Why Belton Chalet is Best in Hospitality for Glacier National Park

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Belton Chalet
Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Pursuit manages Belton Chalet as part of the Glacier Park Collection. They hosted my husband and me, but all opinions are mine.

Known for its modern hospitality when it opened in 1910, the Belton Chalet is a charming destination in the breathtaking Montana landscape. With its rich history in the development of Glacier National Park, this enchanting landmark in West Glacier offers travelers a retreat from modern life. Cozy and comfortable Swiss chalet accommodations set amidst towering pines create a sense of serenity while giving a nod to the past. It’s one of the best lodging options in Glacier National Park.

Where is Belton Chalet

Located on Hwy 2 E, Belton Chalet is in West Glacier, Montana, less than a mile from West Glacier Village on Going to the Sun Road.

The closest airport is Kalispell City Airport, 34 miles southwest of West Glacier Village.

Whitefish, Montana, is the closest “large” town to Belton Chalet. With a population of about 8,500, it’s a year-round destination for getaways and a short drive to West Glacier.

The lodge at Belton Chalet.
The lodge at Belton Chalet. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The History of Belton Chalet

The Belton Chalet was the first chalet built by the Great Northern Railway as part of its efforts to promote tourism in Glacier National Park. It quickly became a popular tourist destination thanks to its prime location and luxurious amenities. It served as the park’s first headquarters.

Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, who owned the Great Northern Railway, designed the Belton Chalet in the Swiss alpine chalet style. The original construction of the chalet and lodge only took three months. Louis Hill also built nine other chalet groups in Glacier National Park at Gunsight Lake, Sperry, Two Medicine, Cut Bank, Many Glacier, St. Mary, Granite Park, and Going-to-the-Sun.

On the property tour, we learned that when the lodge was originally built in 1913, the owners intended it to be a dormitory with shared rooms and bathrooms at the end of the halls. Renovations began in 1997 and took three years to complete, which brought the accommodation up to what they are now, with queen rooms and private bathrooms.

The chalet at the bottom of the hill houses the Tap Room and the Belton Grill Dining Room. The chalet and lodge have the same architectural styles and blend well. Two cabins on the property, built in 1911, are the Adirondack style, which is Appalachian instead of Swiss.

The only chalets still in existence are the Belton Chalet, Sperry Chalet, and Grant Park Chalet.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park was established by Congress in 1910, the same year the Belton Chalet was built. The park was created to protect the region’s unique natural beauty and wildlife.

Glacier National Park covers over a million acres within 1,583 square miles, much of it wilderness. Twenty-six active glaciers, mostly tucked into shadowy niches high along the Continental Divide, can be seen best in late August or early September, when most of the winter’s snow has melted.

Over three million visitors experience the park each year. With more than 700 miles of hiking trails and countless opportunities for boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing, Glacier National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.

The lobby in the lodge at Belton Chalet.
The lobby in the lodge at Belton Chalet. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The Great Northern Railway Developed the West

James J. Hill, the innovative mind behind the Great Northern Railway, built a transcontinental railroad along the northern frontier of America.

Originating in St. Paul, Minnesota, and concluding in Seattle, Washington, Hill’s groundbreaking venture bridged the prosperity of the East Coast with the uncharted expanses of the West. His auxiliary rail lines developed into an intricate network, transporting homesteaders, livestock, grain, lumber, and ore directly from their farms to his railroad. In doing so, he established a transportation empire and facilitated access to markets on both seaboards.

The Great Northern Railway transported troops and supplies during World War I and II. Diesel locomotives and streamlined trains, introduced during the Depression, improved the railroad’s speed and efficiency. The Great Northern Railway merged with other railroads in the 1960s and faced competition with airplanes and automobiles.

The Great Northern Railway today holds a prominent place in museums and at historical sites dedicated to railroad history.

Rail Service Today

The West Glacier Amtrak station is between U.S. Route 2, across the street from Belton Chalet, and the Middle Fork Flathead River. The train station was constructed between 1906 and 1910 and featured rough-hewn siding giving it a rustic appearance to keep with the other early buildings in Glacier National Park. The station is unstaffed and has no waiting room.

Twice a day, the Amtrak train stops at the West Glacier station. The eastbound train arrives at 7:57 am, and the westbound train arrives at 9:27 pm.

A favorite tradition at Belton Chalet is to stand on the front balcony and greet incoming Amtrak trains. For those who choose to stay in their rooms, earplugs are provided in every room–a nice touch, even though we didn’t need them. Our room was at the backside of the hotel, and it was blissfully quiet.

Fine dining in the Tap Room and Belton Grill Dining Room

The Tap Room, the bar/lounge with original maple floors, the walls clad in rich, dark wood, and small table lamps, offers mountain views from the windows and outside on the front deck.

Buffalo meatloaf, Bison meatballs, and Elk sausage were on the menu, but my husband opted for the Farm-to-Market Pork Shank served with polenta, apple-cabbage slaw, a braising glaze, Dijon mustard, and sage. I chose the signature Ribeye served with potato purée, a tiny bowl of roasted bone marrow, grilled broccolini, and a tasty serving of chimichurri. Paring Cab from Santa Ynez Valley in California was the wine paired with my meal.

Belton Chalet has become a culinary destination for locals and visitors.

Guest room in the lodge at Belton Chalet.
Guest room in the lodge at Belton Chalet. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Accommodations at The Belton Chalet

Belton Chalet is open during the summer–from mid-May to mid-October. Previous owners kept the cabins open during the winter, but with seasonal staff, keeping the buildings open and operating is challenging. You can make reservations up to 18 months in advance. With only two cabins for families, the Belton Chalet books up quickly.

The cozy lobby and open front desk provide a friendly guest experience at check-in. The lobby doubles as a gift shop, entertainment room, and gathering place with a couch, side chairs, coffee table, games for guest use, and other memorabilia lining the shelves. The original piano is on the left side of the room.

Hot and cold beverages and snacks on the sideboard in the lobby are available for guests. Cut and stacked wood lines the exterior walls near the entrance to conveniently supply the fireplace.

Belton Chalet has 25 guest rooms in the lodge that sleep only two people. Original fixtures, original maple hardwood floors, and crown molding maintain the property’s authenticity.

The Lewis and Clark cabins have three bedrooms, a common area with a gas fireplace, a kitchenette, and sleeps up to six people.

We were early for check-in, so they provided luggage storage until the appointed arrival time and when the rooms would be ready for us.

Our room on the first floor was easy to access. A tray with two mugs, a welcome notecard, and earplugs showed great attention to detail. Our private bathroom included toiletries. Even the toilet paper end was folded to a point and embossed.

The rec room downstairs in the lodge at the Belton Chalet.
The rec room downstairs in the lodge at the Belton Chalet. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Amenities at Belton Chalet

Convenient parking at the lodge level and ramps to the porch and lobby entrance make check-in a breeze.

Free wifi is available throughout the property.

The expansive recreation room downstairs has many tables and chairs for card games and is ideal for large groups. A ping pong table is waiting for players to strike up a match.

The shuffleboard table, complete with sand, is my favorite entertainment in that room. It brought back distant memories, and my fingers were itching to try my hand at placing the puck on the numbers.

The rec room walls hold original oil paintings that are not well preserved. The canvas is wrinkled and discolored, but their story speaks loudly of the past.

Another exciting feature of the room is the signature of the building contractor painted on the wall when the building was completed on August 15, 1913.

She Buys Travel Tip: There are no elevators at the property. Ramps from the parking lot provide easy access to the lodge and first-floor rooms. Because Belton Chalet is designated a National Historic Landmark, some areas may not meet modern ADA accessibility standards.

Legends at the Belton Chalet

Every historic building has a ghost story or two to liven things up. The Belton Chalet is no different. Tales of a woman jumping off a rocky ledge behind the hotel because of a love affair gone wrong and a person killed by a train near the hotel are just two.

During renovations, an employee heard the sound of flutes and drums in the middle of the night. This occurrence was unexplained.

During roof reconstruction, one of the owners experienced a warm feeling in most rooms. She was uncomfortable only in one room in the chalet and one room in the lodge. Again, this was unexplained.

Final Thoughts

From the first chalet built in Glacier National Park, being park headquarters, and welcoming some of the first travelers to northwest Montana, Belton Chalet is still best in hospitality, right down to the huckleberry-flavored licorice twists in the lobby.

Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things – photography and travel (along with a little food and beverage). Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures.
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