Sunday, August 25, 2013

Train Trip to Glacier

As I mentioned in my last post, a few weeks ago we took the train to Glacier National Park, where we met up with our Seattle friends, Katie, Jon, and baby Greta. This was our second visit to Montana--our first was two years ago, when Arlo was Felix's age. The drive to Montana with a 15-month-old wasn't super fun last time, so we decided to try taking the train (the Amtrak Empire Builder), since Arlo had never been on a train adventure before.

The train ride out was uneventful. We had two roomettes across the hall from each other. I shared a bed with Felix, while Arlo took the bottom bunk and Patrick the top bunk in their roomette. The boys especially enjoyed pressing all of the buttons on the seatbacks, turning on lights and fans and accidentally pressing the attendant call button a few times (sorry, Darryl!). It took Felix a while to fall asleep, since I was lying next to him reading my book with a headlamp on, but he dozed off eventually, and it was sweet getting to be next to him all night. Since we moved both boys to their own room while they were still smallish babies, sharing beds on vacation is a novelty for all of us.

Both children slept through the night (hooray!), but us grownups slept fitfully. But I'm sure it was much better than trying to sleep in coach (we did that once on a train trip during college, and it was no good). We got up early in the morning and headed to the dining car for breakfast. Soon after we finished, we reached our destination--Whitefish, MT. The awake part of the train ride was the perfect length for little kids--long enough to be exciting, but not so long that they got antsy.

We arrived in Whitefish around 8:30am, and we couldn't check into our cabin until 4pm, so we spent the morning in Whitefish. It's a nice place to hang out. We got a snack and enjoyed the toy basket at Montana Coffee Traders, then we picked up some sandwiches from a shop across the street and drove up to Whitefish Lake. After eating lunch there, the goal was to set Felix up in his little Peapod tent so he could nap, but it didn't work. The world is just too exciting. Eventually, we gave up, packed up our stuff, and met up with Jon and Katie at Safeway to do our cabin grocery shopping.

We checked into the cabin, ran around childproofing as best we could, prepared a quick dinner, and then put poor overtired Felix to bed. Arlo got to stay up a little later. Once the boys were in bed, we were able to settle down on the deck and admire the amazing view of Lake McDonald. I made this cabin reservation two years ago based on the owners' picture of this view, and it did not disappoint.

Lake McDonald Panorama

The following morning, we hiked up to Avalanche Lake; the same hike we did with Arlo on our first Montana visit. This time, I ate a snack before we started hiking, and I was in a much better mood (last time, I spent the whole second half of the hiking wondering when we could stop and eat our salami and cheese, and I was grumpy!). We ate lunch up at the lake, enjoying the beautiful surroundings (and trying to stop babies from eating gravel), and then we hiked back down.

In the afternoon, Arlo and Patrick walked down to Apgar Village to check out the red jammers (Glacier's cool tour buses). The cabin didn't have any kid's toys, but it did have a coffee table book about the jammers, which kept Arlo occupied for hours during our visit (that boy loves his vehicles!). He was super excited to get to see one up close at Apgar Village. He was even more excited to find out that you could buy toy jammers at the ranger station, but they were expensive, so we didn't buy one. He was not pleased. A huckleberry milkshake from Eddie's did little to dissuade Arlo from his quest to acquire a toy jammer, but the rest of us enjoyed our tasty treats.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the deck, swimming in Lake McDonald, and throwing rocks in the lake--the most popular activities during our vacation.

Quick Study

Felixs First Swim

Lake Friends

The next day was our big driving day. We drove up Going-to-the-Sun Road, with the intention of stopping for a hike at Logan's Pass. Unfortunately, everybody else in Glacier had the same idea, and it was impossible to park there. So we drove out toward the east side of the park, eventually stopping for a snack, short hike, and lunch at St. Mary Falls. The hike was less than 2 miles round trip, but for some reason it totally tired me out (sun + hunger + heavy baby on my back, I guess), and all I wanted to do afterwards was drink water, sit in the car, and go back to the cabin. But the plan was to keep going to the Park Cafe for pie, so that's what we did.

Because I was in no mood for pie (inconceivable!), and it was naptime for the boys, Patrick got our pie to go, and we drove back across the park to the cabin. The boys slept for part of the ride, but they spent most of it crying and whining about wanting to get out of the car. No fun. By the end of the drive, Patrick and I had both resolved that driving the full length of Going-to-the-Sun Road is just too much for little kids. Next time, we'll take the shuttle up to Logan Pass so we don't have to worry about parking, and we'll skip the trip out to East Glacier for pie. It was good pie and beautiful scenery, but not worth being in a car with complaining children for hours on end.

That night, after the kids were in bed, Katie made s'mores on the grill (no fire pit, and it wasn't clear if it was okay to start a fire on the beach), and we sat out on the deck and talked. This was our first family vacation with another family, and it was lots of fun. The kids got to play with Greta (and she taught Felix how to drink out of a straw), and we got to hang out with Jon and Katie and talk about babies, biking, and all the other things we like to discuss when we see each other. I want to do it again!

Couple Portrait

Smores on the Deck

The next day, we stayed at the cabin and relaxed, which was just what was needed after the previous day's adventures. In the morning, Patrick took the boys to Lake McDonald Lodge on the shuttle, and Jon, Katie, and Greta went kayaking on the lake, while I sat around the cabin and enjoyed the peace and quiet. That's my idea of a good vacation!

Cabin Downtime

Later, I hung out with the boys while Patrick and Jon went on a quick hike, and there was more rock-skipping and lake-swimming, followed by s'mores on the deck.

The next morning, it was time to pack up and head home. We stopped to take one last look at the amazing view of the lake and then headed back to Whitefish. We stopped for lunch at another Montana Coffee Traders (this one in Columbia Falls), at Jon and Katie's recommendation. It was a good choice--they had a toy basket full of vehicles and reasonably healthy food.

Our train wasn't scheduled to leave until 9pm, so we hung out in Whitefish again (I'm really glad we chose to take the train to Whitefish instead of West Glacier--so much more to do in Whitefish. It's a nice place to spend a day). We visited their library for a while and spent some time at the park near the Amtrak station, then got yummy ice cream at Sweet Peaks. Then we camped out at their awesome toy store, Imagination Station, for a few hours. The people working there were really nice; they said that a lot of families hang out there while waiting for the train.

We ate dinner at MacKenzie River Pizza Company, then we found out that our train was delayed by three hours. Boo! Luckily, there was a little park area next to the train station, so at bedtime, we changed the boys into their jammies and set up little sleeping nests for them in the grass (Felix in his Peapod tent, and Arlo in a sleeping bag). It took them a while to fall asleep, but they did eventually. Patrick and I stayed up and read our books. When the train finally arrived a little after midnight, we picked up our confused little guys and got them settled in our sleeper car as quickly as possible.

We had a family car reserved for this leg of the trip, but they upgraded us to the Superliner Bedroom, which worked out even better, in terms of beds that would fit parents and children. I was with Felix in the bottom bunk, and Patrick and Arlo slept in the top bunk. It was a tight fit for them (I think any train bed would be a tight fit for Patrick, as he's pretty tall), but it worked out okay.

Journeying Home

Family Portrait

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and I was happy to get home and back to the kids' normal nap schedule. It was a great vacation though; I definitely plan on returning to the cabin if we can get a reservation for summer 2015 (it's a popular cabin, unsurprisingly--2014 is already all booked up). Felix and Greta will be three years old then--crazy!