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Taking The Empire Builder from Chicago to Glacier National Park

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Amtrak Empire Builder
The Empire Builder

For anyone who loves national parks Glacier National Park is a bucket list experience. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. If you would like to visit Glacier National Park I highly recommend taking Amtrak’s Empire Builder to get there.

Taking a train to Montana was something my wife had always wanted to do. By taking the train, you will travel through areas you would never see otherwise. You will get to see mountain ranges, plains, rivers, waterfalls, tunnels, wildlife, etc. You’ll get to travel through very scenic parts of Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana.

Table of Contents

About the Empire Builder Train

Taking the Empire Builder is an adventure itself. It is a neat experience that adds so much to your trip as opposed to driving or flying.

There is an observation car which has panoramic windows that allows you to sit facing the outside. You might think that was be a dizzying experience but it’s not.

It’s actually quite relaxing and enjoyable. There’s also a dining car where you can go to eat delicious meals. There are regular riding cars, cars with roomettes, and bedroom cars.

observation car in the Empire Builder
Observation Car in The Empire Builder

If You Can Afford It Upgrade to a Bedroom Car

bedroom cars on The Empire Builder

The bedroom cars on the Empire Builder give you a lot more room than the roomettes. They also have a fold down bed so one person can sleep down below and one can sleep comfortably up above.

They have a wet bathroom with a shower. Even better, you can get adjoining bedroom cars. We got two rooms and were able to create a large open space for all four of us by sliding open the dividing door. When we wanted to separate from the kids to go to sleep we just closed the sliding door.

That setup worked out fantastic. It also included three meals per day in the dining cart. The dining cart was like a restaurant with great views of the passing scenery. There were plenty of different meal options and dessert options, and the food tasted great.

dining car in The Empire Builder
Dining Car in The Empire Builder

Traveling from Chicago to Montana

All things considered, getting checked in at the Amtrak train station was pretty easy. The waiting area was spacious and there were lots of snack options. When we boarded the train there was an area to stow our luggage. It was easy to go over and grab something out of it any time we needed to.

Announcements would come in plenty of time before our meal times. It was really neat traveling from station to station and watching people getting on the train at random small train boarding locations. It took about a day and a half to arrive at the train station by the Glacier Park Lodge.

Stay at the Glacier Park Lodge

Glacier Park Lodge

There are three lodge choices among other options, but we recommend staying at the Glacier Park Lodge. We were amazed by how close the train station is to the lodge.

We literally walked off the train and pulled our luggage over to the lodge. It couldn’t have been easier. The lodge is amazing! It’s modeled after a Swiss chalet and it is very charming throughout. However, it is not air conditioned, so be prepared for that.

There is a restaurant at the lodge that serves really good food. The staff is very helpful and they can assist you with any tours you’d like to schedule, scheduling horse back riding, or just giving you advice and directions. You’ll enjoy exploring the lodge both inside and outside with all of its porches, lobby, gift shop, etc. When we were there they had built some large teepees out front.

A rental car service conveniently located within walking distance of the lodge. You should get there before they open and be first in line if you can because rental car availability is limited.

Facts About Glacier National Park

  • Glacier National Park is over one million acres.
  • There are two different mountain ranges in Glacier National Park.
  • You can enjoy 700 miles of hiking trails at Glacier National Park.
  • There is 16,000 sq miles of protected land at Glacier National Park.
  • There are 130 lakes at Glacier National Park.
  • Glacier National Park has over 1,000 species of plants and 68 different species of animals.
  • Glacier National Park is known as “The Crown of the Continent”.

MUST SEE Places at Glacier National Park

Going-To-The-Sun Road: This iconic road offers breathtaking views of Glacier National Park’s rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and lush forests. Drive or take a shuttle along this engineering marvel, which spans 50 miles and crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

Don’t miss highlights like the Weeping Wall, Sunrift Gorge, and the Jackson Glacier Overlook.

Two Medicine: Nestled in the southeastern corner of the park, Two Medicine is a tranquil area known for its stunning alpine lakes, towering peaks, and abundant wildlife.

Take a boat tour on Two Medicine Lake, hike to scenic spots like Running Eagle Falls or Scenic Point, and explore historic sites like the Two Medicine Store and the Two Medicine Chalet.

Many Glacier: Renowned for its dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife, Many Glacier is a must-visit destination in Glacier National Park. Explore the picturesque shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, hike to iconic landmarks such as Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake, and keep an eye out for grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats roaming the rugged landscape.

Lake McDonald: As the largest lake in Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald is a stunning sight to behold with its crystal-clear waters and mountainous backdrop.

Enjoy a scenic drive along the Going-To-The-Sun Road, relax on the pebbly beaches, or embark on a boat tour to admire the surrounding beauty from the water. Don’t forget to capture the breathtaking sunsets reflecting off the lake’s surface.

Grinnell Glacier: One of the most iconic hikes in Glacier National Park, the trek to Grinnell Glacier offers unparalleled views of alpine meadows, towering peaks, and, of course, the majestic glacier itself. This challenging yet rewarding hike takes you through diverse terrain and showcases the park’s incredible natural beauty. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and bear spray for this adventure.

Logan Pass: Situated at the apex of the Going-To-The-Sun Road, Logan Pass is a popular destination for visitors to Glacier National Park. Take in panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, embark on scenic hikes like the Hidden Lake Trail or the Highline Trail, and keep an eye out for wildlife such as mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

Avalanche Lake: Tucked away in the western part of the park, Avalanche Lake is a serene oasis surrounded by towering cliffs and lush forests.

Hike along the Avalanche Lake Trail to reach this hidden gem, where you can relax by the tranquil waters, enjoy a picnic lunch, and soak in the awe-inspiring scenery. Keep an eye out for wildlife and be prepared for changing weather conditions.

Swiftcurrent Lake: Located in the Many Glacier area, Swiftcurrent Lake is a picturesque alpine lake known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning mountain backdrop.

Rent a kayak or canoe to explore the lake’s pristine shores, hike the scenic Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, or simply relax and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Keep your camera ready for wildlife sightings and spectacular sunsets.

Hidden Lake Overlook: Offering sweeping views of Hidden Lake and the surrounding alpine landscape, the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is a must-do hike in Glacier National Park. Accessed from Logan Pass, this moderately challenging trail takes you through meadows filled with wildflowers, past rugged peaks, and eventually to a stunning overlook above the shimmering waters of Hidden Lake.

Keep an eye out for mountain goats and bighorn sheep along the way.

St. Mary Lake: Stretching for over 10 miles along the eastern edge of Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake is a scenic gem that offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.

Take a leisurely drive along the Going-To-The-Sun Road to admire the lake’s beauty from various viewpoints, or embark on a hike along the shoreline to fully immerse yourself in the park’s natural splendor. Don’t forget your camera to capture the breathtaking scenery reflected in the lake’s azure waters.

You can rent a car and explore at your own pace, or you can take a tour. The Red Bus Tours are very popular, and guided boat tours are also available.

Things to Do at Glacier National Park

  • Hike the trails.
  • Camp in the wilderness.
  • Go kayaking.
  • Go paddleboarding.
  • Drive or bike Going To The Sun Road
  • Go horseback riding.
  • Take a bus tour.
  • Take a boat tour.
  • Check out the three main lodges.

    Here are some beautiful pictures of Glacier National Park.

Returning Back on the Empire Builder

When it’s time to leave the Glacier Park Lodge checking out is easy. Then it’s an easy walk over to the train station. Since we were rookies, we had no idea how easy it was.

When the train pulled in we simply stepped on with our luggage, stowed our bags, and walked around the corner to our bedroom car.

It took about a day and a half to get back to Chicago. Overall, it couldn’t have been much simpler. Traveling by train out West is something our family will never forget. Lots of memories were made and it was a very enjoyable experience.

Fun Facts About the Empire Builder

The Empire Builder is Amtrak’s most popular long distance train. It carries over half a million passengers per year.

The name Empire Builder comes from James J. Hill who was the founder of the Great Northern Railway and was known as “The Empire Builder”. The train travels between Chicago and Seattle in 46 hours and between Chicago and Portland in 45 hours.

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