northern Railway cut its way through for essential goods transport. To this day, you can hear the train whistles through the night as a reminder of the railway's importance in opening up Montana.
WHAT TO DO IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
The Going to the Sun Road is exciting and takes two hours to drive on a very good surface. Some parts are windy and narrow, but it's a breathtaking experience certainly worthy of inclusion as one of the World's Best.
If you want to do it in style, take one of the
elongated Red Bus tours which are a much-loved icon along the famous
Going to the Sun Road.
They take 17 passengers and have been operating since 1936
with their unique canvas top that rolls back to allow
spectacular views across Glacier Park.
You can hop on and hop off these wonderful buses driven by "Jammers", so named from the days when the the red buses had standard transmission and the gears could be heard jamming as they drove up and down the rugged mountains.
A 3 hour tour costs $50 for adults and $25 for children, while an 8 hour tour costs $80 for adults and $40 for children.
Many of the elongated red buses can be found
parked at historic Lake McDonald Lodge as tourists from around the
world marvel at the mountain-style lodge with its unique timber
interior featuring lantern chandeliers and a roaring big open
fireplace. You can have
lunch or dinner here with a beautiful view over Lake McDonald, where
cruisers ply the mirror-like surface to show the grandeur of Glacier
Park from a different perspective.
Try the sunset cocktail cruise.
McDonald Lodge's quaint lobby in Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald Lodge's quaint lobby in Glacier National Park
On the eastern side of Glacier National Park across the Going to the Sun Road, you'll also find the historic Many Glacier Lodge on Swiftcurrent Lake.
Further on near St Mary is the venerable Glacier Park Lodge, built from fir trees up to 800 years old and cedar logs three feet thick.
However, our tip is to walk around the historic
lodge lobbies without necessarily staying there.
It's great if you like old rooms and the great outdoors
atmosphere, but they're not built for comfort.
Logan Pass is the highest point of Going to the Sun Road at 6,646 feet, 32 miles in from the west entrance and 18 miles from the east entrance.
Wildlife you're likely to see from this beautiful
winding road includes mountain goats, big horn sheep, deer and even
Make sure you stop at Apgar Village at the west entry to the park. It's a lovely alpine village atmosphere with superb views over Lake McDonald and a great place for a break.
Hiking is a big part of the attraction of Glacier National Park in Montana and the beauty of this is that anyone can do it, with hikes from half an hour up to several days.
Apgar Village overlooking Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park Montana
The Trail of the Cedars hike is less than a mile long and located on the Going to the Sun Road just east of Avalanche Creek campground. If you want to keep going, the Avalanche Creek hike is another 2 miles and rises to 500 feet. That's the beauty of Montana - stunning scenery that will have your neck swivelling on hikes as short or as long as you want.
Some adventurous travellers hike to lodges not
reachable by road, but the good news is there are comfortable,
luxurious accommodations that will make your holiday memorable.
Don't forget your standard issue "bear spray" you can buy at
most shops or find at most hotels.
This is pepper spray in case of an encounter with a curious
grizzly or black bear in the great outdoors, but highly unlikely
unless you're off the beaten track.
ACCOMMODATION NEAR GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
If you want a luxury lodge with beautiful Montana views and entertaining hospitality, stay at the Great Bear Inn. It's new and perfectly located near the west entry to Glacier Park, a 3 storey lodge constructed from local timber and stone. Owner Susan Sullivan and her son Ryan greet visitors like family, and they are the most hospitable people you'll find anywhere in the US.
Photo of Great Bear Inn Glacier National Park with Susan and Ryan Sullivan
Part of the beauty of the Great Bear Inn is that the spacious rooms are luxurious, including huge timber four poster beds, log fireplaces and the latest flat screen TVS. The beds have tempurpedic mattresses that mould to your body for a great night's sleep, and the rooms are so well insulated that you hardly hear the train whistles heard by most others all over Glacier Park at night.
The Great Bear Inn's great lounge is a wonderful place to relax with the complimentary wine that keeps flowing, complemented by superb hors d'oeuvres including fresh ahi. The lodge price includes dinner, prepared by master chef Ryan who also prepares the fresh breakfast including baked oatmeal, the delicious local specialty.
Guests sit at tables with breathtaking views of the great outdoors, or stroll around on the elevated outside timber deck, taking in pure fresh Montana mountain air. Downstairs, there's plenty of grass to stroll around on before you get to the woods all around you.
Bears have been known to occasionally come to the edge of the woods, but the scent of Susan's friendly dogs is enough to keep them in the wilderness.
The Great Bear Inn also provides amused guests with not hair spray, but bear spray in case you go down to the woods and get surprised.
Unlike the formalities of a hotel, everyone staying in this modern lodge is relaxed, and you feel as though you've made life-long friends with perfect strangers by the time you leave. Going out for your daily adventure into Glacier National Park is a simple matter of a 10 minute drive to the park's west entry.
Great Bear Inn owner Susan and her staff go out
of their way to help guests with where to go and what to see.
It's been a labour of love for this former Californian to
develop this lodge from a dirt site into a landscaped oasis, and she
is both hospitable and thankful as she keeps her guests entertained.
Great Bear Inn big bedrooms with a view to the great outdoors of Montana
Glacier National Park is a beautiful part of the US in northern Montana that has a freshness and spirit you won't encounter anywhere else. The scenery is stunning and there are now accommodations that are luxurious and affordable.
The Canadian border is only two hours north, where the Rocky Mountains continue into the alpine resorts of Banff and Lake Louise (see Banff story).
In Montana, the sky is bluer and the air is fresher. It's been described as God's own country, and is certainly a worthy inclusion as one of the World's Best Holidays.
PHOTOS OF GLACIER NATIONAL PARK MONTANA