As I write this, the famous Going to the Sun Road into Glacier National Park is closed and the animals have the huge expanse to themselves. When the weather gets warm again and the tourists flood in again like the engorged rivers, however, you’d better have your reservation in place to stay at the lovely Belton Chalet cottages or lodge building.
I’m not putting this review up now just to get you thinking about summer though: you can still stay in one of the cottages here during the winter this year and both the tap room and the restaurant are open on weekends. You could pop over here from Whitefish for a change of scenery and an excellent dinner in a historic lodge building.
Belton Chalet dates back to 1910, when the Great Northern Railway started bringing well-heeled travelers with plenty of leisure time through here to enjoy the dramatic scenery and wildlife of Montana. This was the first lodge in the area and it opened to the public soon after the national park was officially designated. The train line is Amtrak now, but you still see passengers getting off to stay here and (more often) hear the freight trains going by several times a day and night.
The lodge is in West Glacier, Montana, right by the entrance to the park. So if you’re looking to get an early jump on the people coming from further away, you can’t get much closer than this. It’s the kind of place you probably imagine in your head when you think of a Rocky Mountains lodge, with dark stained wood, antlers mounted on the outside of the building, and big lumber beams supporting the roof and ceilings. There’s a roaring fire in the fireplace where you check in, a lovely lounge area where you can sink into an armchair with a glass of wine and then have trouble getting up to head to your room.
It was a long and tortuous path for this place to become what you see now though. It went into decline as other larger and newer lodges pulled in more guests and spent decades going in and out of business, often just as a restaurant or bar. A three-year restoration project started in 1997 and after re-opening, the lodge was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Belton Tap Room is the kind of cozy bar that seems close to perfect in a mountain town, with lots of wood and soft lighting, with people who know each other and welcome strangers. I got a pang of regret just walking in that we were only here one night and were heading out early in the morning.
The Belton Dining Room is the big draw here, for guests and non-guests alike, so it’s best to make dinner reservations when you reserve a room. This is beside the tap room in the original building, with a fireplace that’s older than anyone having dinner here. It’s a warm and friendly atmosphere, with a menu that goes beyond the predictable beef-heavy fare you often run across in the west. The menu had trout, duck, house-made pasta, and a vegetarian dish when we visited, along with an interesting array of starters. Nearly everything that can be sourced locally is.
We started with the cheese board and blistered shishito peppers you see pictured above, which also featured local berries, jams, and honey. This was accompanied by a signature cocktail with local huckleberries and one of the nine Montana craft beers they have on tap. I couldn’t resist the bison meatloaf, but the trout plate ended up looking just as decadent.
Rooms are located in several buildings here and you should expect the room sizes to match expectations from a century ago, not today’s where much bigger American bodies are used to much more sprawled-out spaces. The sink is in the room itself, which gives you a sense of the bathroom space. They’re comfortable and efficient though, with queen beds and the best kind of furniture from that era, in the style of Stickley. It’s solid and built to last.
The classic lodge rooms are the lowest category and it’s worth spending a tad more to have a balcony. It makes the place feel bigger and gives you a place to enjoy the fresh air outside. Some of these balconies have nice mountain views. The honeymoon suites are on the corners, with a bit more room, more light, and a claw foot tub.
The two free-standing cottages are the splurge here, mini houses with a full living room and several bedrooms. They have their own fireplaces and a terrific porch worth sitting on for hours. There is WiFi if you need to get some work done before heading into Glacier National Park, but it would be kind of a shame to spend too much time looking at a screen here.
You can grab a home-baked muffin or pastry with some coffee in the morning in the lobby and watch the sun come up or head into the national park.
Considering how popular this area is, the rates at Belton Chalet in the lodge buildings are a real bargain, starting at $145 in the low season and $185 in the summer. The cottages go for $350 a night in peak season, but can sleep six people in three small bedrooms. Reserve your dates early at the official website or check rates online at Hotels.com.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted by Glacier Country Tourism and Benton Chalet for one night while researching articles in the region for several publications.