East Glacier

Glacier SP12-894

East Glacier Park Village is a modest hamlet 12 miles outside the Two Medicine entrance to Glacier National Park. In the summer, this is a tourist spot. The little town is crammed to the gills with motels. In the winter, most of the motels are closed. How many people remain in the town then? According to the 2000 census, the population of East Glacier was 396 people with 148 households and 101 families, with 219 housing units. Note that there are more housing units than households. This indicates part-time residents, i.e., those who leave to get away from the fierce, nasty winters. The town is on the blackfeet reservation, so not surprising more than half the population (51.77%) are Native American, 43% “white.” One wonders what most of these folks do for a living, particularly in the winter, when the tourist season comes to a virtual standstill.

The housing district is a bit on the rudimentary side, with modest but well kept homes next to run down houses, all adjoining unpaved streets. A smattering of nice cars, however:

On the outskirts of town there is a Catholic church, right next to what looks to be a buffalo ranch of sorts:

I stayed in the Dancing Bear Inn, which is adjacent to the residential part of the town and in fact looks upon the local elementary school:

A famous railroad, once the Great Northern, runs through town, on its way through Marais Pass, the lowest pass through Rockies north of New Mexico and south of Canada. There’s a railroad station in town, and a bridge that takes trains over the side road that goes to the lodge:

The Glacier Park Lodge is the most expensive place to stay in town. At one time, before Going-to-the-Sun road was built, Two Medicine was the central hub on the east side of the Glacier National Park. In those days, most people arrived at Glacier via train, and this was only place that the train stopped on the east side. Today Two Medicine is not nearly as crowded, and although lodge is pricey, many of the other places to stay are cheaper than any where else next to the park. Part of this has to do with the sheer abundance of lodging: far more is available in East Glacier than in either West Glacier, St. Mary, or Babb (near Many Glacier). The greater supply drives down the price, irrespective of demand. I did not get a good picture of the lodge, so the following will have to do:

Like most of the lodging in East Glacier, Glacier Park Lodge is not open in the winter. It closes at the end of summer and doesn’t open again until Memorial Day weekend. Why does the tourist season come to an end in East Glacier after summer? Well, it’s quite simple. Usually, by the end of the October, if not earlier, the road to Two Medicine closes as a result of snow. It doesn’t open again until next spring, usually in late April or early May. There is hence no access into the park during at least half the year from East Glacier, unless one wants to ski or snow-shoe the 9 mile road into the park and to the lake. There are people who attempt the route. If you are lucky enough to get there on a rare sunny winter day destitute of fierce winds, few places are more beautiful than Two Medicine blanketed with a thick quilt of snow, the lake covered in a thick skin of ice. But the weather can be nasty. The winds don’t often let up, particularly in Two Medicine. Sometimes, the winds will blow snow off of large sections of the road, so that cross-country skiers must take of their skis and walk. Nine miles is a long way to go on a short winter day; so if you want to make the trek, you may have to snow camp up at Two Medicine and hope the winds don’t get out of hand. At the lake, winds of 90 mph are not unusual. The east side of Glacier is not a pleasant place to be in the winter.