Glacier National Park, and nearby towns (Whitefish, Essex, East Glacier, West Glacier)

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dogbert617

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I just got a pop-up ad for Whitefish, and thought this would be a good time to post my picture of Whitefish. Here's the eastbound Empire Builder on January 10, 2017 running with three locomotives, two sleepers and two coaches in the Seattle section, and an extra SSL deadheading on the rear.

View attachment 10867
So this train had TWO sightseer lounges?!? I've never seen the EB run with 2 such lounges, though at times I've seen more than one sleeper on the front half (Seattle section), and ditto with the Portland section as well. As was the case (2 Portland sleepers, & 2 Seattle sleepers) when I rode it last week, to Glacier NP.
 

Rasputin

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Yes the Izaak Walton Inn is open all year and I understand that they do a good business in the winter catering to cross country skiers who use the trails in the national forest. The hotels in the park (and many businesses and facilities outside the park) do not open until June. There is only one restaurant open all year in East Glacier and none in West Glacier so things are pretty quiet until the season starts.
 
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We're going to stay 2 nights at the Izaak Walton in October, stopping off on New York to Seattle trip. We're not planning any serious hikes but hopefully will be able to do a couple of not too strenuous walks and some chilling watching the trains. Very much looking forward to it.
 

Rasputin

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We're going to stay 2 nights at the Izaak Walton in October, stopping off on New York to Seattle trip. We're not planning any serious hikes but hopefully will be able to do a couple of not too strenuous walks and some chilling watching the trains. Very much looking forward to it.
I hope you will give us a review of your stay there. Hope you have a good time and that the weather is good.
 
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Thank you Rasputin. I will try to remember to do a review. These forums have so much useful info for planning.
 

dogbert617

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Yes the Izaak Walton Inn is open all year and I understand that they do a good business in the winter catering to cross country skiers who use the trails in the national forest. The hotels in the park (and many businesses and facilities outside the park) do not open until June. There is only one restaurant open all year in East Glacier and none in West Glacier so things are pretty quiet until the season starts.
Speaking of Izaak Walton(and thanks for this earlier reply), do you know approximately when in September or October that leaf colors start to change on trees around Glacier, and also the Flathead National Forest? It'd be cool to see the leaf colors change, in the fall. Would be cool to revisit that area, and see leaf colors change out that way during the fall season.
 

Rasputin

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Speaking of Izaak Walton(and thanks for this earlier reply), do you know approximately when in September or October that leaf colors start to change on trees around Glacier, and also the Flathead National Forest? It'd be cool to see the leaf colors change, in the fall. Would be cool to revisit that area, and see leaf colors change out that way during the fall season.
I haven't been to Glacier in September for many years so I don't know the answer to that. I would suggest a call or email to the Park or to the Inn or to the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Center might provide some information. In September and October there might be some snow especially at the higher elevations. Not sure when you would likely see some snow at the lower elevations such as around the Inn.

For Barb's trip in October, I would suggest that if possible they rent a car for the day and drive to the Two Medicine area and the Many Glacier area in the Park and also drive up the Going-to-the-Sun road as far as it is open. Those will provide far superior scenery than can be seen at Essex. Perhaps the Park's visitors center at St. Mary will also be open. I might also suggest a stop at the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning. Bring some warm clothes (or buy some at the Inn gift shop) but if there is a snowstorm, enjoy Essex instead of driving around.
 
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dogbert617

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For Barb's trip in October, I would suggest that if possible they rent a car for the day and drive to the Two Medicine area and the Many Glacier area in the Park and also drive up the Going-to-the-Sun road as far as it is open. Those will provide far superior scenery than can be seen at Essex. Perhaps the Park's visitors center at St. Mary will also be open. I might also suggest a stop at the Museum of the Plains Indians in Browning. Bring some warm clothes (or buy some at the Inn gift shop) but if there is a snowstorm, enjoy Essex instead of driving around.
In East Glacier Village, there's also an art gallery (____? (forget first name) Clarke Art Gallery) of Native American art that seems like it would've been interesting to visit per online reviews, had it been open longer than just until 6pm. And as I recall, opened at something like 10 or 11am. It's free to visit, per the signage I saw outside the door. Like other seasonal places in this area, I think that's only open till sometime in September or October, so keep that in mind.
 

Matthew H Fish

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May 28, 2019
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If anyone is looking for intercity transit out of Whitefish, the Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai runs a bus from Whitefish to Missoula, once a day.

http://www.csktdhrd.org/transportation/flathead-transit

The problem as the schedule currently stands is that the bus leaves Whitefish at 4 in the afternoon, meaning its a long wait from when the train drops off. Also, since that leg is the second one, if you go south, you have to spend the night.

Still, if you want to go to, say, Polson, spend the night or weekend, and then head back to Whitefish to get back on the train, this is a good way to do it.
 

Willbridge

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If anyone is looking for intercity transit out of Whitefish, the Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai runs a bus from Whitefish to Missoula, once a day.

http://www.csktdhrd.org/transportation/flathead-transit

The problem as the schedule currently stands is that the bus leaves Whitefish at 4 in the afternoon, meaning its a long wait from when the train drops off. Also, since that leg is the second one, if you go south, you have to spend the night.

Still, if you want to go to, say, Polson, spend the night or weekend, and then head back to Whitefish to get back on the train, this is a good way to do it.
I rode it in 2015 and was thankful that it did not leave till 4 pm, as Train 28 was delayed by a derailed freight between Pasco and Spokane. Departing SPK after 8 a.m., we enjoyed the great scenery that used to be covered by the Mainstreeter and the Western Star, but a bit later and I would have had to use the print-out of Whitefish lodgings that I carried as a back-up.

Amtrak's station stayed open long enough to get luggage and then closed from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., meaning that I and another passenger had to wait outside. The bus was a noisy truck chassis conversion, but everything else went well. I had previously ridden Rimrock Trailways on the same route, but the scenery is worth another trip. (My complete trip was PDX - WFS - Missoula - Billings - DEN.)
 

Twin Star Rocket

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Speaking of Izaak Walton(and thanks for this earlier reply), do you know approximately when in September or October that leaf colors start to change on trees around Glacier, and also the Flathead National Forest? It'd be cool to see the leaf colors change, in the fall. Would be cool to revisit that area, and see leaf colors change out that way during the fall season.
We went in mid-September in 2018 and hit fall colors at their peak.
 

Siegmund

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Nov 19, 2018
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If you have a rental car you can see great fall colors somewhere within an hour anytime in that timeframe.

The east side of the pass is both higher and more windblown/colder; the aspens between the summit and East Glacier can very well be done by the 3rd week of September some years. But between Whitefish and Libby, the larches are barely started the first of October, and peak in mid to late October depending how low down and how cold of a fall. On any given week the peak colors will push farther down and farther west.
A bonus of going from 2000 feet (Libby) to 3000 (Kalispell) to 4000 (hills above the Flathead Tunnel) to 5000 (Marias Pass).
 

Skyline

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So I was thinking eventually in a year or 2, I wouldn't mind doing an Amtrak trip to Whitefish, and of course from there go to Glacier National Park. Hadn't decided if I also should try to visit nearby Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta(and bring my passport), or not. I was thinking Whitefish over Essex, since it seems to have more local amenities(motels/hotels, car rental places, etc) vs. Essex(not sure if there's anything there, except the Isaac Walton Inn). I know I also could go from East Glacier Village into the national park, but am still leaning towards Whitefish.

Anyway, I have some dumb questions to ask(forgive me, lol!), based on early Googling and various message board threads I've read. Are there any free shuttles within this national park(i.e. Zion National Park), or is it better to rent a car and drive to the portions of Glacier National Park I was interested in? I was worried at first the best option would be to rent a car after arriving in Whitefish or East Glacier(though probably I'll do Whitefish), but I do wonder how extensive the shuttle system is within this park. And in the opinion of those who've gone here, what would be the best months to visit this park? It does seem like from road closures if you go in the winter, that probably the best time to visit would be sometime in the mid-late spring or early-mid fall. And perhaps, that you run into slightly less crowds vs. summer. But who knows? Back to the rental car question(I have a license, but just haven't actually rented a car before), do any of the rental car companies allow one to cross the border to Alberta(just for Waterton Lakes) and back? I assume they would, but won't be surprised if they charge an extra fee if you want to do that. Knowing how rental car companies(from what I've researched) can nickel and dime you, over certain minor things.

Also, any local things/points of interest worth stopping at in this immediate area surrounding Whitefish(and etc. with the towns nearby) besides Glacier National Park? And of course, any recommended nearby places to eat that are decent would be nice to hear about. I was still trying to do Tripadvisor/Yelp/Google research, to figure out what I can on this area. My bigger question mark I want to find out, is if the national park has any shuttles to get to various parts of this park. Or is it only that a few of the nearby motels/hotels, have shuttles that'll get you to various parts of this park? Thanks to someone, who can clarify my confusion on that.
I saw a YouTube recently that said shuttles were cancelled within GNP for 2020 -- including the red buses. Related to C-19. Best bet is to arrange for a vehicle rental well in advance and establish your own daily itinerary. You can do a lot more that way. Rentals can be arranged whether you stay at Whitefish, Kalispell, Essex, or within the Park.
 

dogbert617

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If anyone is looking for intercity transit out of Whitefish, the Confederated Tribes of the Salish and Kootenai runs a bus from Whitefish to Missoula, once a day.

Flathead Transit

The problem as the schedule currently stands is that the bus leaves Whitefish at 4 in the afternoon, meaning its a long wait from when the train drops off. Also, since that leg is the second one, if you go south, you have to spend the night.

Still, if you want to go to, say, Polson, spend the night or weekend, and then head back to Whitefish to get back on the train, this is a good way to do it.
I didn't realize there was a bus that ran, between Whitefish and Missoula. That is interesting to learn that such a bus runs, myself. That link shows the schedule, but weirdly doesn't mention what the fare is to each of the communities along that route. Wish I could find that info, somewhere. Plus with that schedule, it'd ensure for those coming east of Whitefish that you'd have to overnight there to use that bus, the next day. Lucky for those who are coming from west of Whitefish, since it wouldn't require an overnight stay to use that bus in Whitefish.

I saw a YouTube recently that said shuttles were cancelled within GNP for 2020 -- including the red buses. Related to C-19. Best bet is to arrange for a vehicle rental well in advance and establish your own daily itinerary. You can do a lot more that way. Rentals can be arranged whether you stay at Whitefish, Kalispell, Essex, or within the Park.
That's sad to hear, but doesn't totally surprise me considering so many things have been cancelled as a result of COVID. Also, the NPS website as of now(6/20/20) says that the eastern entrance into the park from Saint Mary, MT is still closed, due to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation not yet opening road access in that area to non-residents. The current status of things open at Glacier National Park, is shown on this page: Glacier National Park Status Update - Glacier National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
 

Siegmund

Service Attendant
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Nov 19, 2018
Messages
159
East side of Glacier Park will not open at all for 2020: Blackfeet close eastern border of Glacier for remainder of 2020 season

Make plans accordingly if you intend to get off the Builder in East Glacier this year (will they even keep the stop at East Glacier rather than Browning?). The west side of the park remains open, though the Going to the Sun Road is a few weeks away from being open to Logan Pass. If you come to Whitefish/West Glacier/Essex, it will be in an in-and-back-out visit to the park from the west side.
 
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