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What Every Visitor to Glacier National Park Needed to Know … in 1920


This publication from the Government Printing Office included all the essentials for a visit to Glacier National Park in 1920. Image courtesy National Park Service.

Glacier National Park's centennial year is winding down, so the Traveler thought it might be both fun and enlightening to take a peek at a pair of park brochures from the early years of the park. It's pretty clear from these excerpts that life in the park was just a bit different in 1912 and 1920 than it is today.

Private auto travel has long since become the norm for Americans, but back in 1912 it was still being viewed with caution. The park regulations noted,

No automobiles will be permitted within the metes and bounds of the Glacier National Park unless the owner thereof secures a written permit from the superintendent or his representative.

Speed will be limited to 6 miles per hour, except on straight stretches where approaching teams, saddle horses, and pack trains will be visible, when, if none are in sight, this speed may be increased to the rate indicated on signboards along the road. In no event, however, shall it exceed 15 miles per hour.

Horses have the right of way, and automobiles will be backed or otherwise handled, as necessary, so as to enable horses to pass with safety.

Some of the classic park hotels that are still in use today were relative newcomers to the scene in 1920, but rates—and the amenities that were featured—definitely reflect a different era:

GLACIER PARK HOTEL. Located at Glacier Park Station, on the main line of the Great Northern Railroad; 200 rooms, accommodations for over 400 people; electric lighted, steam heated, running water, rooms with private bath, cuisine and service of highest order, plunge pool, shower baths, sun parlor, open camp fire in lobby, lounging and music room. Large verandas face the mountains of Glacier Park.

NEW MANY GLACIER HOTEL. Beautifully located on the east shore of Lake McDermott, 55 miles north of Glacier Park Hotel, on scenic automobile highway. Automobile stage service to and from Glacier Park Station daily. This hotel contains accommodations for upward of 500 guests; electric lighted, steam heated, running water, rooms with private bath; dining service the same high standard as at Glacier Park Hotel; open camp fires in lobby.

Authorized Rates at Glacier Park and Many Glacier Hotels.

Rooms without bath, including meals, American plan, per day, per person, $5 and $5.50.

Rooms, with bath, including meals, American plan, per day, per person, $6, $7, $8, $9, and $10.

Meals only: Breakfast, $1; lunch, $1.25; dinner, $1.25.

Not everyone who visited the park chose to stay in a hotel for his entire stay, and the park publication encouraged visitors to get outdoors. A section titled "Advantages of Camping Out" noted:

It is to the more leisurely traveler, however, that comes the greater joy. He who travels from hotel to chalets, from chalets to hotel, and then, having seen the things usually seen, engages a really competent guide, takes horses and camping outfit, and embarks upon the trails to wander and to linger where he will, is apt to find a month or more in Glacier National Park an experience wonderfully rich in knowledge and in pleasure.

Notwithstanding the excellent equipment of the Saddle Horse Co., such an experience is not unadventurous. Once off the excellent trails in the developed part of the park, the trails are little better than the original game trails. Unimproved wilderness is as rough in Glacier National Park as anywhere else. But compensations are many. Wild animals are more frequent and tamer, fishing is finer, and there is the joy, by no means to be despised, of feeling oneself far removed from human neighborhood. On such trips one may venture far afield, may explore glaciers, may climb divides for extraordinary views, may linger for the best fishing, may spend idle days in spots of inspirational beauty.

The Saddle Horse Co., provides excellent small sleeping tents and a complete outfitting of comforts. But insist on two necessities—a really efficient guide and a Government contour map. Learn to read the map yourself, consult it continually, and Glacier is yours.

City dwellers with little or no experience in the "wilds" need not worry about deciding what attire would be appropriate for their adventure. A section titled, "How to Dress" suggested:

As a rule tourists are inclined to carry too much. A very inexpensive and simple outfit is required—old clothes and stout shoes are the rule. For a week's to two weeks' trip, either afoot or horseback, the following list is about all that is required:

1 suit of old clothes.
1 sweater or mackinaw wool jacket. .
2 suits of wool underwear (medium weight). .
3 pairs of wool socks (heavy).
1 pair of stout lace shoes or hunting boots.
1 pair of canvas leggings (if shoes are worn).
2 pairs of cotton gloves
1 old felt hat
1 rubber blanket or raincoat, if on walking tour
Waterproof slickers are furnished free with saddle horses.

The above, together with toilet articles, will go in a compact bundle and can be put in haversack or bag. Women should have either stout shoes or boots and riding trousers or short divided riding skirts.

Finally, for those who were worried about staying in touch with the office during their trip to Glacier ... no problem:

Telegrams may be sent to all parts of the world from Belton and Glacier Park. All hotels will send and receive telegrams by telephone connection with these offices.

The good ol' days? In some ways, maybe so!

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I really like the emphasis on getting to know the park intimately, by spending at least a month hiking and camping. Who today would be able to afford a full month in the park other than retired RV'ers, park visitors from Europe, and park employees? In any case, it is still a worthy objective to encourage first-time park visitors to acquire a more lasting park experience by spending some time hiking, camping, and getting beyond the limitations of high speed travel, taking photos at roadside pullouts.

Ahh the good oldays. However, look again at the prices. A days stay was almsot a 1/2 week to a week wages. By todays standards it was expensive. So enjoy now for we may loose it if everthing proceeds as it is going

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