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Thread: My visit to Montana's Glacier National Park Area: Review

  1. #1
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    Default My visit to Montana's Glacier National Park Area: Review

    In July my family went to the Glacier National Park area in Montana for 9 days. Coming from the East Coast, we allowed a day of travel there and back giving us a full 7 days in Montana.

    We landed at the airport in Kallispell. It is a small airport, as you can imagine, but we found it well-run and down home. Got our rental car in the terminal and we were on our way.

    We stayed in Columbia Falls, MT at the Meadow Lake Resort. It was the nicest place I could find to stay that was outside of Glacier National Park, but still relatively close. The driving distance to the park was about 20 minutes. Most of the accommodations in that area are very rustic. I like a little bit of luxury in my vacations. We rented a 2-bedroom timeshare condo with a full kitchen, living room and 2 baths. It was quite spacious and clean. The decor needed to be updated, it was a little Southwest-meets-90's-green and burgundy, but it was very comfortable. I did mention to the front desk that the photos on the website were of newer condos that had been updated and I felt they had misrepresented what we were renting, but we were there and it was fine and still better than anything else in that area.

    There is a historic lodge within Glacier National Park (GNP from now on), called Lake MacDonald Lodge, that looked pretty cool, but from the website it was just basic hotel rooms with no amenities so that you would be forced to either eat at the hotel for every meal or drive a long way out of the park to find other restaurants. We hung out in the lobby of the Lodge for a bit one afternoon before taking a boat ride out on Lake MacDonald. Anyone can go to the ramp and sign up, you don't have to be a hotel guest. The guide on the boat was very informative and we went from one end to the other and back of the lake with beautiful views.

    Back to Columbia Falls. There is almost nothing there. A lumber mill, our resort, and some retail stores. There was only one restaurant nearby that we went to several times during our stay, part of a chain called Montana Coffee Traders, that had a good breakfast and lunch. However, their sanitary rating was a B. Not too happy about that, but it was close. Our resort had a restaurant that we ate at the night we arrived. It was incredibly overpriced. We spent $70 on a meal with burgers and sodas and one appetizer. We never ate there again. The food was pretty good though.

    We ended up driving over to the nearest town called Whitefish for most of our dinners. This is kind of an eclectic town that's part western, part hippie. Our first few restaurant choices were OK but nothing special, but we finally found a couple of restaurants the last few nights that were pretty good. One of them was a hole in the wall pizza joint that had great NY pizza, but was also overpriced. We bought a variety of slices, a couple of cheese steaks, some garlic knots, and sodas, and the bill was around $60.

    We did a variety of activities. One day we drove the entire Going to the Sun Road. The views were spectacular. We encountered Mountain Goats that were hanging around the cliffs beside the road. My kids loved that. One day we went back into the park to hike, up at Logan Pass. We were all wearing Keane sandals and were suprised to find that the entire trail was covered with snow. We went for a while but the combination of the steepness of the trail and the fact that our feet were freezing made us turn back. We had to choose another hike at lower elevation.

    (to be continued)
    Last edited by travelbug; August 7th, 2012 at 02:58 PM.

  2. #2
    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    I am wondering what the temps were? Was it cool at night or too hot in daytime?
    This sounds like a really nice & peaceful place. Crowds?
    Thank you for sharing!
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

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    One day we went on a half day whitewater rafting trip through Glacier Raft Co. This was our first time rafting, but I wanted adventure, so we signed up for the Class II-III trip. DH wanted to do a float trip since it was our first time, but I overruled him. We had an exhilarating time and felt perfectly safe the entire time, even with our kids on board. There were about 9 rapids on this trip. I think this was the most fun thing I've ever done (so far). There is a cool river there called the Flathead River that is huge and has 3 forks that flow into Flathead Lake (more on that later). You follow the river on the road the entire way into GNP.

    Another day we went on a 2 hour horseback ride through GNP. The cool thing about this and the rafting trip, is that you get to see parts of the park you wouldn't normally see on trails or in the tourist areas. The ride was your average ride, but the scenery was amazing at times. My kids were pretty thrilled. DD is 7 and this was her first trail ride. She had been on a horse before where she had someone lead her horse around, but this time she was a big girl all on her own.

    One thing I noticed is that it is cheaper to both raft and horseback ride in GNP than it is to do it closer to home in the mountains in my state. That's kind of a bummer, because I want to raft a lot more.

    We did a bit of swimming too. Lake MacDonald has several little beaches and we also swam in Whitehead Lake. The water is formed from melting glaciers and snow runoff, and is crisp and cold even in July. The lakes there are not mucky on the bottom like the lakes in our state. They either had rocky bottoms, or sandy bottoms. And the water was clean and clear.

    One day we traveled a couple of hours south to the National Bison Range. It's out in the middle of nowhere. We didn't see tons of animals, but we did see deer, antelope, bison/buffalo (just a few, ironically), and a grizzly bear. More deer than anything else, though. So on the drive down you drive along side Flathead Lake. It is the largest lake West of the Mississippi. I think it is 28 miles long. It's just gorgeous. I wish we had allowed time that day to stop and explore. You can also get a boat and go out to a wildlife refuge island that is in the middle of the lake. I would've liked that, but it was our last day there and we just didn't leave early enough that day.

    This is actually a trip that I planned and executed all by myself for our family, and DH was dubious about the trip. He didn't think we would have enough to do. As it turned out, if we had stayed a couple more days we wouldn't have been bored. We took one day to enjoy the resort amenities. There was an indoor and outdoor pool and splash playground for the kids, and a clubhouse with movie rentals (which we didn't use) and a ping pong table (which we did). A nice fitness center, which I used a bit (went for a run on the treadmill), but it was off-limits to children, so we didn't get to take advantage of the sauna, steamroom, or spa. The kids played on the playground a bit.

    All in all, a great trip, which I would recommend to anyone. I have been to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and this was prettier. I had originally planned for us to go to Colorado this year, but as it turned out it was lucky that we didn't, because the fires would've ruined any views anyway.

    The area itself, is a weird place. I wouldn't want to live there. The sun in the summer doesn't set until after 10:00 pm. We had a hard time winding down at the end of the day, and would often be out doing stuff until dark. The locals tell me that in the winter it is the opposite. It gets dark around 4:00 and sunrise is late, around 9:00 am. With the winter cold and snow, I don't know how people stand it. Plus the economy is not exactly booming. Most jobs would be service industry jobs. There are a lot of summer temp jobs too. Both our raft guide and horse guide were college students out there for the summer. The area seems very religious. Driving on the road you often saw large signs in people's yards with the 10 Commandments on them. And you know there are a lot of gun-loving right wingers that live there. I have read that anti-government militia groups like to live in Montana.

    Hope you enjoyed my review!
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    Quote Originally Posted by McJag View Post
    I am wondering what the temps were? Was it cool at night or too hot in daytime?
    This sounds like a really nice & peaceful place. Crowds?
    Thank you for sharing!
    Well, when we got there it was around 90 during the day, and maybe 70's at night. Which everyone said was like a heat wave. We had brought jeans and long sleeve shirts, anticipating cooler temps. After 5 days, it dropped down into the high 70's during the day and maybe 50's at night. Very nice. We ended up being happy about the 90 degree days because the day we went rafting we got very wet, and because we were able to enjoy the cold lakes.

    It wasn't really crowded, which was surprising. Summer is peak season. The parking lots were full at some of the popular spots within the park, but we never felt like we were just surrounded by people. On our (second lower elevation) hike we only saw about 2 other families.

    Airfare is really expensive. I think that's keeping a lot of people closer to home. I bought our tickets in March and they were $550 each. I checked about a week before we went and they were up to $1000. Our flight was completely full both ways, though. But it is a widespread area. Just the vacation area around Flathead Lake is huge, so there could've been a lot of people staying there.
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    You should have planned to visit Bigfork on Flathead - has some of the best restaurants I've ever been to. Or you could have asked someone who might know something about the area for recommendations.

    Montana is not weird. It is one of 2 states that experienced no budget shortfall during the recession - we were at least a year behind every other state in going into the recession and are coming out of it smoothly. Might be because we were smart enough to elect one of the preeminent kick-ass governors in the country and although our most recent legislature was made up of mostly crackpots and loons, they did no lasting damage.

    I've spent extended time or lived in over 40 of the US States and Montana is unique among them. We work hard but we work to live, not live to work. I have never been on a plane to or from Montana or any of the cities within Montana that was not full. It's expensive to get here because it's worth it.
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMama View Post
    You should have planned to visit Bigfork on Flathead - has some of the best restaurants I've ever been to. Or you could have asked someone who might know something about the area for recommendations.

    Montana is not weird. It is one of 2 states that experienced no budget shortfall during the recession - we were at least a year behind every other state in going into the recession and are coming out of it smoothly. Might be because we were smart enough to elect one of the preeminent kick-ass governors in the country and although our most recent legislature was made up of mostly crackpots and loons, they did no lasting damage.

    I've spent extended time or lived in over 40 of the US States and Montana is unique among them. We work hard but we work to live, not live to work. I have never been on a plane to or from Montana or any of the cities within Montana that was not full. It's expensive to get here because it's worth it.
    1) I didn't mean weird in a bad way, honest. The late sunset was really disconcerting. We still haven't gotten back on schedule. I wasn't talking about the entire state just the part we saw. I do hear good things about your governor as I follow politics a bit. As far as the economy, other areas may be booming, but the towns we were in seemed dependent on tourism. And there were 10 Commandment signs, like everywhere. Some of the food was different. I ordered a cheese steak sandwich which came out with nacho cheese sauce on it. In the East it is always a white cheese like mozzarella or provolone. We looked hard for a good steak place with no luck. We figured of all places, Montana had to be known for their beef, but we came up empty. That seemed odd to us too.

    2) I wish I had conferred with you because we went through Bigfork on our way to the Bison Range. We tried to get dinner there, but most of the restaurants were closed, and there was only a couple of places open that looked like real dives. We had planned to eat at the Pocketstone Cafe but it was closed. So we were in that area, and if there was a really good restaurant that was open that evening (that had a menu that was kid-friendly), we certainly didn't find it. We even asked a guy who was standing outside of a little house (he said it was his business) near the Pocketstone where would be good to eat, and he sent us to some burger place that didn't look very nice. We were really disappointed and ended up going to Whitefish again.

    I do research restaurants before we go and had a couple picked out but they turned out to be just OK. We went to The Naked Noodle and it was really bland. We went to Piggyback BBQ and it was just OK. My son said his ribs were tough so we ended up having to share our food with him. The best places we went were Ciao Mambo and McKenzie River Pizza Co. We ate at Montana Coffee Traders several times for late breakfast or lunch.

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    This sounds like something my boyfriend would love. We're supposed to be going to a lake in Washington State for a week in September, but this sounds right up his alley.

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    That sounds lovely, the kind of holiday I'd enjoy.

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    pics or it didn't happen!
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    My great-uncle had a ranch in Montana. Beautiful state.

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