Stained glass logo used in a Dining Room Window.To Glacier National Park and the Izaak Walton Inn 
....Footsteps of the Empire Builder

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 by Pat Middleton, Lisa R. Middleton


 Photo by Lisa Middleton.  AMTRAK and the Burlington Northern both pass the Izaak Walton Inn frequently.



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Every room, everywhere one looks, is thoughtfully displayed and utilized Great Northern Railway memoriabilia. Photo by Pat Middleton


Every once in a while we stumble upon a travel destination that seems uniquely suited to the readers who visit 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.


AMTRAK boards and deposits passengers twice each day at Izaak Walton Inn. Photo by Lisa MiddletonThe 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.

Each cottage-like caboose has a deck, charcoal grill and accommodations for up to 4 adults. 3-night minimum.
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. We loved the decorating in these cozy cabooses! Photo by Pat Mdidleton


  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 Empire Room comfortably accommodated 3 adults.














The full-service The Dining Car was a popular eating place for locale residents. Breakfast was complimentary for guests.“dining car” offered excellent regional meals and the Flagstop Bar downstairs was reminiscent of a railway lounge.


 The "FLAGSTOP" Bar and Lounge offered wireless internet.



One of many railway paintings around the 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.



Everybody fish!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.


 Natural beauty is everywhere to be found. Photo by Lisa Middleton         

   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.



 Hidden Lake taken from the hiking path off Logan Pass. Photo by Lisa Middleton


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.





Many Glacier Lodge and lake



 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.



White water rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead... the same rapids used in the film WILD RIVER, with Meryl Streep.

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.

The bright red Jammer provides tours of Glacier National Park.





Cross-Country Skiing doesn't get any better than this!







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)



Contact information:


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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