Last June, during Covid, our family ignored restrictions, got on a plane, and flew to Washington and Montana. We stayed at the Izaak Walton Inn, in Essex, Montana, halfway between the east and west entrance to Glacier National Park.
We had a fantastic time and no one got sick. And yes, I do believe covid-19 is real and very dangerous to certain people. But our family is healthy, airlines are clean and well-managed, you can’t get covid out in the fresh air, we wash our hands, don’t touch door knobs, etc. etc. We believe in informed decisions and free-choice. We’ve been flying and traveling multiple times this year, visited my elderly parents a few times and everything has been fine. Do what’s right for you–obviously.
A Train Buff’s Dream
The inn is a train-buff’s dream. It was originally built in 1939 to house railroad workers and future tourists to Glacier, but a planned southern entrance to the park never materialized. Today, however, tourists who plan to visit Glacier do stay at the inn. And, because it sits right near the railroad tracks, visitors can watch Amtrak’s Empire-Builder passenger train come through twice a day as it journey’s between Seattle and Chicago. Freight trains occasionally rumble by as well. There’s nothing better than drinking a beer on the inn’s back deck while watching the train go by. You can also watch and enjoy a great view of the surroundings from the pedestrian bridge above the tracks.
Visitors can stay in the main lodge or in retrofitted train cars located around the property. We stayed upstairs at the inn and ate nearly every meal in their wonderful Dining-Car Restaurant. The meals were healthy, varied, and always delicious.
Hiking near the Inn
There are great hiking trails near the inn as well. One day we hiked 2000 feet straight up (I’m not kidding) to an alpine lake called, Marion Lake. They call it a “moderate” 7.5 mile, round-trip hike, but the way up was a killer for me. I was so proud when I got to the top. Best of all, there was a little bit of snow at the top covering the trail and we weren’t sure which way to go till we saw moose tracks pointing the way. Have you ever seen moose tracks in the snow? I hadn’t. I felt like we’d come upon a wonderful secret. I wish I’d taken a photo.
My husband and I did a shorter, easier hike on the morning of our last day at the inn. It was just as beautiful in a different way.
As much as we loved the Izaak Walton Inn, we were there to visit Glacier, so in we went, through the western entrance. The east entrance (controlled by the Blackfeet tribe) was closed due to covid-fears and still is. Hopefully it will re-open by summer ’21.
Our first day in Glacier we decided to kayak on Lake McDonald. We split into separate kayaks with my husband and daughter sharing one. My son took off and went out as far as he could, planning to get back in time and not pay extra (he just made it). My husband and daughter went out pretty far, and I, knowing my limits, stayed close to shore enjoying the experience of silently floating by a deer or looking up at the sky.
We experienced sunshine, rain, and hail while we were out there! We all came back while it was raining–me waaay before the others–and I froze waiting for my husband to come in with his wallet so I could run into the store and buy warm, dry clothes! But it was all a great experience.
We also hiked a popular, crowded-for-June trail to Lake Avalanche. It was a 6.7 moderate (this time it was true), out-and-back trail to the most gorgeous lake and mountains! Someone told us it looked like Tolkien country, and except for all the people, it really did. Too bad it was so crowded. I can’t imagine hiking it in July or August.
Speaking of, July and August are the most popular months to go to Glacier but I’ve seen pictures and it is crowded! We loved going in June. It wasn’t crowded at all, especially with most people staying home because of covid. The only draw-back was that due to snow, the popular Going to the Sun Road was only partially open. Who knows what summer will be like during this crazy time, but if you want to go, I recommend making reservations now at the Isaak Walton Inn. There aren’t that many places close to the park and this inn is the best!
For more information, please go to their website.