If any of the Glacier lodging facilities could be compared to the fabled Camp Curry at Yosemite, Swiftcurrent would be it. Offerings range from coldwater cabins to blandish motel rooms, with a number of variations available. Like Curry, the Swiftcurrent structures are aging but well maintained. Cabins are cramped, but the linens are immaculate. Private baths are found in some, while other guests march to a camp shower building. The layout of the complex is somewhat confusing and haphazard, yet it has an undeniable quirky appeal. And like Curry, the cabins at Swiftcurrent are infinitely more charming than the motel buildings.
At that point, however, the similarities end. Swiftcurrent is a fraction of the size of its infamous Yosemite cousin. It has none of the raucous patio scene, nightly entertainment, twinkling lights, nor massive crowds. It tends to be an excellent base for budget-oriented hikers who aren't quite into camping. And it tends to be a dreadful choice for touristy families expecting to find color televisions and Disneyesque activities.
For those in the know, Swiftcurrent is a great way to take advantage of the Ranger programs and lobby scene at the nearby Many Glacier Hotel, at a fraction of the room rate. It's not that the lobby at Swiftcurrent lacks charm; it just lacks people using it. It looks like a good lobby for relaxing, it's decorated as such, but the nature of the Swiftcurrent complex just doesn't lend itself to it. Guests tend to either crash in their rooms or sit out in the cabin circles. A few, as mentioned, seek out the atmosphere at Many Glacier prior to turning in for the evening.
Like the lobby, the porch on the main building sees mainly foot traffic.
At this point in time, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins seems to have found its niche in the world. It started as a teepee camp, where guests slept on cots after a day of hiking or fishing. The Great Northern Railway intended the teepees to be a temporary offering until the McDermott Chalets could be built, about 3/4 mile away near Swiftcurrent Falls. (The lake had been renamed McDermott at the time, but eventually went back to the original Swiftcurrent name). When some of the budget-minded guests resisted the pricier Chalets, the teepee camp lingered on. The teepees may be long gone, but the site's history of providing lower-cost, no-frills lodging remains unchanged.
The American "auto cabin camp" was a forerunner to the motor hotel. Adventurous early motorists willing to trek to National Parks were the same breed who enjoyed pack trips and canvas tents a few years earlier. These intrepid auto enthusiasts thought nothing of pulling off the road and camping under the night sky, until some insightful entrepreneurs began offering tent camps, then cabin camps. By the late 1940s these were renamed "motor courts" to remove the stigma of camping; post-war Americans wanted private showers. As we entered the jet age, cabins were deemed obsolete and the modern "block" motel came into vogue.
Thus the hodge-podge development of Many Glacier Auto Camp, and ultimately, the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn makes sense in a historical context. Beginning with tents, then the addition of cabins during the 1930s, an attempt to add baths to those cabins in the 1940s, and mid-century modern motels in 1955.
Rustic tones do little to hide the "Mission 66" inspiration for the motel buildings.
As the cabin and shared bath concept became unpopular during the 1950s, the NPS and Glacier Park Co. actually drew up plans to demolish the cabins. More motels would be built, because that is what the public demanded. Fortunately the wheels of progress turn slowly, and the cabins managed to hold on. By the turn of the new century, rustic cabins with common baths returned to popularity as an outdoorsy movement sought out simpler -- but still private -- lodging. Americans rediscovered the joys of chatting with like-minded strangers during the evening hours, and today at Swiftcurrent the simple cabins sell out well in advance of the motel units.
Cabins were laid out in "circles" to create a sense of community among guests.