Special Merit Classification IV

the granite park chalet at glacier np public domain photo by NPS bill heyden courtesy wikimedia

Above, the Granite Park Chalet complex. The original chalet, a single-storey dorm, is the small building in the center of the three structures. NPS photo by Bill Heyden, courtesy Wikimedia.

Granite Park Chalet Glacier NP, 1914
Classification IV
Location:
Near Swiftcurrent Pass, Montana
Theme: Stone chalet lodge; National Park Rustic "Parkitecture" with multiple rectangular structures
Original Architect: First Chalet (now known as the dorm building) designed by Thomas D. McMahon. Main Chalet (1915) designed by Samuel Bartlett, 1914. Glacier Park Hotel Company.
Construction: E.G. Evansta, builder, 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.
Structure: Main (2nd) Chalet and Kitchen is a 48' x 36' rectangular two storey granite stone dorm building with shingle roof on wood frame, large porch front and rear, gabled roof, flagstone flooring on ground floor, wood flooring on second floor. Interior partition walls half log, interior and exterior railings are peeled log. One storey dorm building (1st Chalet), similar stone structure with wood shingle roof.
Known Timeline:
Construction begins, 1914
Dormitory completed, 1914
Originally opened as Granite Park Chalets, 1914
Main Chalet construction, 1914-1915
Main Chalet opened, August 1915
Dormitory altered, 1918
"Cribs" added to main chalet, 1924
Managed by Ema "Ma" Perkins, 1930s-1940s
Cribs removed circa 1940s
Closed due to war, reopened 1946
Complex sold to NPS, 1954
Luding family awarded concession, 1954
Name change to Granite Park Chalet, circa 1960
Stone-veneered comfort station built, 1965
"Night of the Grizzly" incident, 1967
Alterations/improvements, 1975
Declared National Historic Landmark, 1987
Chalet closed for upgrades, 1992-1996
Reopened with 20 guest limit, 1996
Presently offers 12 guest rooms

Observations

Like its sister at Sperry, Granite Park Chalet is a survivor. Together these working museums have survived closure during world wars, the lean years of the Great Depression, and recent closure due to overuse and overage. Fortunately the American people and the National Park Service recognize the importance of these lodges, and in the case of Granite Park, intelligent management by people like Ema Perkins and the Luding family have kept them operational. Unlike Sperry, Granite Park doesn't provide a full-fledged meal service, and many guests find themselves lodged in the less-desirable "original" chalet -- not realizing that it too is significant. Perhaps more importantly, the hike in to Granite isn't nearly as strenuous. Thus Granite Park doesn't quite have the cachet that Sperry offers, but it is a phenomenal lodge experience in its own right.

the 1924 cribs at granite park chalets

This vintage postcard shows the two wings of "cribs" added in 1924. The cribs on the left were separated from the main structure by a covered breezeway; the cribs on the right were attached to the building but all access was from individual exterior doors. These rudimentary rooms significantly expanded capacity during the heyday of the pack trip years during the roaring 20s, but by the early 1930s the highway rearly put the pack trips out of business. By 1932 the cribs were little used, fell into disrepair, and were slowly but steadily removed over the years. Compare this photo to the large overall image above, and you can see that the cribs have long since faded into history.

The Experience

A Backpacker's Dream-Come-True

While slackpackers and other less ambitious adventurers might bemoan the lack of services, the regular backpacker will think they've found heaven on earth at Granite Park. For those accustomed to carrying everything, cooking on a Primus and sleeping on a padded rock, the digs at Granite Park are downright exquisite. Each group of guests is assigned a slot of kitchen time, providing access to a sizable facility that was once used to prepare Great Northern's finest offerings. And while many opt to carry in their provisions, the concessionaire does offer a few dried or canned foods that can be purchased and then cooked. The dining area is comfortable and inviting, with an adjacent lounging area to relax and chat afterward if the weather is less than agreeable.

The concessionaire also offers bedding rental, if you choose to forego carrying a sleeping bag. It is a somewhat costly proposition -- as the bedding must be removed, packed out, and cleaned after each guest. So if you can manage to schlep the bag, it's a better deal all around. Speaking of bedding, the interior walls at Granite are in some places paper thin, in some place have open slits between logs, and in some places a little of both. You will hear beds creaking, snoring, even people whispering in the next room. Of course when you consider that another contributing factor is the absolute quiet in the complex...no traffic, no streetlights buzzing, no appliance humming, no televisions, no...nothing.

For the backpacker, it is simply fabulous. The camaraderie, newly met travelers, convenient kitchen, and clean toilet facilities. More importantly, the trails to reach Granite Park are relatively simple in backpacker terms, and day hikes to key locations from the Chalet are even easier -- again, in backpacker terms. Seasoned backcountry adventurers often say that Granite Park feels like cheating!

Now, the guest who believes that anything less than a three-diamond hotel is "roughing it" will have a difficult time at Granite Park, even if they do arrange to have food and bedding waiting for them. The toilet is a pit composting type, and water is 1/4 mile away. Each party is expected to fetch their own water; the concierge won't do it for you. Actually, the staff usually has water waiting in the kitchen, which is a nice little extra. Even so, visitors should understand that this is not a "full service" lodge -- not by any stretch of the imagination.

"Roughing it" is a matter of your point of view.

Some guests feel shortchanged when they find themselves assigned to the "back building." The main chalet is naturally grander and more appealling; the single-story dorm appears to have been an afterthought. The reality is that it was the other way around; the smaller "back building" is the original chalet, and oddly enough, the more historic of the two. It was designed simply as a stopping place for guests on pack trips; after a year of operating it was so popular that the property had to be expanded. It wasn't originally intended so; the original chalet was complete and occupied before the Great Northern Railway even applied for additional buildings. So while it is less attractive than the main chalet, it is equally significant.

Regardless of your personal perspective, the best way to make the most out of Granite Park is to go for the overall experience, not for the lodging. Take time to talk to other guests. Offer help -- join someone on a water trip, offer up some assistance around the dining area, or whatever. Go with an attitude of sharing and caring...preparing the evening meal is not a competition.

To approach Granite Park with an open mind and a friendly attitude is to open yourself to one of the most fantastic experiences the National Parks have to offer.

main building at granit park chalet glacier national park

The main chalet building is situated to provide commanding views from its front elevation. Photo courtesy the National Park Service.

Classification

Special Merit Classification IV

Granite Park Chalet provides design, decor, ambiance and historic value that will enhance a visit to Glacier National Park. With the cautionary statement that it may not be suitable for guests who expect certain comforts and amenities, and because it requires a moderately strenuous hike to reach, Granite Park Chalet is classified in the fourth tier by the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

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bighorn sheep along the trail

Trails into Granite Park Chalet include the popular Highline Trail, 7.6 miles with tremendous views. Unfortunately the Highline is usually closed into early July, so guests opt for the shorter but more difficult Loop Trail, which gains 2300' over its 4 mile length. Photo by Wing-Chi Poon.





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