Glacier National Park: Many Glacier Hotel Tour

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Glacier National Park: Grinell Glacier Trail

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Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

On our last day in Glacier National Park, we decided to explore the Many Glacier Valley. We parked in the lot for the Many Glacier Hotel since we planned on touring the historic lodge in the afternoon. From the lot, we followed the horse trail over the road and picked up the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail around the head of the lake.

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This short scrubby trail led to the Grinell Glacier Trail head. That parking lot was already starting to get full at 8:30 AM. The hike to Grinell Glacier is one of the most popular in the park.

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I’d already checked online and warned my family that we would not be able to go all the way to the Glacier. It was the last week of June, but the trail is not usually cleared of snow and ice at the top until late July.

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There were signs at the trail head saying basically the same thing, so we were mentally prepared to have a nice hike along the first two lakes and then go left at the fork towards Grinell Lake instead of bearing right to the steep trail to the glacier.

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The first two miles were relatively flat, travelling up the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and then Josephine Lake. When we reached the end of Swiftcurrent Lake. we looked back to see Many Glacier Hotel against the mountains where we’d started.

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Then a gradual incline took us to a path above Josephine Lake through fields of wildflowers. We passed an inlet with an iceberg floating in it.

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When we got to the fork, we saw young people descending from the glacier trail. They confirmed that we could not get all the way to the glacier, but that we could get to a great overlook of Grinnell Lake by following the glacier trail for 10 minutes.

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Ten minutes turned out to be a steep, slippery, rocky climb of about a mile and maybe 45 minutes in the world of adults who have a less limited concept of time passage. Tall steps were carved into the rock in places and in others, little waterfalls rained down on us, cooling us off.

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The view of Grinell Lake from the overlook is breathtaking. The color of the water is the most vibrant of the three lakes in the valley because it is the closest to the glaciers and receives the glacial flour runoff first.

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At about the three and half mile mark, there was a ranger making sure that no hikers tried to go past the signs and risk traversing the ice covered cliffs.

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As we headed back down the trail, we had to break the news to hopeful hikers on the ascent that they wouldn’t be able to go all the way to the glacier.

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When we got to the start of Swiftcurrent Lake, we decided to hike the other shore back to Many Glacier Hotel. We were rewarded with some different scenes of canoes on the lake with Grinnell Point rising above it.

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Location: 1 Rte 3, Browning, MT 59417

Designation: National Park

Date designation declared: 5/11/1910

Date of my visit: 6/27/2018

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