During the early 1900s some Americans were becoming alarmed over the increased spending of American dollars on European travel. While discussing Glacier one day, Senator "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman of South Carolina stated: "It is very ridiculous to me to see the amount of money spent by Americans to see the scenery of Europe without having first seen what we have at home." This concern provided one of the motivations for creating a national park at Glacier. Having an "American Alps," or a "Switzerland of the United States," such as Glacier, allowed America to compete against Canadian and European resorts and tourist attractions.
So it was against this backdrop that the president of the Great Northern Railway, Louis W. Hill, began building a number of hotels and chalets throughout the park in the 1910s as a way of promoting tourism. These buildings were modeled on Swiss architecture as part of Hill's plan to portray Glacier as the "American Alps" or "America's Switzerland". Included in this project was a network of 9 European-style chalet complexes. Thus, leaving from one of Hill's luxury lodges, guests could hike or ride to one his rustic chalets in less than a day.
The chalets, built between 1910 and 1915, included Sperry, Granite Park, Cut Bank, Goat Haunt, Going-to-the-Sun (Sun Point), St. Mary, Gunsight Lake, Many Glacier, and one of the Two-Medicine Chalets (the other was converted into a store, which is still in use today). In their prime, several of the Chalets would host 100 to 150 guests a night.
Today, only Sperry and Granite Park remain. Both owe their survival to the use of native stone as their primary construction material. The masonry of these chalets made it possible to withstand Montana’s brutal winters. In contrast, the wooden structures of the other chalets deteriorated so badly that many had to be razed during the late 1940s.
The hotel, more commonly referred to as a "dormitory", was designed by Kirtland K. Cutter and Karl G. Malmgren, and contains 23 guest rooms. In 1992 the chalet was forced to close due to safety and environmental concerns. Fortunately it was restored and reopened again in 1999.
The only way to reach this backcountry chalet is by trail. Most people will hike the 6.1-mile Sperry Trail to the chalet. Reservations are required for overnight stays, but lunch and great views are offered to day hikers.
Granite Park Chalet:
As a result of the difficulty in maintaining the chalet, the Great Northern Railway sold the chalet to the National Park Service in 1954 for the princely sum of just $1.00. As with Sperry, Granite Park was forced to close as a result of safety and environmental concerns, but was reopened in 1996.
There are four trails that lead to the Granite Park Chalet. The Highline Trail, at 7.6 miles, is by far the most popular option. At just 4.2 miles, the Granite Park Trail from “The Loop” on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the shortest route, but climbs 2300 feet. The Swiftcurrent Pass Trail out of Many Glacier is 7.6 miles in length and climbs 2400 feet. The fourth option is a very long trek from Goat Haunt near the Canadian border.
Additional Information on the History of Glacier's Chalets:
For more historical perspective on this subject, please check out Glacier's Historic Hotels And Chalets, which traces the creation and use of the Great Northern Railway’s hotels and chalet colonies in Glacier National Park, and includes many historic photographs.
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