Special Merit Classification IV

the original village inn at apgars on lake mcdonald

Above, the Village Inn shortly after opening in the late 1950s. It provided modern lodging with convenience suitable for the Jet Age. Below, current detail of room decor.

interior of the village inn at apgar

Photo courtesy Glacier Park, Inc.

Village Inn at Apgar Glacier NP, 1956
Classification IV
Apgar area, Lake McDonald, Montana
Theme: Mid-Century modern "road motel" with coloring & treatments to echo earlier Swiss Chalet styling found throughout GNP.
Construction: Dorothy and Bill Mackin (original owners)
Structure: Concrete foundation, 2-story wood frame & siding
Known Timeline:
Construction begins, 1955
Originally affiliated with Best Western, 1956-1959
Opened with 36 guest rooms, 1956
Building sold to National Park Service, 1959
First floor flooded, 1964
Added to National Register of Historic Places, 1987
Temporarily closed due to wildfire, 2003
Presently operated by Glacier Park, Inc. with 36 guest rooms


By the mid 1950s the "Mission 66" mindset had a stranglehold on almost all construction within the National Parks. Incredible as it may seem, developer Bill Mackin obtained approval to build the Village Inn rather easily, at the same time the NPS was intent on razing the nearby Lake McDonald Lodge. It is important to understand that at the time it was built, the "motel" was still a relatively new phenomenon. While society now demands keyed entryways and security cameras at today's impersonal travel hotels, many Americans were still accustomed to "auto camps" or "cabin courts" where motorists paid a modest fee at a brightly lit office, then parked in front of their individual unit with its own exterior door. Motels such as the Village Inn were nothing more than a modernization of the auto camp concept. The only difference was that the units were now attached in one rectangular building, and the exterior architecture was usually postwar modern. This type of motel design, which came into vogue in the 1950s, began to fall out of favor by the early 1980s.

So the Village Inn represents an extremely brief slice of hotel history, albeit updated as a 21st century facility. Guests who recognize this and gear their expectations accordingly are in for a wonderful experience. Those expecting a more traditional park lodge atmosphere are bound to be disappointed.

roadside facade of the village inn at apgar

A half century after construction, the Village Inn exudes a certain mid-century charm.

Remember that the traditional National Park Lodge -- such as Lake McDonald Lodge down the road -- were built at a time when guests arrived by boat or by horse. The average stay was at least a week, so the hotel had to provide sitting areas and dining facilities to make the guest feel at home. It was expected that very little time would be spent in the sleeping rooms, so they were accordingly small. Other day-to-day services, such as laundry, diversions, snacks, basic supplies, notions, even the post office -- were available at the lodge.

With the advent of the motor hotel, the average stay became a single night. Like the grand hotels, the room in a motel was little more than a place to sleep and bathe. Because most vacated at daybreak, there was no need to offer day-to-day services. Motorists would procure those on the highways as needed.

eddies cafe at apgar

With no dining facilities on the premises, guests sought out the reasonable fare at Eddie's Cafe in Apgar. It's still a favorite, more than half a century later.

Thus the motel was a simple, spartan lodging. A front office to pay the fare, a place to park, and a door of your own. More advanced motel managers might provide ice, so that the do-it-yourself tourist could mix up a refreshment prior to retiring. A swingset might be offered for the kids, although as competition increased this might grow to include a pool and perhaps a game room.

It was into this environment that the Mackins new "motel" arrived. When first opened, the Mackins affiliated with the Best Western chain, so that travelers could count on a certain level of quality. This insignia vanished when the building was sold to the National Park Service.

At the time it was sold, the modern lines of Apgar's fit nicely into the Park Service "Mission 66" plan. As that era vanished, so too did the appeal of the boxy building. The Village Inn became a sort of redheaded stepchild. Nobody wanted it, but with a scarcity of beds, there was no way to be rid of it.

Time marched inexorably onward, and The Village Inn aged nicely. Eventually enough time passed that the mid-century monstrosity began to assume a tiny bit of vintage quaintness. This has grown over time, and as of this writing, it provides just enough charm to make it all work.

The Experience

The Mid-Century Motel in a Mountain Paradise

It is essential that the visitor understand the history of American tourism and the rise of the motor hotel to fully appreciate the Village Inn at Apgar. Knowing that it is a lakeside motel -- and not a grand lakeside lodge -- will provide the proper set of expectations.

The rooms feel like older motel rooms that have been revitalized with rustic decor, which is what they are. Choices range from one- and two-bedroom units to units with kitchenettes, as depicted in one of the larger photos above. Housekeeping, linen quality, and general upkeep are excellent.

But the best qualities of The Village Inn are outside the room door. The top porch and lower patio provide phenomenal views of Lake McDonald and the "Crown of the Continent" mountain vista. Glacier Park Inc. provides appropriate rustic deck chairs for you to take it all in. Proximity of neighboring rooms means that if the weather warrants sitting outside, chances are your neighbors will be doing the same. It's a lovely setting for friendly chit-chat; an opportunity to share the glorious experience with new friends.

lakeside facade of the village inn at apgar

Considering the unimaginative 1955 rectangular design, the Village Inn fits its location remarkably well. The setting helps. Photo courtesy Glacier Park, Inc.


Special Merit Classification IV

The Village Inn at Apgar provides a location and atmosphere that will enhance a visit to Glacier National Park. With the cautionary statement that it may not meet the expectations of guests accustomed to the amenities of a self-contained lodge, The Village Inn at Apgar is classified in the fourth tier for "Special Merit" by the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

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front porch at the village inn apgar

Evenings at the Village Inn usually see each chair filled on the porches. Because of the location, the atmosphere is light years beyond motels of similar design.

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