So I packed up long underwear and snow pants and headed to points west in Whitefish, Montana, aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Chicago. There’s a good reason why Whitefish is the most popular stop along the route to Seattle. I saw tons of people carrying skis, poles, boots and other equipment. With the rising cost of airline baggage, taking the train is more cost-efficient than ever.
I’d recommend the sleeper car, a roomette or the Empire Builder’s family car that can hold up to five. My sleeper car gave me plenty of space to move about with a couch that transformed into a full size bed. I listened to my icod and watched the magnificent scenery pass by as the train traveled through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.
My favorite part was sitting in the Sightseer Lounge with its wide open, floor-to-ceiling windows and watching the best of America pass by. Sitting in the dining car gave me a chance to speak with other passengers, while dining on gourmet (yes, gourmet) meals. And yes, there are kids’ meals on the menu, too. Sleeper car passengers also get to enjoy a Wine and Cheese party, tasting local wines and cheeses, also available for purchase.
What To Do When You Get There
They say getting there is half the fun…and aboard the Empire Builder, I would agree. But then the glacier mountains appeared and I knew I was getting close. Nestled just 23 miles from Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Montana, is the kind of ski town where you’ll want to not only hang up your skis, but hang up your hat as well. A warm and welcoming community with the “can do” spirit of the early pioneers, Whitefish is a place with no pretenses or attitude.
Activities for the Vertically Challenged
Yes, that’s right. I’m not a skier, but I found plenty of outdoor activities to keep my heart pumping. From snowshoeing at Glacier Park to cross country skiing at the Stillwater Mountain Lodge and Nordic Center to snowmobiling at Whitefish Mountain Resort and a sleigh ride at Bar W Ranch, this was pure excitement in the fresh mountain air.
I had a chance to go dogsledding at Dogsled Adventures in Olny. Owned and operated by Jeff Ulsamer who owns 112 dogs, my dogsledding adventure was out of this world. We sat in a bobcat type sled, covered in fur pelts and zipped up in plastic lining to protect against the wind. Up to five people can sit on the dogsled with a trail typically around 11 miles and up, lasting around an hour.
It seemed like all the dogs wanted to run. When the dogs were being selected for the sled, they were all barking and yelping as if to say, “Pick me, pick me.”
How fast do the dogs go? “About 40 paws an hour,” joked trainer Jeff Ulsamer. “Huskies are the best breed for dogsledding,” he said, “because they have a ‘natural inclination to pull ‘”
When the dogs are connected to the line and ready to go, the musher stands behind the sled and calls out different commands. “Gee” means go right while “haw” tells the dogs to go left. The term “mush” is never used because it’s too soft of a sound. And then, the dogs take off! A team of 10 Alaskan huskies pulls you along the trail as you glide through white, pristine wilderness. Going at a pace around 25 miles per hour, I sat back and took in the exhilarating experience, watching the snow-covered terrain and greenery pass my by with a “whoosh.” Afterwards, I had a chance to interact with the dogs, see, pet and yes, even hug a Husky!
Glacier National Park – Celebrating Its 100th Year
With snow-capped peaks looming in the background and beautiful Lake McDonald glistening, Glacier National Park indeed lives up to its name. It’s known for its famous 50-mile “Going to the Sun Road,” a national historic landmark, and I had a chance to drive around 10 miles up the road, then continue on snowshoes for another mile or so. The scenery is breathtaking.
If you’re thinking about visiting Glacier National Park, this is the year to go. The park has a year-long calendar of activities for all seasons including Glacier by boat, interpretive programs, art walks, film festivals and more. For information, visit the Glacier anniversary site. Another helpful site: Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau.
ChicaGo-Gal, who also goes by the name Mira Temkin, is a Chicago-based travel journalist who loves to see the world and write about it. From cruises to destinations to luxury hotels, she uncovers new experiences for families, couples and gal pals to discover. Email her at [email protected].
A big thank you to Brian Schott and Lisa Jones of the Whitefish Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Marc Magliari of Amtrak for hosting this ChicaGO-GAL!