Several years ago we read about a collaboration between the Belton Chalet and Amtrak where you could take the train right to their door in West Glacier, Montana. We were intrigued, but the timing never worked out. Then, last fall when we were planning our spring break trip, we decided to chase the snow instead of the sun for a change and check out Glacier in the winter, so we finally got take the train. We’re glad we did!
Amtrak’s Empire Builder train goes directly from Portland to Glacier National Park (and on to Chicago), and it’s actually a good travel value! Although the train stops at West Glacier, we booked tickets from Portland to Whitefish, Montana (a 30-minute drive west of Glacier) so that we could rent a car. The train left Portland at 4:45 p.m. and arrived in Whitefish at 7:15 a.m., so we opted for a “Roomette,” a small sleeper cabin. The two round-trip tickets — which included meals — and the sleeper car cost about $550. Considering that includes three meals for two, the equivalent of two nights lodging (overnight trains in each direction), and transportation, we found it to be a pretty good value!
Sleeper car guests have access to a nice, quiet passenger lounge in the Portland station that includes complimentary wi-fi, beverages, and snacks as well as informative attendants. The train left right on time, and our compact but comfortable Roomette was on the upper level of the train. It had two large, comfortable seats facing each other with room to store small backpacks under them. Those seats folded into one bed and there was a second bunk — a bit smaller than the bottom one — that folded down from the ceiling. The car had its own thermostat, but we had a little trouble regulating it (operator error, undoubtedly). We were surprised at how quiet the car was when the door was shut, although we sort of missed the clickety-clack of the train wheels that we remember so fondly from our Europe trips.
The sleeper car has an attendant who provides complimentary coffee, water, and juice, keeps the restroom clean and well-stocked, and can answer questions or help with any problems. She also sets up the beds and brings your boxed dinner. (Unfortunately, there’s no dining car between Portland and Spokane, where the train from Seattle — and the dining car — link up with the train from Portland. Unfortunately there was no vegetarian option for the box dinner!) She’ll even give you a wake up call in the morning so you don’t miss your stop!
When we wandered through the train before the Spokane link-up, there was just our sleeper car, two cars with coach seats (large and reclining — they looked pretty comfortable, although we wouldn’t have wanted to sleep in them) and the “Sightseer Lounge.” This observation car has large panorama windows and a cafe/bar downstairs. There are booths with tables in this car as well. We saw a lot of people who had brought their own picnics (and flasks!) and a couple playing a game to pass the time. The views of the Columbia River Gorge through the big panorama windows were awesome!
Tip: there are no reservations for the Sightseer Lounge, so get there early to get a seat and the best view on the train!
We had a great trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder and would highly recommend it as an option for traveling to Glacier National Park. (We can’t believe we’ve never taken it to Chicago before!) It was easy from check-in to arrival, and it’s a good value. Car rentals are available at the West Glacier stop in summer, so you could literally walk off the train and be in the park in minutes. Heck, the park entrance is about a ten-minute walk from that station! Not a bad way to Find Your Park!
Have you traveled on the Empire Builder or done another fabulous train trip? Let us know in the comments and enjoy your next train adventure, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!