Superior Classification II

current image of exterior at Glacier Park Lodge

Exterior, 2008.

current image of lobby at Glacier Park Lodge

Main lobby circa 2008. Compare the furnishings today with some of the historic shots below, and notice also how many seats are provided as opposed to years past. Above photos courtesy Mike Wasson.

Glacier Park Lodge Glacier NP 1912
Classification II
East Glacier, Montana
Theme: Swiss Chalet; National Park Rustic "Parkitecture" based on the Forestry Building at the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition in Portland, OR. Lobby floorplan is modeled on a Christian basilica.
Structure: Lobby built with 60 Douglas Fir tree trunks, each 40' tall and 3' or more in diameter.
Original Architect: Samuel L. Bartlett, St. Paul MN
Construction: Glacier Park Hotel Company (later renamed Glacier Park Company), subsidiary of Great Northern Railway. Most aspects of design and construction were controlled by Louis Hill, president of GN Railway.
Known Timeline:
Construction begins, 1910
Construction completed, 1912
Lodge opens with 61 rooms, 1913
Expansion; "Annex" provides additional 111 rooms, 1916
9 hole golf course opens, 1927
Concession sold to Glacier Park Inc., 1960
Current room count: 161


To appreciate the Glacier Park Lodge requires an understanding of its history and original purpose. During the early 1900s, Louis Hill, President of Great Northern Railway, sought to establish the Glacier area as a National Park. His purpose was two-fold; in the first place he was a champion for protecting and preserving a region he was passionate about. In the second, he wanted to drive destination passenger business to his predominantly freight lines. Too often Hill gets saddled with the latter motive, and is not given enough credit for the former.

The "horn" shape of the Glacier peaks -- more like peaks in the Alps than the massive Rockies -- prompted Hill to envision a series of Swiss chalets. Based on the Swiss model, Hill conceived a series of large village lodges serving as a base for hiking and exploring, with smaller, remote chalets available for those who wished to hike farther into the mountains.

Thus the Great Northern Railway developed "base" lodges at Many Glacier and Two Medicine, and a smaller hub at St. Mary's. Far-flung chalets such as Sperry were built in more remote locations. To serve as the point of entry for all these locations, the Railway built Glacier Park Lodge adjacent to the tracks in East Glacier. Modeled on the phenomenal Forestry Building at the Lewis Clark Centennial, its rustic, tree-trunk interior was intended to function as an intermediary between civilization and wilderness. It was to serve mainly as a staging area for visitors whose ultimate destination was the huge hotel at Many Glacier and chalets beyond, and thus was not built to house too many overnight guests.

Forestry building 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial

above, the lobby of the Forestry Building built for the 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. This structure, which was located near Portland OR and burned in 1964, served as the model for the Glacier Park Lodge. A 1916 image of the Glacier Park Lodge lobby is shown below.

early view of the lobby at glacier park lodge

It seems that Hill probably overestimated the number of visitors that would want to trek deep into the wilderness, and underestimated the appeal of Glacier Park Lodge. It was quickly filled to capacity, with many guests wanting to stay close to the comforts of civilization, and content to appreciate the mountains as viewed from the expansive (and safe) lawns and gardens of the grounds.

Glacier Park Lodge was undersized almost as soon as it opened. Overwhelming popularity demanded more rooms, and the 111-room "annex" was built within two years. A native American teepee village became an added attraction; guests enjoyed croquet, lawn tennis, archery, horseback riding and other pursuits right on the grounds. Many played golf, even prior to the construction of the 9-hole course in 1927. To the railway's surprise, the intended stage stop and transient hotel was a destination resort almost as soon as it opened.

glacier park Lodge after opening in 1913

When it opened in 1913, the Lodge was a single building. Notice the line of train passengers waiting to embark to lodges and chalets deep in the park. Below, the Annex in 1916. This photo was probably taken when the new section opened.

Glacier Park Lodge annex in 1916

Glacier Park Lodge and annex completed

Above, an early image of the finished Lodge. The maturing gardens and fencing probably place this photo in the early 1920s.

Through the 1920s and beyond, the Lodge was the crown jewel of the Railway's Glacier Park hotels. It might've lost some luster in 1927 when the Prince of Wales Hotel was constructed across the border, but the multiple recreational opportunities and overall activity level at the Lodge kept it at the top in the perceived pecking order.

swimming pool

Swimming pool scene circa 1966. The pool remains one of the differentiating features that makes The Lodge a little more "genteel" than its more remote counterparts.

lobby scene in the early 1970s

Lobby circa 1970. Note how the thoroughly modern furnishings set a rather different mood than the Mission/Monterrey style seen today.

The grounds at Glacier Park Lodge are an integral part of the overall "resort" feeling. The gardens and manicured lawns are more like the Grand Hotel than anything at Glacier National Park. They would certainly be out of place at all but The Prince of Wales and perhaps Lake MacDonald, but seem to fit the Lodge nicely. Although the Lodge isn't much different in terms of structure and amenities than the rambling Many Glacier Hotel, it comes across as much more "civilized" and resorty because of the grounds.

teepees in the 1960s

Teepee village during the 1960s. Diversions like the teepees contributed to a more touristy feeling at Glacier Park Lodge. Today one of these is located on a balcony in the main lobby.

The Experience

Between Gentility and Wilderness

The best thing about the Glacier Park Lodge is that it is about 100 years old. The worst thing about the Glacier Park Lodge is that it is about 100 years old. Guests accustomed to receiving premium accommodations for a premium price are generally disappointed to find that, by today's standards, The Lodge provides only half of the equation. Rooms and bath fixtures are either undersized, dated, or both. The important thing to note here is that this structure is just about a century old, and the comfort levels expected by rail travelers in 1913 were minimal by today's standards. Again, it was intended as a stopover hotel for rail travelers to spend perhaps a night before moving on to the chalets.

If you can't visit the Glacier Park Lodge without recognizing that its value is in its history and atmosphere, you should not stay here. Guest rooms are quirky, with exposed pipes and shower facilities that have been shoe-horned in. Keep in mind that hotel guests a century ago understood that they would use shared shower facilities down the hall.

Like most of the National Park Lodges, the hotelier has eliminated the shared shower closets. Yet while others reduced room count to allow for private baths, the Glacier Park Lodge did a lot more squeezing than eliminating. Sinks hang on the wall, shower stalls are painfully small, and the flooring and other materials are hopelessly dated. In the bedroom proper, some rooms are spartan, while those with sitting rooms are absolutely delightful.

With all the perceived negatives -- and we'll restate that these conditions should be perceived as historic, not negative -- you might well wonder how the Glacier Park Lodge maintains its reputation. The answer lies in the common areas. Even the fussiest room guests agree that the lobby and other areas, such as the connecting link to the annex, are simply spectacular. As much as the room quality disappoints, the public areas exceed expectations. Sitting areas, such as the lobby and annex connector, are among the best in the National Parks. The decor throughout the public areas, eclectic within the craftsman vernacular, is ideally suited to the building and the location. Spend some time in the public areas, and the cares of the everyday are immediately forgotten.

Spend as little time in your room as possible.

lobby exhibit

The mountain goat is one of the popular lobby exhibits.


Superior Classification II

An overnight stay at Glacier Park Lodge will be an unforgettable experience; the design and decor is an important example of National Park Lodge architecture. Time spent anywhere in this hotel and on the grounds affords you new sensory experiences, sights, and discoveries. Judged solely on public or common areas and ambiance, the Lodge would easily earn "criterion" status. Because we must consider all aspects of the facility, Glacier Park Lodge is ranked "superior," the second highest classification by the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

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the wild west in transition

This 1916-era "colorized" photo depicts the changing role of the wild west at East Glacier as the cowboy entertains the tourist.

It Depends on your Definition

Today's guests at Glacier Park Lodge sit in the Mission/Monterrey furnishings and chandeliers in the lobby and marvel at the authenticity of the experience. The photographic evidence, however, suggests otherwise. In the image above, we see the lobby in its early days, when it was sort of a glorified train station. Arrangements and connections needed to be made, luggage had to be shuttled about -- and furnishings were notably sparse. The theme was "Western," but an important part of western decor in the early 20th century was decidedly eastern! Oriental lanterns and other influences were part of the western arts and crafts design philosophy, and were integral to the original decor in the Lodge.

By the 1970s, as seen in this photo, the function of the lobby was no longer that of a transfer station. Hustle and bustle gave way to quiet conversation and relaxation, and the furnishings reflected the design perceptions of a modern era. The Oriental lanterns had long given way to an Arts & Crafts style lighting, and the whole thing clashed with the metro style cushioned furniture. Look closely and you'll see an ashtray stand in the lower left corner. Notice also how few couches are chairs were provided in 1970; today's national park lodge guests practically demand a seat in the lobby to make their experience complete.

So is today's lobby decor authentic? Historically, no. But to the degree that it fits the current public perception of what a national park hotel lobby should look like, yes.

How do you define authenticity? Does it include ashtrays and other artifacts of a bygone era?

The Grounds & Gardens

Today's visual of the Glacier Park Lodge exterior is noticeably different from years past. In the early days it rose starkly from the mountain plains; today it is framed by large evergreens. The photo above was taken during the 1960s, what we'll call "middle age" for this grand lodge, and you'll note that the trees were just beginning to make their mark. Compare this to the first large photo on this web page, reproduced immediately below:

Glacier NP Lodges

Glacier Park Lodge Resources

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