You can’t beat the atmosphere and scenery at this Swiss-styled lodge, built 1913–14, on the scenic shore of the largest lake in Glacier National Park. The historic main-lodge rooms with lake views, as well as outlying cabins sitting on the pebbled beach, are often booked a year in advance. This leaves many travelers, who accept that nature is the main amenity, to make do with rooms in the characterless four-story modern motel wing. The soaring lobby lounge with a huge, pictograph-carved stone fireplace, vintage hand-painted lanterns, and deer, elk, and mountain goat trophies, as well as the sensational views from the pier and beach, make up for minuscule bathrooms, spartan room furnishings, slow Wi-Fi, and iffy cell phone signals. Self-drivers use the lodge as a base for the famed 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road across the Continental Divide. Hikers explore paths, including the wheelchair-accessible Trail of the Cedars, surrounding the 10-mile lake; the U-shaped valley branches into smaller glacier-carved “hanging” valleys dotted with waterfalls. In summer, guests also enjoy horseback riding and tours on the DeSmet, a vintage cruiser.
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In summer, the beach can be jammed with families, but the scale of the lake and mountains absorbs the crowd. Fit travelers set off on the Avalanche Trail day hike. Adrenalin addicts book whitewater rafting with Glacier Guides. The main lodge restaurant fills with bus tours at lunch and dinner. Summer guests should book ahead and anticipate inconsistent service.
Need to Know
Rooms: 82 rooms. From $79. Check-in: 4 p.m.; check-out: 11 a.m. Dining options: Guests’ favorite meal is often a grocery store–bought picnic on Lake McDonald. The lodge has a captive dinner clientele with three options: the summer-only Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria; Lucke’s Lounge serving cocktails, Montana craft beer, and light snacks with lake views; and Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner inside the main lodge. Dinner focuses on local fish and game. Spa and gym details: There is no gym or spa, but hiking and lake swimming will burn calories.
Who’s it for: Travelers who are willing to sacrifice luxury in order to maximize time inside Glacier National Park. Our favorite rooms: Set apart from the other cabins, the Cobb Suite, originally lodge staff housing, is a restored, freestanding bungalow with a large porch facing Lake McDonald and furnishings re-creating a historic ambience. Two floors can be booked independently; guests share the porch and common living room with fireplace leather sofa, Tiffany-style lamps, and mission-style chairs. Getting around: Pack light, as there is no elevator or bellhop. Red Bus tours in vintage 1930s buses enable guests to take photos of stunning scenery while someone else does the driving.