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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Exploring Glacier National Park

Let me first say, I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I like to be outside and I like to walk around town, plus I like to see animals and different landscapes, but I am not a hiker, camper (anymore) or someone who enjoys doing too much rigorous exercise to get joy out of life. Sure, I like to go bike riding, but not mountain biking or climbing hills. I want there to be an end point, a purpose to my journey. Like, I’ll gladly go on a 4 mile walk to get to a restaurant or to landmark. I don’t want to be so tired when I get there that I can’t enjoy where I am. Perhaps you are really active and can’t understand it, but maybe you’re like me and can. Basically, I’m mostly lazy until I go on vacation.

Glacier National Park

I tell you that, because as a visitor to National Parks, I like to drive around, see things from overlooks, walk on trails, hit up the visitor center and check out the gift shop and other things they may have. I don’t see the trail signs that show long hikes up the mountainside and think “I want to do that!” If you do, that’s awesome and you’re likely to get better vantages and photos than me. When I was in Montana and visited Glacier National Park. I didn’t know what to expect. I couldn’t imagine being there for more than an hour or two. And then I got there.

Glacier is beautiful, but there’s also so many things to do there for all levels of visitor, everyone can find (a lot) of cool stuff to enjoy for the whole day or even longer. Even I would like to go back and see things I missed or only saw from the car. If you’re a see-nature-from-inside-your-car kind of person, there are quite a few roads to drive inside the park, including the Going To The Sun Road. Unfortunately, it had flooded right before we arrived and then the night before there was a small avalanche, so much of the road was blocked off and we could only go so far. Nature.

If you’re a get-out-and-see-everything kind of traveler, there are tons of hiking trails along the road (which spans 50 miles) and throughout other parts of the park. Basically, you can hike for days and never see the same thing twice. I was a good sport and indulged in a bit of hiking though. I probably only made it ½ mile up before I had to come back down, but I tried. (Also, that might be an overestimate, but everything feels longer when you struggle to breathe. LOL!)

Sorry this is so blurry.

If you’re an I-like-nature-but-I-also-like-luxury kind of person, you can stay at one of the lodgings in the park and do as much or as little as you like. I’d love to stay lakeside and sit out on the porch in the mornings, get out on a boat and maybe even try out a bit of kayaking. You can do all that in Apgar Village, but seeing as how it’s a “village” there are also shops and eateries, so you don’t have to hike or do any watersports if you don’t feel like it. Just enjoy where you are and the scenery.

You can even get more highbrow and book a room at the Lake McDonald Lodge. This place is multistoried, is a fantastic wooden, clapboard building that is crazy beautiful inside and out. Once you head inside, it takes on the feel of a hunting lodge, with mounted animal heads and a fireplace so big you could stand in it (maybe if you tried hard enough, you could get to the wizarding world by Floo Powder). The warm colors give it a nice cozy feel and make you want to just hang out in the cushy lobby all day long.

If that wasn’t enough, you don’t even have to go broke staying here. Rooms start at just $105/night and keep with the time it was built (1913) and let you unplug. You won’t have a TV or air conditioning in your room (which I doubt you’d need even mid-summer). The lodge doesn’t have an elevator either, so pack light. You won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything, because you have access to an upscale restaurant, an extensive gift shop, a pizzeria and many tours and other activities.

The Red Bus Tour picks you up right outside, which I highly recommend. I had the opportunity to take a tour with a group of ladies in the hospitality field. None of them had ever taken the tour, despite some of them living in Montana for decades. The tours aren’t super affordable, but are totally worth the price. Rates start at $40 for a 3.5 hour tour and you won’t regret your choice.

With the top open

With the top closed

The Red us is actually a 1930s wooden “bus” made by White Motor Company that has a removable canvas top that is taken off when the weather permits it. The park ordered 35 of these amazing vehicles in 1939 and despite having to totally overhaul them at one point, 33 are still in operation. One is on display and the other was beyond help. The drivers, called Jammers, tell you about the history of the cars and explain why they are called Jammers. Glacier has the oldest touring fleet of vehicles in the world with these buses and it’s certainly an honor to ride in one. Each bus can hold 13-17 passengers and they are extremely comfortable.

Your Jammer will explain what you’re seeing throughout the park and gives you the history of the park as well. Being a Jammer is a coveted position and our driver Russ has been doing it for almost two decades. He and his wife live in Florida and come to Montana every summer season to drive the buses and give visitors a very unique tour.

When you stop, you are welcome to stick your head out of the top to take photos (though you can also get out at many places along the tour). This is a really interesting way to view the park and we learned quite a lot while driving around. The view from your seat out the top of the open bus is highly relaxing and beautiful. No matter what your plans are when visiting Glacier, you should definitely include this in your trip.

Whether you like to do inside things on your trip or get out and be one with nature, you’ll definitely want to make a visit to Glacier when visiting Missoula, Kalispell or Whitefish. I was only at Glacier for half a day, so imagine what more you can see on your visit if you have several days to spend. Be aware, that if you don't have a national parks pass, your only choice for a pass to Glacier is to buy a 7-day pass at $30, so make sure you make the most of it. The park is just 30-45 minutes from downtown Kalispell, so you can easily stay in town and make it a day trip if you like.

For more cool ideas on what to do in and around Kalispell, check out my dining experiencesoutdoor fun, cultural and historical activities and lodging.

Have you ever visited Glacier National Park?

Disclosure: My visit to Kalispell (and Glacier) was sponsored by the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau, but all opinions are 100% my own.

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