To some, winter means cozying up next to a fire with a cup of spiced cider and your warmest pair of fleece socks. But in Western Montana, winter means it’s time to play in the great outdoors and revel in the region’s fluffy white snow, sunshine and crisp mountain air.
While it’s well-known that Glacier National Park and its surrounding communities are popular summer destinations, it’s important to note that the park is open year-round, offering a different look and experience during its snow-covered months.
During winter, most roads in the park are closed to vehicular traffic and instead give way to cross-country skiers and snowshoers, as well as the wildlife that roam the park freely. In addition to skiing and snowshoeing, popular winter activities in the park include primitive camping (available at Apgar and St. Mary campgrounds) and ice climbing.
Insider Tip: If you’re planning on spending the night in the park’s backcountry, be sure to pick up a winter permit at park headquarters (Monday – Friday) or Apgar Visitor Center (weekends.)
From West Glacier, there are several ideal routes for cross-country skiing, including Lower McDonald Creek, a short three mile round trip beginning south of McDonald Creek Bridge that takes skiers along gentle terrain. For additional routes in the park, visit htttp://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/crosscountryskiing.htm.
Insider Tip: Glacier National Park is celebrating its centennial during 2010. For more on the centennial, including a calendar of events, visit www.glaciercentennial.org.
Serving as “guide central” for Glacier National Park, West Glacier is a hopping destination during the summer months. And while some businesses hibernate during winter, many are open for business and are ready to show visitors their snow-covered wonderland.
Glacier Outdoor Center, located just off Highway 2 in West Glacier, is the community’s only full-service winter recreation “base camp.” The center has knowledgeable and experienced guides that take guest on guided cross-country and snowshoe tours in the park. Plus, these guys and gals are smart too—they share information about glaciations and winter outdoor conditions, as well as regional fauna.
Insider Tip: Make a weekend of it and plan to stay in a cozy log cabin at Glacier Outdoor Center and ski their 10km of groomed cross-country ski trails. www.glacieroutdoorcenter.com
Also located in West Glacier is the Belton Chalet. Originally built in 1910, the beautifully resorted chalet and lodge welcome visitors from around the world to this park-side community. During winter, the Belton Grill Dining and Tap Room are open on weekends, while cottage rentals are available on a nightly basis. A visit to the dining room (and its live music) is an ideal way to wrap up a wintery day experiencing the park.
Insider Tip: Amtrak’s Empire Builder stops in West Glacier year-round and delivers riders to its station—located directly across the street from the Belton Chalet.
Located 30 miles west of West Glacier in Essex is the Izaak Walton Inn—a historic railroad lodge. The inn offers 33km of expertly groomed cross-country skiing trails on rolling terrain along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Plus, for added convenience, Amtrak’s Empire Builder stops directly in front of the hotel.
Insider Tip: In addition to rental cabins and rooms in the lodge, you can spend the night in a Great Northern Locomotive or caboose at the Izaak Walton Inn. www.izaakwaltoninn.com.
For more on winter in Glacier Country, visit www.glaciermt.com.