Monthly Archives: August 2014

Step 4: Transportation

Flight: After the winter from hell here in Wisconsin (damn you Polar vortexes!), April rolls around. Although we did get snow in April (we usually do), I was thinking ahead to summer and our trip. I looked into airfare and was choking. To get flight times we wanted would have been around 700$ each. We didn’t have the time to drive it, so I looked for frequent flier tickets and found them. Whew. Of course, over time they changed our flights twice. The first time our departure time out of Kalispell went from 2:30pm to 11:15am. That seemed to be the latest we could leave Kalispell on Delta. Then the second time they change our flights it went from 11:15 am to 7:30 am. Then I had a serious problem. After phone calls and emails, we were finally put back on the 11:15am flight, but will have a 5 HOUR layover in Minneapolis. In the long run, this turned out to be totally worth it as getting up at 3:30 to make our flight would have sucked. On the other hand, our flight out to Kalispell had only a one hour layover in Minneapolis, which ended up creating a lot of stress and some drama (see my full trip report for the details).

Car rental: I shopped around for car rental deals and found some AAA rates. However, the best deal was the “wild card” deal from Thrifty where they pick the car. It was 259$ for our whole stay which was more than 100$ cheaper than a compact, so I booked it. I later read about horror stories of people in Kalispell (albeit with a different company) with car rental reservations but no cars available. I was a bit nervous, so looked at booking something pre-paid. At that point, it would have been over 500$ so I just went with the original plan. The day before we left Thrifty called me to confirm my reservation and tell me that the shuttle driver would meet us in baggage claim. We were the only people on our flight with Thrifty. We got to the location- less than five minutes from the airport and were given a Toyota Corolla. I was happy since we have two Toyotas at home, but that happiness lasted until we got to Super One about 7 miles away to pick up some groceries. As we pulled out of that parking lot it started making grinding and clicking noises, so we turned around and headed back. The guy working promptly switched us to the Subaru Legacy that was sitting on the lot. It was an awesome car, and I felt like we got an incredible deal. So, not a perfect experience, but excellent customer service made it as seamless as possible.

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Step 3: Lodging

I planned an itinerary (I’ll post more later on planned and actual) and started booking. At that time, Glacier Park Inc. (GPI) was running the majority of the in park lodges, and they allowed booking quite far in advance- I’m guessing 14 months or more. Now the majority of the in park lodges are run by Xanterra who accepts reservations up to 13 months in advance. On the first of day of each month, they begin accepting reservations for the entire month of the following year. However, with GPI in charge back then, in June 2013 I booked rooms for late July/early August 2014. I left three nights open because I planned to snag reservations at the two backcountry chalets, Sperry Chalet (http://www.sperrychalet.com/) and Granite Park Chalet (http://www.graniteparkchalet.com/). These two chalets are run by a different company from the other in park lodging, namely Belton Chalet. Unfortunately those do not start taking reservations for the next year until late October, which is very inconvenient when trying to plan an entire trip (see below). If I had to do-over I would have booked every night in park lodges and cancelled later because the cancellation policy is pretty lenient.

October rolls around and the day the Chalets start taking reservations goes up on their webpage. Of course, at 8 am Montana time on the day reservations open up, I have a meeting. So, I put my husband in charge and he emails in our request. I personally think they take phone calls first. When he didn’t hear back later in the day I tried to call, but never got through. The next day he gets an email that he had one of the three nights we requested, but the rest weren’t available. I get on the chalet’s webpages and see they have availability for late August, so I call GPI and move all of our lodge reservations until late August, and email in my request to the chalet. The next day I get an email back that they aren’t available. Blah. But I know cancellations do happen so I’m resolved to keep checking their webpage for availability. In the long run, I was glad we moved our trip until later in the summer. Higher elevations in the park had significant snow in mid-June so may trails were clear of snow later this year than in some years.

But, for now, back to the Chalet drama. In mid-May I finally scored one of our nights at Sperry. Our contingency plan if we didn’t get the other two nights at the Chalets was to stay at Hotel Lake McDonald (still run by GPI) one night and to go to Waterton one night. I booked the night at Hotel Lake McDonald, but it seemed like hotels in Waterton still had plenty of availability so I didn’t book anything right away. I did eventually get a second night at Sperry and a night at Granite Park. I did have to cancel the Lake McDonald lodge outside of the 30 day grace period so I was out 15 dollars. But, in the grand scheme of things it was worth not stressing over having a night without a place to stay.

Tips on booking the Chalets:

1) Try to call in the day they are open. Email in as an alternative.

2) Troll the webpage for cancellations several times a day. Empty the cache on your browser first to make sure the availability calendar refreshes

3) You pay half as a deposit when you book. Thirty days in advance full payment is due. So, thirty days out is a big time for people to cancel.

4) If you cancel 14 days out you get no money back, but if you cancel between 15 and 29 days of arrival you get half of your money back (i.e. they keep the deposit). So, 15 days out is also a big time for cancellations to happen. I actually got the second night at Sperry 15 days out.

5) If you really really want to stay, call upon arrival. Both nights we stayed there were last minute cancellations/no shows so people got rooms at the very last minute. One group had some members not able to make the trip so they gave away one of their rooms to people they met on the trail that had just gotten engaged. Talk about an engagement present from total strangers!

Step 2: Planning

Resources:

I used three major resources for planning my trip:

1) Tripadvisor Montana forum (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g28947-i982-Montana.html)

2) I purchased the Moon Glacier National Park handbook on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1612383246/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o08_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1)

3) The map on the Glacier National Park webpage (http://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm)