North America

Why you should take the train to Glacier National Park


The love affair with the motor car is a relatively recent phenomenon in the US. 100 years ago, wealthy tourists looking to get outside the city traveled around primarily by train.

The Empire Builder train is a surviving facet of this era, running from Chicago to the West Coast. Here's what you need to know about one of its most iconic routes – the trip to Glacier National Park.

The great outdoors by train

Stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the country’s cross-continental railroad system trail-blazed its way through spectacular scenery and subtly ignited interest in the "great outdoors."

One of its iconic stops was the 1489-sq-mile Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana.

Notoriously difficult to access at the time of its inception in 1910, Glacier owed much of its early success to the Great Northern Railway.

The pioneering line conceived and constructed by industrialist James J Hill – aka the "Empire Builder" – in the 1890s.

Hill envisaged the park's rugged alpine scenery as a "Little Switzerland" and, understanding its value as a tourist destination, he authorized the construction of two historic train stations.

The gamble paid off. Glacier was quickly inundated with visitors whose vacation dollars went a long way to helping Hill pay back his business loans in an era when railroad companies were going bust.

Despite the subsequent rise of the motor car, Amtrak still runs a train service (named the Empire Builder in Hill’s honor).

It runs along the Great Northern’s original 2206-mile route between Chicago and Seattle, stopping at both East Glacier Park and West Glacier stations on the way.