To Glacier National Park and the Izaak Walton Inn
....Footsteps of the Empire Builder
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by Pat Middleton, Lisa R. Middleton
Additional links for this story:
Oxcarts, Steamboats and Trains,
A Brief History of the
Great Northern Railway
Contact the IZAAK WALTON INN
Return to www.greatriver.com/waterwaycruises
Every once in a while we stumble upon a travel destination that seems uniquely suited to the readers who visit www.greatriver.com each month.
We are always on the hunt for light adventure, a Mississippi River tie-in, and great depth of history and natural history. If a destination also offers riparian environment, paddleboats, small boat cruising, classic train journeys or world class scenery, we want to bring it to you.
The half-timbered Izaak Walton Inn just outside the southern border of Glacier National Park and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Montana, is just such a destination. At the Izaak Walton Inn, we found a secluded, alpine version of the great railroad lodges located within the boundaries of Glacier National Park.
Railroad Buffs will be thrilled with a stay at Izaak Walton. Amtrak's EMPIRE BUILDER Route passes immediately behind the Inn, making two scheduled stops a day. The familiar orange BNSF engines are the same freight trains which hug the Mississippi River. Much of the hotel decorating includes authentic Great Northern railroad memorabilia in the rooms, public lounges, and landscaping. Original dinnerware used from 1949 to 1957 is displayed in the lobby.
The AMTRAK Empire Builder arrives at the hotel at approximate 8:55 a.m. on the Eastbound leg and at 7:44 p.m. for the Westbound. It is approximately 24 hours from Izaak Walton to the mid-west.
The unique CABOOSE ROOMS offered cottage-like accommodations in actual railroad cabooses! All rooms ran about $200/night with a 3-night minimum stay for the caboose units. Cabooses accommodated up to 4 individuals on two double beds.
Our “Empire Builder” room in the main lodge comfortably accommodated three adults. The knotty-pine walls, comfortable beds, private bath and shower offered character and comfort. Don’t look for air conditioning, TV or telephone in your room however! This is a genuine get-away! Every room we saw had great "character"!
The full-service “dining car” offered excellent regional meals and the Flagstop Bar downstairs was reminiscent of a railway lounge.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IZAAK WALTON INN
The Inn was originally built in 1939 for the Great Northern Railway to accommodate the men who kept the track over the Marais Pass clear of snow and operating during long Montana winters. True to the vision of the earliest railroad magnates, the Inn was also designed to accommodate summer tourists traveling by train to Glacier National Park.
Marais Pass at the headwaters of the Marais River provided a low altitude pass across the continental divide just a few miles from Glacier National Park. Summit, Mont., is 12 miles west of Glacier Park station, and within a stone's throw of Great Northern Railway's passing transcontinental trains. Summit, at 5,215 feet above sea level, is also the highest point on the railway's transcontinental line. After a planned south entrance to Glacier at Park Creek failed to materialize, the Inn was sold into private ownership in 1958.
Appropriately enough, the Inn was named after Sir Izaak Walton, a 16th century English author, conservationist, and sportsman. Walton wrote THE COMPLEAT ANGLER. He is also the namesake for a group of sportsmen and conservationists who in 1922 organized the Izaak Walton League.
By good fortune, the “Izaak Walton League” was formed at a time when there was talk of damming the Mississippi River and diverting it's waters to the great plains. The conservation group was instrumental in promoting the formation of the nation’s first Wildlife Refuge in 1924… the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Please enjoy the brief history of the Great Northern Railway included at the end of this review. The name for Amtrak’s passenger train route is the EMPIRE BUILDER route, honoring Jerome Hill, "the empire builder"...the man who envisioned and developed the Great Northern Railway.
Glacier National Park is often considered the most beautiful natural scenic area in the United States. It is a natural extension of Canada’s fabulously beautiful Rocky Mountains, Banff and Lake Louise (All, like the Izaak Walton Inn, are listed in 1000 Places to See Before you Die). In fact the Canadians will tell you that Glacier National Park really belongs to them. The abrupt uplifted rocks of Glacier National Park consists mostly of sedimentary rock. The American Rocky Mountains by contrast are mostly volcanic in nature, composed mostly of granite. The Izaak Walton Inn is located 30 miles from both the West Glacier and East Glacier park entrances, in Essex, Montana.
While 30 kilometers of hiking/biking/ski trails emanate from the Izaak Walton Inn, there are also a full range of outdoor and wilderness organizations which offer transportation from the lodge throughout the area.
We enjoyed whitewater rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River one hot day, but there are also horseback riding, fly fishing, and other organized wilderness activities easily accessible.
Red Jammer Bus Tours of Glacier National Park begin at the front porch of the Inn during the summer. The drivers of these “jammers” are renown for their passionate interest in the history of Glacier and the Going to the Sun Road.
Hiking and biking trails are transformed into 30 kilometers of groomed Cross-Country ski trails which eminate from the Inn. Some 240 inches of snow normally fall in the winter… in 1972 there were 526 inches… 44 Ft!!
Looking for a week of quiet beauty? Even solitude? Izaak Walton has that, too. Arrive by train, rent a car at the lodge, and spend the week exploring the mountains of Glacier National Park; or drive the 1.5 hours to Waterton, Alberta, or even on to Banff and Lake Louise. Or spend the whole week on your favorite porch swing, reading a good book.
If you plan to go to Canada, bring
a passport or birth certificate and
photo id! You'll need them to get back into the United States.
Going to the Sun Road Status (click for updates)
This 120 mile loop through the park is open, weather permitting, from mid-June through mid-October. Avalanche falls are possible even in August, so the road closes occasionally. (In the photo at left, Going to the Sun Road is the thin little line stretching horizontally across the face of the mountain toward the right windshield!)
Summer wildfires in the general vicinity of Glacier National Park also bear checking.
Entrance fee for the park is $12 for single 7-day pass, $25 for a vehicle, $30 for a season pass to all National Parks. No entry fee in the winter. (check these)
The Izaak Walton Inn
290 Izaak Walton Inn Road Essex MT 59916
Phone : 406.888.5700 Fax: 406.888.5200
The Izaak Walton Inn is located in Essex, Montana, at the south end of Glacier National Park. Essex is a little cluster of secluded cabins and homes on US #2, halfway between the villages of East and West Glacier. Each are located about 30 miles from Essex.
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