Sunday, August 23, 2009

Family Vacation to Glacier National Park by Train

As I previously mentioned, this last Christmas my wife gave me as a Christmas gift the freedom to plan a family train trip for 2009. The trip I planned: take the Empire Builder train from Seattle to Glacier National Park, 2 nights at the historic Glacier National Park lodge, and then return home by train.

I left work early on a Wednesday afternoon to catch a 4:45 p.m. train. My wife met me at the train station with my daughters. We boarded our train to find a very nice family bedroom on the train, our sleeping car attendant Donna greeted us with personal bottles of sparkling wine for my wife and I and sparkling cider for my daughters. Although our family bedroom was not big, it was far larger than anything we had ever shared on a plane or car. While we were at Dinner Donna changed our room from seats to beds. The room was made up of two kid sized bunks, and two adult sized bunks with a larger bottom bunk that was kind of like a small full sized bed. My oldest daughter slept on the top bunk with my younger daughter on the bottom. The top bunk had a strap that kept my daughter from falling out of the bed.

Unfortunately the train did not get the Sightseer lounge car until we met with the train from Portland in Spokane (around midnight), so after we finished dinner in the dining car there wasn't much to do other than hang out in our car. We let the girls got to watch about half a movie on my laptop before going to bed, then my wife and I went to the empty room next to ours and shared a bottle of wine we had brought from home. When I woke up the next morning I was in something of a daze, I wasn't certain what time it was with the time zone change, and for a while I was somewhat worried we had missed our stop and were zooming though Eastern Montana. Donna assured me we hadn't even reached Whitefish Montana yet, so we headed up for breakfast as the train made its Whitefish stop.

From Whitefish Montana it was another two hours of slowly snaking our way though the scenic Southern border of Glacier National Park before we reached our destination of East Glacier Park Village. From the train station it was about a 200 yard walk to the Glacier National Park Lodge where we stayed. I hauled our luggage to the lodge then hiked back to the other side of the train tracks to pick up our rental car.

With our own set of wheels, we headed north to Many Glacier Lodge for lunch. After giving the girls a chance to run around and play in Swift Current Lake (which Many Glacier Lodge sits on the shore of) we headed back to the lodge at East Glacier park. On the way back we saw a number of cars parked on the side of the road with their passengers all out with cameras and one park ranger vehicle with a nervous looking ranger, in Glacier National Park this can mean only one thing: BEAR! So being typical tourists I quickly stopped the car, told my wife and daughters not to get out of the car, then jumped out of the car with my camera. The bear was mostly oblivious to us as it feasted on huckleberries. The ranger, who I now noticed was carrying a shotgun was clearly VERY nervous as he tried to control little old ladies trying to wander across the street to get a better view, and cars stopping mere feet from the bear trying to get a closer picture. I decided that there was a fair chance that the ranger might fire off a shot just to scare off the bear, and I didn't want to deal with two little girls crying from a loud shot gun blast, so I decided it was time to continue back to our lodge.

Back at Glacier National Park Lodge we were finally able to check into our room. The room was basic and rustic; no phone, no TV, no internet, but we did have access to our 3rd floor balcony looking out towards the park. Based on the fact that I spent $175 a night to stay in that room, I have to admit I was a little disappointed the room wasn't a bit nicer, but then again, we didn't come for the room.

The next morning we got a quick continental breakfast with plans to drive up to Logan's Pass. Since it was a vacation I let my girls eat fruit loops for breakfast. With a friends story of getting to Logan's pass and finding the parking lot full I drove as fast as I could safely drive on the windy highway 49. Turns out this was a big mistake. My youngest daughter started whining in the back seat and wouldn't stop. By the time my wife figured out what the problem was my daughter had emptied the contents of her stomach all over the rental car. At that point I was convinced the day was a loss, but my wife cleaned up the mess, and insisted we continue on. A quick stop in the town of St. Mary to get my youngest daughter all new clothing and we were back on our way.

We had no problem finding parking at Logan's pass, and took the girls on an amazing 3 mile hike. My oldest daughter hiked the entire trail on her own, and my youngest daughter spent about 2/3rds of the hike on either my shoulders or my wife's. As we reached the highpoint on the hike mountain goats started appearing from every direction. As three mountain goats walked past me with my youngest daughter on my shoulders I pulled out my camera and told my daughter, "Look there's the 3 billy goats gruff". From my shoulders my daughter started banging my head and shouting "Dat my book daddy! Dat my book!". A little further along the trail and we saw a pair of big horn sheep. They were a bit more skittish of people, but we were still able to get close enough to get some great photos. As we continued on the trail we found a couple of big horn sheep. The big horn sheep were not as interested in getting close to the hikers as the mountain goats were, but they did get close enough for me to get a few great pictures.

For our final day in Glacier National Park we had decided to take it easy and rather than drive to some far corner of the park we went for a Red Bus tour. The bus took us to Two Medicine lake where we took a 45 minute boat trip across the lake and back. Then the bus took us to Running Eagle Falls (a.k.a. Trick Falls), and finally returned us home. We hung out around the lodge and the town of East Glacier before our train trip home.

I look forward to the next opportunity I can visit the park, either on my own or with my family. I feel like we didn't even begin to scratch the surface of what this park has to offer!

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