When the Great Northern Railway Company was laying tracks in the late 1800s, a boxcar was taken off a train to serve as the Flathead Valley station. The railroad magnate James J. Hill envisioned hundreds and thousands of passengers passing through a more elaborate version of that station on their way to a series of western-style lodges along the line. In 1909, the same year Glacier National Park was dedicated by President Taft, the impressive Belton Chalet became the first great lodge to grace the "front country." The historic, recently renovated seasonal hotel is now listed as a National Historic Landmark and serves as the most luxurious gateway to the sprawling 1,012,837-acre park.
Though local residents Cas Still and Andy Baxter upgraded Belton Chalet, installing modern facilities in the 1990s, they maintained the original Arts and Craft feel throughout the buildings and grounds. A colorful summer garden leads down the hill from the chalet to the award-winning and eclectic Belton Restaurant. A charming bar filled with authentic curios welcomes local regulars as well as visitors while an indoor dining area spills out onto a large uncovered porch where every table boasts mountain views.
Each simple, turn-of-the-century room opens up to a wraparound porch with views of the wilderness or the peak of Apgar Mountain, which perks on top of the Continental Divide. A communal feeling develops in the late afternoon as guests lean against the railings to watch the sun set in over the old West.
After a night spent in front of the Belton fireplace, visitors head into the park and make a beeline for the Trail of the Cedars. The winding four-mile path follows a milky blue creek through towering cedars up to its source at Avalanche Lake. At the top, a view of the glacial waterfalls filling the lake stops hikers in their tracks. Then it's off to the Highline Trail Hike at Logan Pass, the summit of the Continental Divide and the top of the famous winding "Going to the Sun" Road. The 11-mile trail follows the western ridgeline of the Continental Divide and offers spectacular views from sheer cliffs. There is still rafting to do on the North Fork of the Flathead River before guests head back to the comfort of the Chalet.
More information: A Standard Room at Belton Chalet costs $155 per night in the summer, when the hikes near the western entrance to Glacier are most manageable.