Saturday, July 19, 2008

Glacier National Park: Part 2: The Better Half

So if you find yourself visiting Glacier National Park, can the trip be saved? Yes: with a few secret sources.

As I wrote last week: the hotels managed inside Glacier National Park are some of the worst I've ever encountered. They are in need of serious renovation, and the staff and management are some of the most unprofessional I've ever encountered. I was about to give up on the entire Park when we happened upon St. Mary's Lodge.

Interestingly, the famed Going to the Sun Road which winds through the Park, actually winds out of the park in a briefly. And that brief bit of road is exactly where St. Mary's Lodge sits. Obviously much newer than the Park lodges, St. Mary's Lodge is a simple, modest, but lovely hotel right on the edge of the park. However, it is the two bedroom cabins that are spectacular. The big picture windows face the park and the balconies and porches permit wonderful sunsets.

The hotel has wireless service, which amazingly is not offered in any of the Park lodges. The year is 2008, and regardless of time honored traditions and Huckleberry Soda, people need and want wireless. St. Mary's delivers on rooms, food, wireless, and service: all with a smile.

There is not much that can be said of any food inside the Park. ...That is, unless you think Huckleberry Cream Soda is a fine beverage. Fortunately, however, there are some places just outside the Park entrances that offer good food at reasonable prices with friendly service. Serrano's Mexican food is a tiny establishment outside the East Gate of the Park. The food is fresh and very good, while the service is friendly. Be advised, however, that they cannot accomodate anyone with food allergies: the kitchen is tiny and there is too much cross-contamination. Most fortunately, they are totally ameniable for you to bring in a sandwich from the deli around the corner if someone in your party has food allergies. Also outside the East Gate is the Two Medicine Grill. Entering the grill is like stepping back in time: it is a simple, tiny diner with a short order cook who makes excellent breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Formica countertops and a linoleum floor with narrow stainless vinyl chairs and vinyl encased menus that are a throwback to another era, but the decor comes with the kind of food that used to be delivered to the table during that time. It is incredibly fresh with large portions. Expect to find the Montana women who work in this part of the world hardened, tough, and no-nonsense. If you can get an Exit Glacier waitress to smile, you can be the CEO of a PR company. But don't worry: even if they don't smile are speak to you, they can cook a mean omlet.

So you can eat and sleep well at Glacier National Park, but is it worth the long trip? In all honesty: no. Simply put: there are too many other superb National Parks to visit with far superior lodging and services. And as for being touted as the "Mini Switzerland of America?" I don't agree with that either. There are places with far more breathtaking views, and besides...there's always the real Switzerland where the scenery, food, and lodging really are fabulous. Glacier National Park has been crossed off my list.

St. Andrews from the Cathedral