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    Glacier’s Lake McDonald Lodge: my complete review & tips

    Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park

    Glacier National Park is stunning.  If you want more of those stunning views, Lake McDonald Lodge is the place to be.

    Lake McDonald Lodge offers expansive views, charming but rustic accommodations, and fine dining.  The easy access to the Going to the Sun Road, Trail of the Cedars, boat tours, and the iconic Red Bus tours makes it the ideal place to stay when visiting West Glacier. 

    Lake McDonald Lodge at night

    I am a special educator who loves to help people travel to the West. I’ve also been lucky enough to stay at all the lodges in Glacier National Park.

    Read on for my honest, down-to-earth review to see if Lake McDonald is a good choice for you.

    Front of Lake McDonald Lodge
    Front of Lake McDonald Lodge

    Quick Overview of Staying at Lake McDonald Lodge

    ProsCons
    Closer to headliner attractions like the Trail of the Cedars
    and Going-to-the-Sun Road
    Terrible Wi-Fi and no cell connection
    Gorgeous views from the outdoor seating areaNo TVs or AC
    Red Bus tour pick upPricey and books up early
    Cozy and comfortable roomsSmall rooms
    Charlie Russell Dining RoomNo dedicated parking

    Location

    West Glacier is the most popular section of Glacier National Park. The Lake McDonald Lodge is nestled along the shore of Lake McDonald and is minutes away from Apgar Lake, Trail of the Cedars, Avalanche Lake, and the GTSR (Going to the Sun Road).  

    Map of Glacier National Park including Lodging areas

    The location alone makes the Lake McDonald Lodge worth the cost.  Unless you are camping, the next closest lodging is about 30 minutes away. 

    boat ride on lake mcdonald

    I really liked that I could walk out back and take a Lake McDonald Boat Tour. Or rent a kayak or paddleboard. Or, just sit on the benches and enjoy the view of the lake and mountains. 

    red bus
    Red Bus tours pick up at Lake McDonald Lodge

    I could also walk out front and catch a Red Bus Tour going over the incredible GTSR.

    To be honest, I’ve always shirked away from paying the $250 + cost of a room in many of the national park lodges.  But now, I have discovered that staying in a lodge within the park gives me much more time to enjoy the beauty of the park that I paid hundred (or thousands) of dollars traveling to.

    • Lake McDonald Lodge is just one of the many places to visit in Glacier National Park. We offer a must-have Travel Guide with a daily itinerary to many locations, including Glacier National Park.

    Parking

    One complaint I have is that there are no dedicated parking stalls for hotel guests.  Everyone uses the same parking facilities.  It’s possible you will have to park up to .25 of a mile away, which is not fun – even if you are a light-packer.

    Accommodations

    Our room was “rustic” and “cozy” which sometimes means “old” and “cramped.”  Both are true about the rooms at Lake McDonald Lodge.

    Our Room

    lake mcdonald lodge room

    There were a few modern upgrades. We had a magnetic key card, coffee maker, and blow dryer but our room was very basic.  

    Our room contained a comfortable bed, a desk with a chair, a stand-alone sink on the exterior of the bathroom, a chest for our clothes, and a little stand with a fan on it to help blow cool air into our room from the window.

    It’s very common for rooms in national park lodges to not have AC or TVs, and for the Wi-Fi to be spotty.  

    I missed the air conditioning because Montana was going through a hot spell while we were there. 

    LikedDidn’t Like
    Wooden furnitureNo AC
    Comfy bedVery small
    Clean and modern bathroomExposed pipes
    Nice toiletries
    Smart use of space
    Some rooms had nice views (ours didn’t)
    Nicely decorated

    Not having a TV isn’t a problem because we were in Glacier National Park!!! We definitely had better things to do! 

    The unreliable Wi-Fi was frustrating because there wasn’t good cell service in the park. As much as we would have liked to disconnect from the world, we had four children at home as well as an employee we need to be in contact with!

    If you absolutely must be connected to the world, you may want to stay outside the park.

    lake mcdonald lodge furniture

    The wood decor was nice. Compared to the other 5 lodges we stayed at in Glacier, Lake McDonald was above average. But there were some exposed pipes that were unattractive.

    Our room was tiny and only meant for 2 people.  I don’t believe Lake McDonald Lodge would have had a room that could accommodate my family of 6. If they did, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it!

    • Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get essential travel tips for visiting the West.

    The Bathroom

    lake mcdonald lodge room

    The bathroom was simple but had been updated.  It contained a toilet and shower (with excellent water pressure – yes!!!), very soft towels, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and make-up remover that was a step up from my typical toiletries.  

    Amenities

    I usually book lodging at a hotel chain where I get free breakfast and have access to a gym and pool. 

    These are not options here.  

    Registration desk and information desk

    lake mcdonald lodge information check in

    At the Lake McDonald Lodge, you’ll receive very classy service from a bellhop and gracious hosts at the front desk.

    lake mcdonald lodge information booth

    Make sure to check out the information desk, staffed by a knowledgeable and helpful employee. They’ll answer any question, from Red Bus Tours to things to do inside and outside the park. We had a number of enjoyable conversations with the Information Desk staff throughout the park.  

    The Lobby

    lake mcdonald lodge lobby

    The lobby is the real star of the show.  Filled with oversized, comfortable chairs and couches, guests can sit around the fire and listen to the background music of the grand piano. 

    The hanging lights and views of the upper floors are beautiful and fun to look at. 

    lake mcdonald lodge lobby

    Meeting other hotel guests, swapping stories, and sharing travel tips is my favorite way to end a day of sightseeing.  I’m glad there are no TVs in the room.  

    Charlie Russell’s Fireside Dining Room

    view of russell dining room

    Although Lake McDonald Lodge has a lounge and a quick service restaurant, I’ve found that I’d rather eat picnics in national parks and save my money for breakfast or dinner in fine dining restaurants. 

    Dinner at Russell’s Fireside Dining Room is a delight and did not disappoint. I especially loved the carrot ginger soup and huckleberry trout!  Between the lovely views from the expansive windows and delicious food, I was one happy camper.

    plate of food
    We had a buffet dinner with Huckleberry Trout, steak, and chicken (my husband likes to eat)

    One thing to note. The Dining Room served a buffet dinner while I was there. I don’t think this is usually the case but it was during a time when they were short-staffed. If you are concerned about this, you may want to check the menu on the Xanterra website (Xanterra manages the dining room) ahead of time.

    Seriously, if you can get the carrot ginger soup you have to do it!

    The dining room is named after Charlie Russell, perhaps the most famous western artist. Russell spent the last 20 summers of his life at this lodge (then called the Bull Head Lodge) painting and entertaining guests.

    I highly encourage you to check out the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana for an incredible western art experience.

    Ambiance

    lake mcdonald lodge exterior
    The flowers add to the charm

    Lake McDonald Lodge was built using charming Swiss-style architecture. It was built in 1913 by the railroad to entice wealthy guests to buy train tickets and visit the West.

    The wooden windows and hanging flower baskets actually add to the beauty of the surrounding Glacier National Park and Lake McDonald.

    Aside from the excellent location, the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere at Lake McDonald Lodge is my biggest reason to stay there.

    I love to sit in the lobby at night. It looks like the lights are floating lanterns.  It’s especially cozy if a fire is going or one of the guests sits down to play the piano.  Guests can enjoy a drink from the lounge and either read, play board games, or visit with other travelers.

    people sitting on bench looking at lake

    Outside in the back is a grassy hillside where benches are scattered about for guests to enjoy the views. 

    Sitting on one of these benches and enjoying a sunset with Matt was one of my favorite moments of our most recent trip to Glacier. It was so nice to not be rushing to our next thing. I got to enjoy the view I’d spent my hard-earned money to see.

    Pictures don’t do it justice

    lake mdonald lodge exterior

    Honestly, when I looked at pictures of the lodge before I went, I couldn’t tell if it was charming or just old.

    Once I arrived, the lodge, the landscaping, the busses, the lake, and the whole scene were delightfully charming. I particularly enjoyed seeing it lit up at night.

    Even now as I look at my pictures after my visit it’s sometimes hard to see that charm in the photos.

    It’s kind of strange, but I felt this way about all of the Glacier Park Lodges: more charming in person than in the photos.

    Know before you go

    If the Lake McDonald Lodge sounds like something for you, know they take reservations a year in advance and they do fill up.  Matt and I acquired lodging well in advance and we were unable to get a reservation at Lake McDonald Lodge until a few weeks before our trip. As our trip grew near, we periodically checked the Lodge’s availability and we got extremely lucky there was a cancellation.

    lake mcdonald lodge lobby

    They don’t have a wait list but they do have a generous cancellation policy. Many people cancel last minute so it may be possible to secure a reservation a few days before your trip if you get on the website and check.

    Count on the price of your room being $250 and up, per night, and not being able to check in until around 4:00 pm.

    Should you stay here?

    If you can afford it and you plan your trips in advance….. absolutely YES!!!  You will save significant travel time getting to the most popular places, enjoy some luxury from the past, and get more time to enjoy the beauty of Glacier National Park.

    Alternative Lodging in West Glacier

    Since West Glacier is the main entrance to Glacier National Park, there are many lodging options on the west side.

    If you prefer to stay outside the park, the Belton Chalet is an option. See our full Belton Chalet review.

    In addition, there are many hotels, VRBOs, and Airbnbs in West Glacier, Kalispell, and Whitefish. We recommend using booking.com to find the best deals for lodging in these areas that are outside of the park.

    Is there anything else I should know?

    Yes! Planning a trip to a national park can take days. It can be overwhelming and stressful. Let us lighten the load. Check out our must-have Travel Itinerary to Glacier National Park 

    Our itinerary provides you with a daily (yet flexible) plan to help you efficiently see the park. It will get you to the most important places, at the right time to avoid the crowds, by telling you exactly how to do it. You can’t go wrong. Get your travel itinerary today!

    ABOUT US

    We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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