This post reviews Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, featuring photos of the rooms, common areas, restaurants, and a look at the view and location. Speaking of location, you know what, if the photo above doesn’t sell you on Many Glacier Hotel, there’s nothing I can write that will, so I’m going to devote this post to some of my favorite Arrested Development quotes. Let’s start with this classic from Charity Drive: “Creative control, spin-off rights and theme park approval for Mr. Banana Grabber, Baby Banana Grabber, and any other Banana Grabber family character that might emanate there from.” G.O.B. really never should have given up animation rights.
Actually, maybe it is worth discussing the hotel in a bit more detail. (Sorry, Arrested Development fans.) Let’s start with some history, as Many Glacier Hotel has some rich origins. Construction of Many Glacier Hotel began in 1913, when The Great Northern Railway commissioned contractor E.G. Evensta of Minneapolis, the build the hotel, using lumber cut in Glacier National Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley.
The railroad’s president, James J. Hill and son Louis, played a significant part in the promotion of US National Parks in this era, with a marketing campaign to wealthy Americans who typically vacationed in Europe with the slogan “See America First” and pushing Glacier National Park as the “American Alps.”
These campaigns are highlighted in Episode 3 of the Ken Burns documentary America’s Best Idea, which should be required viewing for every American (it’s currently streaming on Netflix). With this campaign the crux of the plan to draw the wealthy to Glacier National Park, and the park being highlighted as the “American Alps,” Many Glacier Hotel was constructed as the flagship, five-level, 215-room hotel featuring Swiss-style architecture.
Over 100 years later, Many Glacier Hotel is now a National Historic Landmark, retaining this intriguing Swiss-chalet architecture and, more importantly, its location on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake looking out onto those American Alps (a fitting description, indeed).
History, architecture, and location are the unquestionable draws of Many Glacier Hotel. You can see why the location is great in the photos above, but it’s also worth mentioning that because the park is so huge, staying within Glacier National Park has great benefit. If you instead opt to stay at a gateway town hotel, you’re looking at an hour (or more) drive to most things you want to see inside the park, and you’re going to waste considerable time commuting. Since Glacier National Park is not a simple “1-day” park (I spent 5 days here and saw only a small fraction of the park), you really don’t want to be wasting time.
While the hotel might have once had a more luxurious character as compared to other hotels of the time, now it is decidedly rustic. This means fairly simple rooms that lack televisions (if you’ve read my Volcano House Review, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is to the chagrin of clueless TripAdvisor reviewers). While the rooms are simple, the hotel is in fairly good condition, and a great example of a flagship lodge, especially as the bulk of its $25 million-plus refurbishment effort has concluded.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the elements of Many Glacier Hotel that aren’t quite as obvious as the location.
Like many National Park lodges of the era, Many Glacier Hotel has a sprawling, multi-story lobby. While this lobby lacks the grandiosity that some National Park lodges have, it is nice, and a good gathering place.
The centerpiece of the lobby is the large fireplace, which is a popular gathering spot throughout the day, but especially at night when people linger around here after a long day of hiking. At night, it has a palpable atmosphere, and it seems like many people hanging around here are the same affluent types that might have come to see the “American Alps,” with glasses of wine or craft beers in hand.
The lobby is also a popular gathering point, as it’s akin to an “Internet Refugee Camp,” a la the Over Logging episode of South Park. You won’t have cell service in most of Glacier National Park, and there is only limited WiFi in the hotel lobbies. Depending upon the way the wind is blowing, this internet may or may not work. This is absolutely no knock on the hotel, as the remote location makes even satellite internet difficult to consistently maintain–that they have any internet at all is impressive. In fact, Many Glacier Hotel states as much on its website, calling a visit to Glacier National Park a “technology detox.”
The lobby has some taxidermy in various corners, albeit not nearly as much as Lake McDonald Lodge (review to come), which has taxidermy as the highlight of its lobby.
Just outside the lobby is a balcony with seating that allows guests to stare out onto Swiftcurrent Lake. Lots of people sat here, reading during the daytime hours, and I’m sure this would be a great feature for older guests or those unable to hike. A day of relaxing in chairs overlooking America’s Alps doesn’t sound too shabby to me…
The National Park concessionaire, Xanterra, that operates Many Glacier Hotel as operates the famous Red Bus Tours that traverse a variety of locations in Glacier National Park (here’s a list of the tours). Since we were on a photography trip with specific goals and places to be, I didn’t take one of these tours, but driving Going to the Sun Road in one of these with the top down would probably be pretty fun.
I had the chance to dine at all of the restaurants in Many Glacier Hotel, and I’ll cover that in detail in a separate post concerning eating in Glacier National Park. Above is a photo of The Ptarmigan Dining Room, which is the lodge’s main dining room.
I highly recommend the breakfast buffet here. We did this every morning, and there are two options, one for fools vegetarians, and the other for brilliant carnivores. As you can see by my heaping plateful of bacon and sausage, I opted for the carnivore option. Perhaps it was because I spent so much energy hiking and burning the candle at both ends, but this was some of the best bacon I’ve ever had in my life.
Moving on to the rooms, this is where my praise of Many Glacier Hotel is a little less glowing. I split the room with 2 other photographers, and we had a 2-bedroom family room for the rate of $250/night (around $277 after taxes, I believe). Here’s the larger of the two rooms.
In between the rooms was a shared bathroom, which was decidedly no-frills, with a shower curtain wrapping around the bathtub. On the plus side, it was larger than other National Park lodge bathrooms, some of which seem like glorified closets, but it was still unimpressive.
Here’s the other bedroom. About the only thing that was nice about the rooms was the suede chairs and lamps. I can imagine Teddy Roosevelt sitting in that chair in the corner sipping on an Old Fashioned, journaling his adventures climbing to the summit of Mt. Cleveland, head-butting a bear and staring down a big horn sheep on his way to the top. I’m not even sure Teddy Roosevelt ever visited Glacier, and he certainly didn’t sit in this exact chair if he did, but this romanticized notion makes the room seem a little cooler to me.
The bedding in these rooms was very simple, and that along with the mattresses could definitely stand to be modernized. At the end of the day we were so tired that we all slept like babies regardless (except for the night a fire alarm went off at midnight!), and hopefully this is coming as the refurbishment at Many Glacier Hotel continues. Otherwise, the rooms were perfectly fine and about as rustic as you’d expect for a National Park lodge.
Let the photo above (and the two at the top of the post) sink in a little before I share my recap and overall analysis…
Overall, I cannot recommend Many Glacier Hotel highly enough. For me, this is akin to staying at El Tovar Lodge on the rim of the Grand Canyon or Volcano House with a view of the volcano out your window. At any of these places, the rooms, service, and amenities could be appalling and I would still elect to stay at them. That’s not the case with Many Glacier Hotel (or any of those hotels mentioned). While the rooms leave a bit to be desired, the interesting architecture, beautiful common areas, quality dining, and proximity to key portions of Glacier National Park make Many Glacier Hotel an absolute winner. It doesn’t hurt that the nightly rates are fairly reasonable as compared to other National Park lodges, either. If you are planning a visit to Glacier National Park, I’d highly recommend doing a split stay between Many Glacier Hotel and Lake McDonald Lodge, so you can tackle the east and west sides of the park without substantial commutes. This is what we did, and I would definitely do it again, probably next time adding Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada to the mix, extending the trip into Waterton, too.
You can book Many Glacier Hotel directly through its website. To learn more about Many Glacier Hotel and other flagship National Park Lodges, check out the PBS book Great Lodges of the National Parks.
For more of my tips and thoughts about Glacier, please check out my other Glacier National Park posts. If you’re planning a trip to Glacier National Park, I recommend the Glacier National Park Moon Handbook. I checked out a few guides from our library, and this is the best one that I found (although I didn’t use any of the hiking guides). You should also plan to purchase bear spray when visiting Glacier, but this should not be purchased in advance–the gift shop in the hotel sells it.
Have you stayed at Many Glacier Hotel? If so, what did you think of it? If you haven’t stayed there, would you consider it as part of your trip to Glacier National Park? Please share your thoughts in the comments!