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I’d read about Many Glacier Hotel’s dramatic rescue in a publication by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. I checked on the NPS website and saw that ranger-led tours of the hotel were held every afternoon. We timed our hike on the Grinnell Glacier trail to be sure we were back in time for the tour.
We returned back in time to have lunch in the Ptarmigan Dining Room. This is a beautiful place to eat, with its high ceilings, two story windows and the view of Swiftcurrent Lake. But unfortunately, the food was pretty mediocre for the price paid.
We met up with a park ranger in the hotel lobby for the tour at 2 PM. He spent some time there giving a history of the lodge.
Many Glacier Hotel was built by Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad. Many Glacier was the largest of all the hotels built in the park in an effort by Great Northern to attract tourists to Glacier National Park. Hill is said to have been obsessed with Many Glacier and was more involved in the design and construction than in his other Glacier properties.
It is designed to look like a Swiss Chalet as Hill considered Glacier to be the American Alps. The site for the hotel was chosen for the symmetry of the view across Swiftcurrent Lake. Grinnell Point is in the middle, flanked by ‘matching’ mountains on either side.
Time, the elements and some ill-advised ‘improvements’ took their toll on the structure over the years. In 1996, The National Trust For Historic Preservation included Many Glacier on its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places. The force of heavy winter snowfalls had actually knocked the massive hotel off its foundations and the whole thing was threatening to collapse into the lake.
Through the National Trust, the NPS and other organizations, the $42 million needed to restore the building was raised and renovations began in 2000. It took 17 years to pull the hotel back onto its foundation and restore it to its original design.
The ranger took us up to the second floor for an overview of the grand lobby. He pointed out the interesting design of the central fireplace, the restored double helix staircase and the Japanese lanterns. These are replicas of the paper lanterns originally installed by Louis Hill who incorporated Asian influences into the overall Swiss Alpine theme.
Next we went to the Ptarmigan Room where the ranger showed us pictures of what the Great Room looked like after a 1950s makeover. A drop-ceiling had been installed, harboring bats. The cathedral ceilings and pergola were restored in the 2000 renovation.
The tour concluded outside to discuss the Swiss architecture. The only wooden element remaining on the exterior is the carport. The rest is made of more fire-resistant materials because of the area’s history of wildfires.
Location: 1 Rte 3, Browning, MT 59417
Designation: National Park, National Landmark
Date designated or established: 5/11/1910 (1987 NHL)
Date of my visit: 6/27/2018