Experience great adventures at Glacier National Park

Nestled just 23 miles from Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Montana is the kind of ski town where you’ll want to not only hang up your skis, but hang up your hat as well. A warm and welcoming community with the “can do” spirit of the early pioneers, Whitefish is a place with no pretenses or attitude. You can feel it the moment you walk into the Montana Coffee Traders and order a latte. It’s casual, laid back and friendly.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself here. My adventure really began on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which traveled from Union Station in Chicago to Whitefish. There’s a good reason why Whitefish is the most popular stop along the route to Seattle. Carrying skis, poles, boots and other equipment, passengers take the train as a part of the relaxing journey and the overall experience. (And with the rising cost of airline baggage, this is almost a no-brainer.)

Wine & Cheese Party aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder

My sleeper car gave me plenty of space to move about with a couch that transformed into a full size bed. I listened to my I-pod and watched the magnificent scenery pass by as the train traveled through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. Part of the fun was sitting in the Sightseer Lounge with its wide open, floor-to-ceiling windows. Sitting in the dining car gave me a chance to speak with other passengers, while dining on gourmet (yes, gourmet) meals. As a sleeping car passenger, all meals are included. Sleeping car passengers are also treated to a Wine and Cheese party, tasting local wines and cheeses, also available for purchase and very reasonably priced. I arrived in Whitefish rested, relaxed and ready to go!

Winter fun for those vertically challenged

Yes, that’s right. I’m not a skier, but I found plenty of outdoor activities to keep my heart pumping. From snowshoeing at Glacier Natrional Park to cross country skiing at the Stillwater Mountain Lodge and Nordic Center to snowmobiling at Whitefish Mountain Resort and a sleigh ride at Bar W Ranch, this was pure excitement in the fresh mountain air.

Dogsledding – the ultimate winter adventure

I had a chance to go dogsledding at Dogsled Adventures in Olney, owned and operated by Jeff Ulsamer who owns 112 well-cared for dogs. We sat in a bobcat type sled, covered in fur pelts and zipped up in plastic lining to protect against the wind. Up to five people can sit the dogsled with a trail typically around 11 miles and up, lasting around an hour.

It seemed like all the dogs wanted to run. When the dogs were being selected for the sled, they were all barking and yelping as if to say, “pick me, pick me.”

How fast do the dogs go? “About 40 paws an hour,” joked Jeff. “Huskies are the best breed for dogsledding,” he said, “because they have a ‘natural inclination to pull ‘”

When the dogs are connected to the line and ready to go, the musher stands behind the sled and calls out different commands. “Gee” means go right while “haw” tells the dogs to go left. The term “mush” is never used because it’s too soft of a sound. And then, the dogs take off! A team of 10 Alaskan huskies pulls you along the trail as you glide through white, pristine wilderness. Going at a pace around 25 miles per hour, I sat back and took in the exhilarating experience, watching the snow-covered terrain and greenery pass my by with a “whoosh.” Afterwards, I had a chance to interact with the dogs, see, pet and yes, even hug a Husky!

Glacier National Park – Celebrating its 100th year

With snow-capped peaks looming in the background and beautiful Lake McDonald glistening, Glacier National Park indeed lives up to its name. Known for its famous 50-mile “Going to the Sun Road,” a national historic landmark, I had a chance to drive around 10 miles up the road, then continue on snow shoes for another mile or so. The scenery is breathtaking.

If you’re thinking about visiting Glacier, this is the year to go. The park has a year-long calendar of activities for all seasons including Glacier by boat, interpretive programs, art walks, film festivals and more. For information, visit www.glaciercentennial.org.

For more information about Whitefish, Montana, go to www.explorewhitefish.com.