A May 2005 trip
to Kalispell by Linda Kaye
Quote: Mountain roads, cool temperatures, beautiful scenery, and absolutely no crowds made our 4-day anniversary trip perfect. It didn’t matter where we went, but we were delightfully surprised to end up in Kalispell, Montana.
We arrived in the area two weeks before the more-or-less official opening of the tourist season, which is Memorial Day weekend. On the surface, this sounded really good to us, as we thought there would be no traffic, no crowds, and plenty of quiet and long, peaceful walks. We had left home in temperatures well above 90 degrees, and now we were enjoying weather in the cool 60s.
What we had not counted on was that most hotels and restaurants in the area had not yet opened. However, we found our way, slept comfortably, and didn’t miss too many meals. We drove through a snowstorm on a winding mountain road on our way to East Glacier and drove partway up the Going to the Sun Road. The snow and rain we encountered almost every day did not dampen our enjoyment of this beautiful area.
Kalispell was exactly what we were looking for. It is a great jumping-off point to many adventures, including driving the 100 miles around Flathead Lake, visiting Glacier National Park, enjoying the Izaak Walton Railroad Inn and Museum, walking the Trail of the Cedars near Avalanche Creek, and driving through some of the most beautiful country God created.
What is going on around Kalispell determines the availability and price of the local hotels. Even though literally empty when we arrived, it took us three or four attempts to find a hotel after returning from Glacier National Park for our return home.
If you are planning to drive the Going to the Sun Road and you are pulling a 5th wheel or camper, be aware that there are some restrictions on the length of your rig. Twenty-one (21) feet long and 8 feet wide, including mirrors, is the maximum for driving across Sun Point.
In addition to the ticket counters, there are marvelous shops offering local and Indian art. It is a great way to kill some time waiting for your flight. Security was efficient while maintaining a friendly, down-home feeling. There are three gates for departures and arrivals. Horizon, Delta (co-share partner Skywest), Northwest Airlines (Mesa Airlines), Big Sky Airlines, and the latest addition, America West Airlines, service this airport. Most of these airlines use the smaller 50-passenger regional jets.
Once in the area, a car or a bike is a must. There is no shortage of rental car companies at the airport: Budget, Dollar, Avis, and Hertz. Enterprise is just outside the airport but will pick you up. One of the brochures for Glacier National Park mentioned bicycle rentals; however, like most things in the park, it was not open for business when we were there.
Before we go any farther, I need to explain WHY we chose this particular hotel. Harry is an aviation enthusiast, which means the closer he is to an airport, the happier he is. It doesn’t matter how many stars or diamonds a place has been rated, as long it is in the right location (near or at an airport). When we saw the name Aero, we knew we were home.
The Aero Inn is adjacent to the Kalispell City Airport (not to be confused with the Glacier International Airport) and even has a back gate leading into the airport. The airport was filled with small general aviation aircraft. Inside near the front desk are pictures of airplanes, autographed Blue Angles pictures, and lots and lots of pilot memorabilia.
The gal behind the desk was delightful and very friendly--perhaps she was just happy to see guests. She welcomed us like we were long, lost friends and gave us her full attention.
There were 60 guest rooms to choose from, as this was low season and there were few other guests. Another pleasant surprise is a beautiful and sparkling indoor pool, and we had it all to ourselves. There is also a large hot tub and a sauna. For the kids, there is a game room with several video games.
Our room was large but looked like something from the 1960s. Concrete block walls were really not too bad-looking, and I am sure they helped considerably with noise (if there was any noise). More importantly, it was spotlessly clean, one of my only requirements for budget accommodations.
Free continental breakfast was minimal: coffee, milk, orange juice, two kinds of cold cereal, bread for toasting, and bagels.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 20, 2005
1830 Highway 93 South
Hotel | "Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins"
This was #43, a rather small one-room cabin with a queen-size bed, small table, two chairs, and a large picture window overlooking McDonald Creek. There was a shower in the bathroom with plenty of hot water and a small electric heater in the bedroom that kept us toasty warm at night. The bed was comfortable and the covers warm. Ice was available at the front desk, and there was a barbeque pit between the cabin and the creek.
Ah, but there was no telephone, no radio, and no signs of anyone else staying in the area. We basically had the place to ourselves, except for a pesky skunk that made his presence known during the evening hours.
There are 48 rustic motel and cabin units that range in price from $87 for a one-room cabin for two to $150 for a 4-room cabin for 6 persons; some have kitchens, and some have screened porches. We got our cabin for $50, based on the supply-and-demand theory.
All are nestled in a dense forest, creating a camp-out atmosphere. We sat for hours watching the water and woods and just knew we would see a bear (but we didn’t).
The best locations are Cabins 6, 7, and 8 because of their spectacular view of Lake McDonald. These can accommodate 4 to 6 persons and have kitchens. The cost is $150.
I suggest if you are going to stay in this area, you might want to bring some cards or games with you. As they say about romance and entertainment--if you don’t bring it with you...
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 20, 2005
Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins
290 N Main St
Kalispell, Montana 59901
We were led to a booth at one side of the diner filled with memorabilia from that exciting era--Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Buddy Holly, and many more. With the jukebox playing old rock-and-roll tunes, we settled into the colorful booth and reminisced about those good ole days.
The menu is the typical diner fare: the special of the day, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and veggies, salads, soups, sandwiches, and burgers with fries. The burgers were named for rock’n’roll stars. The Buddy Holly Burger was my choice, and Harry had a very messy (but delicious) chile burger.
But by far the very best part of our meal was the dessert--just as the clerk at the Aero Motel had promised. It was huckleberry season, and since neither of us had ever had a huckleberry before, we ordered a piece of warm huckleberry pie with vanilla ice cream. And it was definitely the best pie I had ever eaten. I am still not sure what a huckleberry is, but I sure wish we had them here in Texas.
Shortly after we sat down, another couple was seated in the booth directly across from us. They asked if we were visiting the area and that opened up a conversation that lasted throughout our meal. We enjoyed talking with them and learning about the local area, one of the most pleasurable pastimes while traveling, especially in small towns.
In addition to the '50s memorabilia plastered all over the walls, there is a model train that travels along a ledge that runs around the inside of the restaurant. If the train isn’t running, ask your waiter to start it for you. It is amazing how many people will stop what they are doing to watch the train go around and around. I suppose it is a childhood thing.
After returning from Glacier National Park on our way home, we stopped again to get another piece of huckleberry pie. To our great disappointment, Bojangles closes at 8pm every night, and we missed our chance.
Bojangles also serves breakfast beginning at 6am daily.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 19, 2005
1319 Highway 2 West
Attraction | "Drive Around Flathead Lake"
Here are a few interesting facts about Flathead Lake:
The beauty of the lake is incredible. Sitting on a long pier, dangling my feet over the water, I realized that the lake bottom and the shoreline were covered with the most beautiful stones in hues of blue, purple and greens. Because we were there before the official season opened, there was little traffic on the road or on the lake. At times it appeared as smooth as glass, and not a ripple could be seen.
Sweet cherry orchards occupy most of the southern shoreline, along with large, elegant homes. Deer run free throughout the area. With plenty of time on our hands, we drove many of the back roads and dreamed of what it would be like to live there. We drove through towns like Woods Bay, Big Fork, Finley Point, and Lakeside.
The densely wooded orchards gave way to a more arid landscape on the southern end of the lake and then back into gently rolling hills as we headed north towards Glacier National Park. And, as usual, we have added this location to our list of favorites.
During the summer tourist season, there are many activities to choose from: kayaking, Wild Horse Island boat trips, bike tours, sailing, canoeing, horseback riding, and extreme water sports. There are seven art galleries in the area, featuring wildlife and landscape paintings, Native American crafts, Western art, handmade stoneware pottery, bronze sculptures, and jewelry.
Hotel | "Izaak Walton Inn and Train Museum"
We would not have know about this hotel had it not been for a friendly couple we met at the Café at Glacier Park, West Entrance. They told us about the Izaak Walton Inn, an interesting place, especially for train buffs. They gave us precise directions and some hints about the unique accommodations the Walton offers. Without their help, we would have bypassed this historical treasure.
Because the Going to the Sun Road was closed at the center section, we had already planned to drive around the perimeter of the park to the East Entrance so that we could drive that section of the Sun Road. And the Izaak Walton Inn was right on our way.
We left the park and drove south on Highway 2. At mile marker 179, we started looking for the sign directing us to Essex.
The Walton is a historic railroad inn, built in 1939 for the Great Northern Railway workers. There is a beautiful lobby with a fireplace, which was burning when we arrived, and beautifully decorated guest rooms. But the real reason we were there was to check out some very unique accommodations.
The Walton Inn has taken four authentic railroad caboose cars and turned them into living spaces for guests. They sit high on a bluff above the hotel in a densely wooded area. We were so excited and ready to sign the registration when we discovered one small problem. There was a three-night minimum stay at the total cost of $595. Ouch!! This price is not negotiable, nor is the minimum stay. Believe me, I tried, and if we had the time (and the money), we would have stayed--utterly irresistible.
The clerk did, however, offer to let us tour them since none were occupied. We gladly took her up on the offer. We hiked across the bridge over the working railyard and made our way to the caboose cottages, as they are called. Each is very distinctive; some have bunk beds, and some have queen-sized beds. All have a kitchen, dining area, bathroom with shower, and even a deck outside to enjoy the outdoors. I think these are quite popular during the winter as there is a cross-country skiing area directly behind them. Sadly, we returned to the main hotel and surrendered the keys.
We toured the museum in the basement of the Inn that has been kept just as it was in the 1940s. A long bar occupies most of the space, but there is also a lounge area for those tired train workers (or exhausted guests) to relax. There is also the Dining Car serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Walton Inn has a great website where you can research some unique packages, including the Caboose Cabins, Honeymoon Weekends, and skiing packages.
Izaak Walton Inn & Resort
290 Izaak Walton Inn Road
Essex, Montana 59916
Attraction | "Going to the Sun Road"
It was completed in 1932 and was the most scenic and daring undertaking of its time. The 50-mile paved road crosses the Glacier National Park between the East and West Entrances crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass at an altitude of 6,646 feet.
The building of this trans-mountain marvel took more than 12 years, using mostly immigrant workers, and surprisingly, only three deaths were attributed to the construction. Congressman Louis C. Cramton and Park Naturalist George C. Ruhle are credited with coming up with the name Going-to-the-Sun Road, borrowed from nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, because "it gives the impression that in driving this road autoists will ascend to extreme heights and view sublime panoramas." Visitors ever since have agreed.
The Going to the Sun Road was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and designated a National Landmark in 1996.
If you are lucky enough to drive the entire length, you will experience many different terrains, including large glacial lakes, cedar forests, and windswept alpine tundra. We were able to drive from the West Entrance about 15 miles towards the center of the park, and from the East Entrance, about 13 miles. The center section of the road was closed because of poor driving conditions. Some parts are narrow, steep, and winding, but there are numerous pull-outs for viewing and photographing scenery. We enjoyed tranquil lakes, snow-capped mountains, barren rock ledges just wide enough for the road, waterfalls, and the walk through the Trail of the Cedars Park at Avalanche Lake.
When we started our drive of the Going to the Sun Road, we knew that we could only travel about 13 miles before the road closure. When we reached that point, we parked our rental car and walked around the barriers to the entrance of the Trail of the Cedars Park. We walked along the raised wooden path that meandered through a dense cedar forest.
The weather conditions on Logan Pass, half way between the East and West Entrances is the determining factor of the road being open or not. It usually opens by mid-June and remains open until mid-October. Logan Pass was not open when we were there in May, and neither were the following:
Entrance fee for the Glacier National Park is $20 for a 7-day entrance fee. No single-day rates are offered.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 20, 2005
Glacier National Park
San Antonio, Texas