After a long day exploring Glacier National Park, these roadside communities offer a way to cut loose and kick back
FOOD&DRINK EVENING OUT STORY & PHOTOS BY JUSTIN FRANZor locals, summer in the Flathead is the reward after a long, cold winter. For visitors, it’s often an escape from their regular lives. As residents and visitors alike know, there is nothing like spending a sunny day exploring the crown jewel of America’s national park system, Glacier National Park.
What visitors may not recognize are some of the communities just outside the park, like Martin City, Coram and West Glacier. Locals know these communities as “The Canyon” and it’s the perfect place to kick back and unwind after a long day, which is exactly what a co-worker and I did on a particularly warm spring evening.
If you don’t have time for a daylong hike in the park, there are plenty of short adventures in the West Glacier area that are worth checking out. The Avalanche Lake Trail is a fantastic 4.5-mile round trip hike that features stunning vistas surrounding its namesake lake. The Forest and Fire Nature Trail is a short 1.1-mile loop with views of Lake McDonald and some great interpretive signs about the impact of fire on the land. And the Trail of the Cedars near Avalanche Creek is a 1-mile loop through some amazing old growth forest.
After sweating it out on Glacier’s trails, a great place for a pre-dinner drink is Glacier Distilling’s Whiskey Barn in Coram, along U.S. Highway 2. In the tasting room you can try some locally made spirits and even see how they are made. One taste and you’ll want to bring home a bottle for yourself.
After a drink or two on the Whiskey Barn’s deck you will have likely built up an appetite. If you’re looking for more formal fare, then head to the Belton Chalet’s Dining and Tap Room. Built in 1910 by the Great Northern Railway, the chalet features world-class meals and a unique outdoor kitchen right on the doorstep of Glacier National Park. Among the menu’s highlights are seared duck breast and bourbon filet.
For more casual fare, Glacier Grill & Pizza is another great spot across the road from the distillery in Coram. And if you’re really hungry, the Packers Burger at the Packers Roost is sure to fill an appetite. With two massive patties, the burger is the perfect way to reward your stomach after a big day on the water or in the woods.
If you’re not ready to head home after dinner, there are plenty of watering holes up and down the canyon, starting with the always-popular Packers. The Stonefly Lounge is also a great place to listen to music, and seasonal park employees are always hanging out at the Dew Drop Inn, both located in Coram. In Martin City, you can pull up a barstool at the South Fork Saloon or Deerlick Saloon.
On an average day in July, more than 13,000 cars travel along U.S. Highway 2 through the Canyon, yet often people are preoccupied with thoughts of what they will find inside the national park just down the road. Yet locals will tell you, there are plenty of reasons to slow down and take a look around on your way to and from the park.