Written by MilwVon on 22 Mar, 2012
I've always wanted to experience the Amtrak and taking the train to Glacier National Park has been a bucket list item for me for a while now. Having gotten hooked on Alaska a few years ago, I wondered if Montana's Rocky Mountains were close…Read More
I've always wanted to experience the Amtrak and taking the train to Glacier National Park has been a bucket list item for me for a while now. Having gotten hooked on Alaska a few years ago, I wondered if Montana's Rocky Mountains were close to what I loved so much about Denali National Park and that area of Alaska.This trip literally came together in about a week, with my sister posting on Facebook that she was "thinking about a train trip to New Orleans." Well, my initial reaction was "Amtrak - hell yeah . . . New Orleans? WHY???" As I wrote her, there are so many other more beautiful places to explore via Amtrak why be limited to the Southeast USA?She and her son decided they were going to really go exploring so they bought one of the USA Rail Passes that allows for 15 days of Amtrak travel utilizing up to eight segments for $429/person. Their route would take them from Washington, DC to Chicago . . . on to San Francisco and north to Portland. In Portland, they did an overnight, before heading back east through Chicago and on home to DC.For my part, I thought hooking up with them somewhere along their route would be fun. Initially I was thinking of going westbound with them to Portland but when their plans required a more southerly route into San Francisco that idea was out the window.It did allow me, however, to Amtrak west on my own to Glacier National Park and the Whitefish, MT station. There I could spend a couple of days seeing what there was to see . . . and then catching the train back home with them, providing us with about a day and a half together just relaxing and catching up on things.The cost of taking Amtrak is amazingly affordable. I had never really even looked at pricing until this trip came up. What I found was that the base coach ticket from Milwaukee to Whitefish was $158 each way. The roomette sleeper (for up to two people) started at $207. So for $730 I could train roundtrip, including sleeping accommodations plus all meals on the train. The meals aspect is not a small thing by the way. For my itinerary I dined on the Amtrak four meals westbound and five east. Had I been in coach and had to buy my meals, they would have been approximately $160 (plus gratuities) for the four days of travel.I should point out that Amtrak ticket pricing is done very similarly to how the airlines price their fares. There are the initial, lowest prices with rates going up as tickets sell. "Bucket pricing" is the way many travel providers charge and once the lowest priced tickets are sold, the next higher priced bucket is what travelers are charged. Therefore the key is to buy your tickets early when the lowest "bucket price" is still available.As for the other travel options available, flying from Milwaukee to Glacier International Airport in Kalispell would be the next option for many especially due to the relatively short trip (think hours rather than days) to get from one place to another. On a lark, I looked at prices online and was shocked to find the lowest price roundtrip ticket available was around $600 . . . and ranging as high at $1,000 for the more desirable schedules and connections.I tried everything to get the price down under $500 . . . changed the days of travel, looked further out (in the summer and fall), even looked closer as in last minute (ouch . . . over $1,200 for those!). I was shocked to see just how high the airfare would be if I wanted to fly to Glacier National Park.Now that I've been to the area, I know I will be back. Driving does seem to be a very attractive option as taking the Amtrak or flying would require renting a car to fully enjoy the area especially in any season other than ski season.I computed the drive from Milwaukee to Whitefish as just over 1,500 miles or 3,000 miles roundtrip. Our van gets roughly 22mpg, so at the current gas rate of $4.00/gallon we'd be looking at roughly $554 in gas. Add to that one overnight in a hotel in each direction plus meals and easily this trip would be around $1,100 for the two of us. For comparison, the Amtrak for two including a roomette would cost $1,046 (at the lowest priced bucket) and flying would be at a minimum $1,200; again with both of these options requiring a rental car upon arrival.As someone who enjoys driving and riding great distances in the car, doing the self-drive trip in our vehicle is very attractive to me. For my hubby on the other hand, that might not be such a fun trip for him. I believe the Amtrak affords all of the sightseeing benefits of driving, but leaving the "driving" to someone else. Admittedly driving cross country is not for everyone and for the driver it can be a long and arduous journey especially if the weather does not cooperate.There is one downside to the train which is often mentioned in travel forums for Alaska where the AK Railway is very popular. While it is very nice to sit back and relax, even enjoy a glass of wine (or two), for those who really enjoy and take their photography seriously the train has drawbacks. First and foremost, you're wheeling past things of interest often at 60+ mph making getting the shot very difficult. Secondly, if you are on the train you cannot ask them to stop and let you get the shot. When driving you have that control and can pace the trip at your leisure. For many, this is not a big deal but it does bear mentioning in the interest of balance. I understood this going into the trip and accepted that I would not be happy with many of my photos taken from the train. That said, I was pleasantly pleased with how well many of my shots did turn out.In the spirit of "the train ride is part of the adventure" and everything else relatively the same, taking the train seems like a no-brainer to me. At the very least, I think everyone owes it to themselves to take at least one Amtrak adventure in their lifetime.Close
There were so many things to see while riding on the train. As you would probably expect, this region of the country is largely farm and ranch land. I saw a lot of cattle, sheep and horses on my journey. In terms…Read More
There were so many things to see while riding on the train. As you would probably expect, this region of the country is largely farm and ranch land. I saw a lot of cattle, sheep and horses on my journey. In terms of wildlife, it was difficult if not impossible to snap a photo of anything of interest that we passed. I did see several herd of deer, some wild turkeys, pheasants and a rather scraggly coyote.As much as I enjoy the wildlife and scenery around me, however, I really think I liked the various aspects of weather more. It was unseasonably warm the week that I traveled. In Montana we had very high winds; high enough that they issued a turbulence warning for all passengers. They said that 50+ mph winds had been clocked and for that reason we needed to be careful moving about the cars. I think the high winds also made it necessary to go slower than normal. I was able to snap a photo of a dust storm in the distance near a grain processing plant.Later that same day as nightfall approached, we were finally seeing some snow on the ground. Shortly thereafter, it was snowing and before long, it was a total white-out blizzard like situation. This was as we were approaching Glacier National Park in an area I noted was called Grizzly, MT (just before the Browning, MT station).As we pulled up to the depot in Minot, ND the tragedy of last year's flooding could be seen on the houses to the north of the station. Many were still marked by the high flood water and mud, still boarded up and unoccupied. A tragic reminder of how devastating the spring thaw and rains can be.On the east bound return trip, the foggy sunrise in Minnesota was surreal. It was like we were driving at an elevation of zero in the clouds. We were fortunate that we got to see this as I previously stated since we were running roughly four hours behind schedule and this was an area that we should have been through long before sunrise.The other thing of great interest to me during the train ride was the economic boom going on in North Dakota. As the train made its way east to west, there were an increasing number of oil wells and production plants. Halliburton had two large facilities that we passed along the way. I also saw one of the housing projects where the men working in the area were living. It was just rows and rows of tiny white square buildings.During breakfast my first full day on the train, I was seated with a young man who was working in the energy fields of North Dakota. He and his family lived near St. Cloud, MN but he trained weekly to Stanley, ND for work. He said that he shared a small "house" that was more like a mobile storage unit with three other guys. It wasn't pretty he said, but it was a place to go to bed every night after long 12-14 hour work shifts. It sounded like a really hard life to me, but it was something he was willing to do to support his wife and kids.It is experiences like that, sharing a meal with a stranger and learning more about how others live that riding the Amtrak made possible. For the opportunity to explore, see and learn about something beyond my normal field of view was the most special thing about this trip.Of course I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little about my time with my sister and nephew. While entirely too short a time together, it was really nice to be with them in a relaxed atmosphere with nothing really to do and no expectations of having to get somewhere or entertaining someone. The fact was, we were on the train and I would get to Milwaukee when the train arrived . . . and they would continue on and get to Chicago where they'd make their final connection to return home. Very relaxing indeed!I had been forewarned about "the people on the train" and to be careful. I have to say while yes, a very eclectic group of individuals, I didn't find anything particularly concerning or threatening. Given that this trip coincided with spring break at some schools, many riding the train were students. In Whitefish I boarded with over 100 people who were there as part of packaged ski trips from places like Minneapolis and Detroit.In the lounge cars you could find families and retirees enjoying the company of others as the miles passed by their window. Yes, stations across the nation, one mile at a time. I was reminded of the GoRV.com commercial of the family traveling in their motor home creating a lifetime of family memories. I have to say as I watched people on the train, I felt like I was witnessing something that I would hope they would remember for the rest of their lives.Close
OK upfront I must admit to not being that creative. A young lady with whom we shared lunch one day said that our Amtrak adventure sounded like a tour of "stations across the nation" and I liked it enough to use it here. For…Read More
OK upfront I must admit to not being that creative. A young lady with whom we shared lunch one day said that our Amtrak adventure sounded like a tour of "stations across the nation" and I liked it enough to use it here. For me, my Amtrak adventure began in Milwaukee heading west to Whitefish, Montana. My sister Pam and her son Michael were taking a nine day loop route starting and ending in Washington, DC on a 15 day/eight segment USA Rail Pass ($429/person). I decided to go to Whitefish for a few days and then hook-up with them there for their east bound return through Milwaukee.My itinerary of stations went through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana . . . 30 stations in all, each way. Per the Amtrak guide, we covered some 1,541 miles across some of our country's most beautiful landscape. Admittedly, some areas were pretty flat and brown since it was the end of winter but I still enjoyed every minute of watching out the Empire Builder's windows.With sunrise and sunset roughly 12 hours apart (7:50am sunrise and 7:40pm sunset), there was a substantial amount of the trip that I did not expect to get to see due to scheduling. As it turned out, our nearly four hour delay on the east bound trip allowed for viewing of much of western Minnesota that would have otherwise been lost to darkness in both directions. I thoroughly enjoyed the foggy sunrise somewhere around Staples, MN. Too bad we were moving too quickly to get a decent photo.I was especially happy for the hour delay out of Whitefish as well, as that provided a better viewing and photography opportunity coming through Glacier National Park. They say everything happens for a reason, and with what I think may be the inevitable delay while riding the train, you may as well make the best of it!From my notes of the trip, it would appear that I did not get to see the following areas due to the overlap of darkness west bound vs. east bound . . . Detroit Lakes, MN; Fargo, ND; Grand Forks, ND; and Devil's Lake, ND. I was a bit disappointed for Pam & Michael that they didn't get to see the oil production operations in western North Dakota as our delay caused us to arrive in that area well after dark. That said, it was sorta neat to see the gas burn-off in the night skies as we passed through.As for my segment of Milwaukee to Whitefish, I departed on schedule at approximately 4:00pm. My hubby had dropped me off at the Milwaukee Station an hour prior to departure, which allowed me adequate time to take care of my ticketing details and to take a few photos.When the train arrived, the boarding process was very efficient. I was directed to my sleeper car where I was greeted by a lovely woman named Annie. She would be the attendant responsible for assisting me and the other passengers in that sleeper car. Once I got settled in upstairs in my #9 roomette, she was back by to explain the operation of the various comfort features as well as to give me my assigned dinner reservation for that evening. (The next evening, I had my choice of times but since I was arriving late on the train, I had to take what was available . . . which was fine too.)Chugging out of the Milwaukee station, we went by Miller Park where the Milwaukee Brewers play, as well as the Miller Coors Brewing Company in "Miller Valley" (still within the Milwaukee city limits). It was neat to ride through the small communities that I often drive through . . . Wauwatosa, Peewaukee, Oconomowoc, Ixonia.I suppose the rest of Wisconsin that evening was a blur as I had an early dinner reservation, being seated right about as we arrived to the Wisconsin Dells. By the time dinner was over, it was getting dark and I was ready to settle into my sleeper with a good movie on the laptop.Because meals are served with folks seated in groups of four, I was added as a single at all meals. Often it was me plus one other single travel along with a couple. Sometimes the couple was a man and his wife, once it was a man with his son, while another time a woman and her daughter. It was very interesting to get to meet and chat with so many other people traveling for the first time on Amtrak. Consensus was that it was a good time, and that folks were impressed at just how good the food and comfort were on the train.CONTINUED in Stations Across The Nation - part 2Close
A vast majority of people travel on the Amtrak rail system in coach. Tickets are very reasonably priced, especially if you buy them in advance of your travel dates. A coach ticket one-way from Milwaukee to Whitefish, MT started at $158. To…Read More
A vast majority of people travel on the Amtrak rail system in coach. Tickets are very reasonably priced, especially if you buy them in advance of your travel dates. A coach ticket one-way from Milwaukee to Whitefish, MT started at $158. To travel "first class" is to buy space in a sleeper car, either a roomette or bedroom. The roomettes for my trip started at $207 (one-way). I'm not sure how much the bedrooms start at as they were already into second (or third) tier pricing by the time I started looking into my trip.During my Amtrak adventure I spent some time in coach so that I could write first hand about it. First thing that struck me was how large and comfy the seats were. They were similar in size, space and comfort to first class on most domestic US aircraft (think DC9, Boeing 757 or Airbus 300). The leg room was also spacious, although I should point out that some seats had wider space between seats than others. Also if you have short legs, the narrower space may be better if you want to use both the leg and foot rest. (Those of us with short legs cannot reach the foot rest!)On the 07/08 and 27/28 lines of the Empire Builder, there were four coach cars . . . two to/from Portland and two to/from Seattle. At Spokane they are connected to make one very lengthy train!Because my part of the journey was close to 30 hours each way, I got to see how folks made the most of their sleeping arrangements in coach. It was indeed very interesting. Most seemed to make do with sleeping in some variation of sitting up or slightly reclined. I did see some families traveling with small children who came prepared with blankets, sheets and pillows in order to make a small square bed for the little ones. The two side-by-side chairs folded down flat which made a nice little bed area.I also witnessed grown (large) adults sleeping on the floor between the seats. The space behind the last row of seats in each coach car seemed to be a primo sleeping area as most had someone tucked in there asleep. One man even had a large cardboard box flattened over him. It was reminiscent of the homeless sleeping on the grates in Washington, DC.All in all, most folks seemed to be pretty comfortable sleeping and/or riding in coach. Regarding restrooms, you would find them on the lower level of each coach car as well as in the lower level of the lounge (sightseeing/viewing) car.Speaking of the lounge car, the upper level was for viewing and the lower level was the lounge where you could purchase food, snacks and beverages. It was staffed throughout the day, with the exception of a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break and overnight (roughly 11:00pm-6:00am).On the viewing level, seating was often at a premium. There were a number of tables that had space for four, and folks were encouraged to share space. Additionally, there were a number of outward facing swivel chairs to provide for a wonderful view of the passing countryside. Because this viewing car has such large and expansive windows, it was VERY bright inside and often it got warm when the sun was shining in.As for the sleeper cars (our train had two), the layout seems to be standard for all Amtrak routes using the Superliner two level cars. The upper level is said to be the preferred due to viewing the passing by scenery. I was happy mine was on the higher level for sure. On the upper level were 10 roomettes and five bedrooms, plus one public bathroom. The lower level had four roomettes, one bedroom family suite and a handicap accessible bedroom, plus three public bathrooms and a public shower. The carry-on luggage storage for sleeper car passengers was also on the lower level.I found my roomette to be plenty spacious for me and in fact, would have also been comfy had my husband joined me on the trip. The two seats face one another with ample space between. There was also a fold out table that could be used for playing cards or setting up the laptop. At night the sleeping car attendant would fold down the chairs and make the bed utilizing the bedroll and linens that are stored out of the way up on the upper berth.Traveling alone, the upper berth made for a good storage area for my personal belongings. On this six day trip I had a duffle bag, camera bag and a knapsack. Had I had someone traveling with me and sharing the roomette, my bags would have been stored under the lower berth while we were sleeping.I found the lighting and controls in the roomette to be sufficient to provide comfort during the trip. I also slept very well the two nights I was over-nighting on the train. I also enjoyed having electrical outlets in my roomette to plug in my laptop and recharge camera batteries. After dark, watching movies on the laptop was a great way to pass the time away before bedtime.My sister and her son had a bedroom on their Portland to Chicago segment, so that allowed me the opportunity to check out that space too. It was about twice the area that I had in my roomette. They had a couch (that folded down into the lower berth) and a side chair. The upper berth was above the couch/lower berth and about the same size of the beds in my roomette. The lower berth in the bedroom was wider however, probably big enough for an adult and child or two smaller adults (or teens).The biggest difference in my opinion between the roomettes and the bedrooms was the private bathroom/shower. The W/C was small, about the size I'm told of a cruise ship bathroom. The toilet and shower are really all in one single area. The hand/wash sink was outside of the bathroom, in the bedroom area near the door.If you are traveling in the sleeper car, you're considered to be traveling in first class. As such, you are entitled to free meals in the dining car and are given first preference on dinner reservation times. This makes the sleeping car arrangements a great value given that you not only are getting the comfort and privacy for sleep, but also meals for all who are in your roomette or bedroom.For my two trips in the roomette, my meals came to just about $80 each way (excluding gratuities). When you consider the roomette was priced at $207, that makes the sleeping accommodations roughly the same as the cost of a hotel night. In Pam & Michael's case, with two of them sharing the bedroom, the value was even greater. I think she said she paid around $500 for the bedroom, but given their travel involved two sleeping nights and more meals . . . for two of them . . . it was a great deal!First class passengers on the Empire Builder are also treated to an afternoon Wine & Cheese Tasting that is hosted in the afternoon while traveling through Montana. I was able to participate in this during both of my trips (east and west bound). Guests are invited to the dining car around 3:00pm for the sampling of wines from the Pacific NW and cheeses from Wisconsin. More a social event than anything, it was a fun way to spend time getting to meet others sharing the adventure.All in all, riding on Amtrak was very comfortable. I would encourage anyone who is traveling a long distance (more than one night on the rails) to consider getting a sleeper car accommodation. As I said, even for me with just one night in each direction, I felt there was good value to having a roomette.Close
Written by MilwVon on 21 Mar, 2012
The 30 hour trip between Milwaukee, WI and Whitefish, MT was made much more comfortable and enjoyable in part due to the meals served in the dining car. The train in both directions (east and west) had a dining car which provided a full-service…Read More
The 30 hour trip between Milwaukee, WI and Whitefish, MT was made much more comfortable and enjoyable in part due to the meals served in the dining car. The train in both directions (east and west) had a dining car which provided a full-service hot food experience to guests.Departing Milwaukee at approximately 4pm and a scheduled arrival the following day at 9:00pm my plan was to dine with Amtrak for four meals. My return trip was scheduled to depart Whitefish shortly prior to 8:00am, arriving back home in Milwaukee at 2:00pm, which would be five meals.I can say that for my nine meals on the train, I enjoyed them all. Some were much better than others, and all were one hundred times better than what you can expect to experience on an airplane. Even my first class experience on British Airways last summer could not compare in quality or selection to what I had during my train adventure!A little about dining on Amtrak . . .They have open seating (no reservations) for breakfast (6:30am - 9:00am) and lunch (11:00am - 2:00pm). Once the dining car was full, they took a waiting list to accommodate everyone who wished to dine with them. For dinner, reservations are required and seemed to be generally taken in 15 to 30 minute increments, between 5:00pm and 7:45pm. The staff on both of my dining cars were very friendly and efficient. I was impressed at just how quickly they were able to feed and move folks through the dining process without feeling as though you were being rushed.Times are approximate and somewhat flexible based on the actual travel times on the train. Because my return trip was behind schedule leaving Whitefish, and lost more time along the way, the meal services provided were correspondingly adjusted. Additionally, because of the number of people still on the train for certain meals, food shortages seemed to follow (especially for lunch that day).Guests are seated with others so as to fill all of the four-person tables. On my trip out to Whitefish I traveled alone, so I was always put with others. On the return, I was traveling with my sister and nephew so we were often alone as there were no singles to add to our group. For the most part, the social aspect of riding on the train is highlighted during meals because you are encouraged to meet and chat with others. Most people that I met along my journey were open and friendly, willing to engage in conversation with new friends.As for the dining car menu, you can check out what the Empire Builder offers on their website: http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=AM_Route_C&pagename=am%2FLayout&cid=1241245653623 . There are similar guides for the other Amtrak routes throughout the system. They did a good job of offering different "chef's specials" from day to day. That was especially nice if you were riding over a distance of more than one day. One example was their "French Toast or Pancakes" breakfast. One day it was the french toast . . . the next day pancakes.They also featured chef specials for lunch and dinner. I tried to sample as much of their menu as possible over the course of my four days on the train. I really liked the pancakes . . . they were obviously cooked to order on a flat grill and not microwaved. For lunch, I enjoyed the chef's special blue cheese salad feature . . . and dinner always seemed to be outstanding. I guess I was most surprised at how good the pork chop was my first night and that the oven fried catfish was not overly fishy or greasy.Lunch and dinner meals also offered desserts. At lunch it was generally Haagen Dazs ice cream or sorbet. At dinner, they featured chocolate covered cream puffs one night and a tiramisu parfait or an apple/pear/cranberry pie the second.In addition to soft drinks and milk, beer and wine are also available in the dining car.If you are being accommodated in a roomette or bedroom, you are considered to be traveling first class. As such, all of your meals in the dining car are included in the price of your sleeping accommodations. That said, I felt the prices for the quantity and quality of food provided was fair. I found that my breakfasts averaged around $12; lunches $15 and dinner $23 including beverages. The total costs for my meals were $77 on the way out (1 breakfast, 1 lunch and 2 dinners) and $81 on the way back (2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 1 dinner). Gratuities to servers were extra. They accepted cash and credit cards for all meal purchases.For those travelers who prefer to not eat on such a regimented schedule or with others in the dining car, there is the option to buy food in the lower level of the lounge car. Generally speaking the lounge car is open throughout the trip with the exception of a short break in the morning, another in the afternoon and then overnight from about 11:00pm until 6:00am. They offer a full array of items for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as snack items and beverages. I must admit, during one of the morning announcements, the bagel and cream cheese sounded pretty tempting! My nephew also said that the microwaved hamburgers were also pretty good too.As a low cost option, folks can bring their own snacks and soft drinks aboard the train as well. I noticed a lot of families traveling with coolers and sacks filled with sandwiches and snacks for the ride. While folks are allowed to bring soft drinks on the train, alcohol may only be brought on and drank by those who are in sleeping accommodations (i.e., not in coach).Bottom line . . . dining on Amtrak's Empire Builder was a big bonus during my "Stations Across the Nation" adventure!Close
Glacier National Park is like many other national parks located in mountainous areas of the United States in that access is very limited due to the extreme winter conditions. Many of the park services are closed and the roads are only cleared and maintained…Read More
Glacier National Park is like many other national parks located in mountainous areas of the United States in that access is very limited due to the extreme winter conditions. Many of the park services are closed and the roads are only cleared and maintained for the first several miles from the entrance. In the case of Glacier NP, the Going-to-the-Sun Road (the main road from the west entrance) is only open for the first eight or ten miles to the Lake McDonald Lodge (which happens to also be closed).Upon arrival to the West Glacier entrance to the park, I did stop to take a few photos of the Middle Fork Flathead River which provided pretty reflections of the tall pines along its shoreline. Inside the park, I had expected to find the Apgar Visitor Center to be closed. However, there were lights on and several people could be seen inside. I went ahead and pulled into the parking lot, taking advantage of the public restrooms on the backside of the building.Because the doorway into the visitor center was open, I walked through looking for their National Parks Passport station to stamp my book. The park ranger searched under the desk for it, asking if I was with the group of kids inside. Responding that I was not, she curtly told me that they were closed which was why there was a sign on the front door "CLOSED - Do Not Enter". I explained that since I came in through the restrooms, I didn't see any signage on the front door. She didn't really seem to care much.Mission accomplished however, I got my National Parks Passport stamped and was more than happy to vacate the building.From there I headed out to the boat launch area of Lake McDonald. The lake was amazingly free of ice, but with the overcast skies, the photo op at the time was not optimal so I got back in the car and headed out around the lake. I did see a set of canine tracks in the fresh snow that had fallen the night before. I tried to follow them but they went up over a small hill and behind a row of closed cabins. The snow was too deep for me to venture on foot in sneakers. Besides, did I really want to come upon what was probably a wolf or coyote?The road along the lake was cleared but still pretty slick with ice. The warming daytime temperatures resulted in thaw, while the falling nighttime temps resulted in a refreeze. The weather, while cloudy and at times drizzly, was warm . . . probably in the low 50's. Where the sun hit the road, it was slushy but in the shade it was solid packed ice and slippery.At the end of the groomed road was a gate beyond which a group of X-country skiers were venturing off on their own. The snow looked really deep out there! I drove through the mostly cleared parking lot of the Lake McDonald Lodge, wishing they were open for a cup of hot chocolate and perhaps a scone.Back in my car, I headed back on the road I first drove in on. The view coming from the opposite direction provided a new perspective which I enjoyed. I stopped several times along the way to snap a photograph or two. I also took a series of shots which I could later use to create a five-pic panorama of the lake. Unfortunately, the photo capabilities here at IgoUgo does not do justice to the resulting effort, but I'll post it to this anyway.I returned to the boat launch area as the skies seemed to have cleared a bit. I walked down to the dock to see what I could see. I was surprised at how crystal clear the glacier fed water of the lake was. I could see to the bottom of what looked to be three or four feet of water.The timing of my visit was probably a couple of weeks too early to see bears coming out of hibernation. Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas are known as bear country, with both black and brown (aka grizzly) bears. I was also told that deer and elk are common, moose less so . . . and no caribou in this region of USA.As I looked through the brochure provided by NPS when you enter the park, I was struck by the vastness of this park which celebrated their centennial in 2010. The 50 mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is generally open to the top of the mountain (9,642 ft) only during the warmest part of the summer . . . maybe July and August each year. Also with the snow capped mountains, none of the glaciers were visible to visitors. That said, I did enjoy my brief drive through the park and hope to someday return in the summer for the full benefit of this US National Park.Visitors should be advised that this is a park that charges admission. In the winter it is $15 for car + passengers and in the summer it jumps to $25. For those who visit several US National Parks, consider buying the annual pass which costs $80/year.More info on Glacier National Park may be found on their website: http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm .Close
Written by MilwVon on 20 Mar, 2012
For my two full days in Whitefish, I wanted to have a rental car to get out and about, including a road trip out to Glacier National Park. I started looking for what deals were out there immediately, only to find that the price…Read More
For my two full days in Whitefish, I wanted to have a rental car to get out and about, including a road trip out to Glacier National Park. I started looking for what deals were out there immediately, only to find that the price of cars we very high both in town at the train station (Hertz and Budget) and the Kalispell Airport (all the majors are there).In addition to high daily rental fees, it seemed all cars were priced with limited miles per day (125 to 150). Since I was hoping to drive over 400 miles during my two days, I didn't want to be locked into an additional fee of $.25/mile for anything over 250 or 300 for my two day rental.I also found that picking up my car upon arrival (9:00p) and returning when I departed via Amtrak the morning of my third day, I would be essentially paying for that third day of car rental to have the car sit in my hotel parking lot from 9:00p until 7:00a the next morning. I suppose getting the added daily miles might be worth it, but probably not.Therefore I planned the pick up of my rental car at the Kalispell Airport the morning after my arrival, and returning it the following evening around 9:00pm. With the convenience of the hotel's shuttle service this made the most sense for me.I ended up booking my rental car through Hotwire.com for what turned out to be a savings of $30 on the two day rental; plus I got unlimited mileage. What a bonus! My rental was assigned to Alamo.When I picked up my car at the Kalispell Airport which was just 12-15 miles away from Whitefish, I noted that they were offering the prepaid gas option at $2.25/gallon, more than $1.25 less than the street price I noticed en route to the airport that morning. To me, that was a no brainer especially since I was planning to rack up plenty of those free, unlimited miles.As I discussed my car return to the airport after hours, the counter agent offered to let me drop the car off down at the Whitefish Amtrak Station, rather than bringing it back early the evening before requiring the hotel's shuttle services. This worked out perfectly as it allowed me to have the car later the evening prior to my departure and saved having to ask the shuttle driver for a pick-up at the airport and an early morning ride the next day to the train station.So the best I can figure the business model of the rental car business in this area . . . most people do not rack a lot of miles on the rental cars. I would guess 125-150 miles per day is sufficient especially in the winter when folks are coming to the area to ski. If they are skiing, their rental cars are sitting idle. Further, if the rental does take the prepaid gas option, they really need to drive and use 10+ gallons of the tank to make it financially beneficial. Again, if the car sits and is not driven, the car rental company makes out on the deal, even at $2.25/gallon (plus taxes).For most with the limited mileage, if they do drive the car enough to drain the tank closer to empty, they will be on the hook for the mileage fee (the $.25/mile) which would more than offset the discounted price on the prepaid gas option.So you see, the combination of unlimited miles plus the low prepaid gas option, someone could really take advantage of things especially if they drive the tank close to empty. And I did! I had to buy two gallons of gas when the low gas warning light came on indicating I only had 40 miles to empty. With the added gas, I figured I had 100 miles more to drive before leaving the car at the train station. When I left the car there, I had driven it 80 miles, allowing just enough for them to get it back to the Kalispell Airport.In total, I did drive the rental car 425 miles in the two days of day tripping. My total gas expense was $40 at an average cost of roughly $2.82/gallon. Sweet!Perhaps for their summer tourism business, they have a different pricing philosophy as I would expect visitors to do more driving, especially to Glacier National Park area. I would encourage folks to look into alternative car rental booking agencies including Hotwire, Priceline and CarRentals.com. I found that my direct contact to the rental companies, especially in Whitefish, to be less than friendly or helpful. Budget was especially inflexible and rather rude about it too.Close
After a great first day in Montana, I thought I would explore north of Whitefish to see what was up that way on Hwy 93. Given the lousy weather conditions, I was not sure if I would attempt to venture north of the border…Read More
After a great first day in Montana, I thought I would explore north of Whitefish to see what was up that way on Hwy 93. Given the lousy weather conditions, I was not sure if I would attempt to venture north of the border into British Columbia, Canada. It had been raining all night and into the morning, but as I drove further north, the skies seemed to be lightening as if the sun might just break through the clouds.I enjoyed the first part of my drive, roughly 50 miles to the small western town of Eureka, Montana. Along the way I passed a number of farms and lakes through the Stillwater State Forest. I even took a short detour following the "Wildlife Viewing Area" sign on the highway.I'm not sure that was such a wise idea in hindsight, however. Given the spring thaw and still freezing nighttime temperatures, the small winding road into a public park area was like an ice skating rink. When I got out of the car near the top of the hill (some five or six miles back into the woods), I realized I had been driving on a solid road of ice about an inch thick. It was not very reassuring to realize this at the top of the hill, as it was time for me to navigate back DOWN the hill. Fortunately I made it without incident although I did lose my traction at one point going into a sideways slide down the hill for about 10 yards. More disappointing was the fact that I saw no wildlife to speak of; only a few squirrels out looking for nuts I suppose . . . and I didn't count!Continuing on my way north on Hwy 93, I reached the town of Eureka. It was about what one might expect of a western frontier town. It was quaint and hustling with activity. I enjoyed seeing "Von's Cafe" home of the best burgers in town. Their signage even said you could "bet your buns on it!" It was here that on my return trip through that I bought two gallons of gas at $3.54/gallon so as to assure I'd have enough to return to Whitefish with just a splash left in the rental car for its return the next morning. (I prepaid with Alamo for a full tank at $2.25/gallon! What a deal that was.)Since the weather seemed to be clearing up, I thought "what the heck" . . . I might as well continue the additional eight miles to the Roosville border crossing into Canada. When I arrived at the Canadian Customs drive up, I gave the officer my US Passport and the rental car agreement. He asked me a bunch of the usual routine questions . . . " Are you carrying any weapons?"" What is your purpose for coming to Canada?"" How long have you been in Whitefish?"" Where are you employed?"Mmmmm, I'm currently unemployed.That led to a number of follow-up questions, and a directive to pull around to the left into the first inspection bay. YIKES!About 10 or 15 minutes later, a female officer came out of the building. More questions ensued including . . ." How do you earn money if you're unemployed?"" How much cash to you have on you now?"" Who are you meeting in Canada?"" How much money do you have access to now?" (My follow-up question to this one provided that she was inquiring about how much money I could access from an ATM account from my bank accounts and credit cards.)And on and on . . . blah blah blah.What a colossal headache given I was just wanting to drive up into BC to see what was around up there, hoping for perhaps a spectacular view of the mountains or perhaps some wildlife. I guess it is not normal for someone unemployed to ride the train for 30 hours (each way) just to spend a couple of days in Whitefish, Montana with a side trip into Canada. LOLOnce she was assured I wasn't smuggling contraband (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc), I was allowed to proceed into Canada. I was later told by someone at my hotel that there is apparently an issue with Americans going into Canada for day-labor work and since I responded that I was unemployed, that probably triggered a red flag.As I left the border, the rain resumed. I did see several deer along the roadside, but honestly, they just looked like the deer I had seen the day before back in Montana . . . or home in Wisconsin or Virginia for that matter. On the road to the mountain ski resort of Fernie, there were signs alerting drivers to the possibility of mountain goats, but alas I saw none.I did however, enjoy the views as the mountains seemed much more jagged and sharp than those seen at Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas around the Flathead Valley.When I got to Fernie, the rain was now mixed with sleet and snow so I figured that was my signal to turn around and head back to the good ole USA. At the American border, my return "home" was far less concerning . . . thankfully I must have looked normal to them. All in all, I guess the drive could be viewed as a bit of a waste given that the weather didn't allow for great viewing of the mountains and I did not see any wildlife to speak of. But I'd suggest it was a fun day out and allowed me to see a bit more of the world around me, even if it was through the springtime mountain fog.Close
Written by Hey_Tiff on 23 Jul, 2002
O' Canada... that's what we saw today. We've moved on from Many Glacier and went to Waterton National park in Canada. We went through customs and drove just a little ways into Canada to see the plains and the huge mountains. There are no foothills,…Read More
O' Canada... that's what we saw today. We've moved on from Many Glacier and went to Waterton National park in Canada. We went through customs and drove just a little ways into Canada to see the plains and the huge mountains. There are no foothills, just flat land and then straight up - the mountains.
The first thing we did was take a eat lunch at a place called Zum's. We both had a buffalo burger. It was really good. Then we took a boat tour around Waterton lake. The boat was 73 years old and had the great northern railway symbol on the smoke stack. We were let off about 7 miles down at a very remote location call Goat Haunt. These bluffs were back in Montana so we actually were able to see the international border and the obelisk that marked the border. We saw where they keep all the trees cleared for 40 ft across to make the visible border. Very cool.
We were able to see another black bear from the boat. We watched him very closely and noticed that he could not see us watching him but he could hear us. This was our first bear sighting in Canada and the boat guide said that it was the best sighting he had ever seen from the boat.
That evening we ate at the Prince of Wales hotel. It was excellent, I had the chocolate mousse for desert and it was very tasty. The hotel was built in 1926 and is owned by Glacier Park Inc., the same company that runs everything in the US park. We enjoyed the view after dinner and toured the hotel and took pictures.
Finally we decided to go to see Planet of the Apes at the old Opera house movie theater for the 9:30 show. It was a very small and quaint building and had the original everything. Very small but they had the Canadian air conditioning in the whole time. (They left the doors open on either side of the building). We enjoyed the atmosphere and I will never forget seeing that movie in Waterton, Canada.
Happy trails...this morning I got up and went horseback riding through the Cracker Flats. Tiff opted to sleep in. She wasn't up for sitting in the saddle. It was enjoyable two hour ride. It was a small group. The only other guests were an…Read More
Happy trails...this morning I got up and went horseback riding through the Cracker Flats. Tiff opted to sleep in. She wasn't up for sitting in the saddle. It was enjoyable two hour ride. It was a small group. The only other guests were an an older couple from Oklahoma. My horse, Stardust, and I brought up the rear and did our own sight-seeing. I loved riding along the trail. We even saw a grizzly sow with her cub (from a distance of course).
Back at the lodge I met up with Tiffany for lunch. We saw a few bears on the side of the hill. It's interesting how everyone stops along the side of the road and stares up at the hill.
After lunch at Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, we headed back to Going to the Sun Road and Logan Pass. On our way we saw a small black bear real close to the road. It was the best and safest view from our car. We held up traffic a bit as Tiffany took several great pictures. It was the first of our many encounters with wildlife today.
We drove up to Logan Pass visitor center where we began our hike to the Hidden Lake overlook. It was 1.25 m one-way that crossed the continental divide a few times. Most of the trail is boardwalk, climbing hundreds of feet at a steady pace. I must admit that I was huffing and puffing at times.
The view from the top was well worth it! I am just amazed at the beauty of the mountains high above and the blue glacial water below. While we were looking out up walks a mountain goat along with her kid. She ran all of the people off of the lookout to lick the salt off of the rail. We were greatly surprised! Although these animals aren't known to be aggressive, they still have horns.
And for our third encounter with Montana wildlife, we were hiking back down the trail when all of a sudden out of the brush came a huge bighorn sheep. It stood about 25 ft in front of us and we had no idea what to do. It must have been rather funny to watch us scurry. Tiffany was trying to get behind me while I was trying to get behind her. The sheep didn't seem to bothered with us and just walked on. We laughed about that for some time down the trail.
Finally on our way home we stopped in St. Mary's to shop and eat. When we were ready to go I discovered that I didn't have the keys to the car. It was an adventure retracing our steps and thinking of places I could have left them. To make a the story short, I had simply laid them down while looking in the gift shop! It added to the excitement of our day.
- I had to add that we sat by the fire in the Many Glacier Lodge at night. It is a huge copper fireplace flume that hangs suspended from the tall ceiling. We spoke with some other visitors and just hung out. We had our last encounters with animals during this time. We saw a field mouse scurry back and forth between the feet of people in the lobby and we also had a swooping bat. I opened the lobby door to free the bat but I did not have the courage to trace down the mouse.