Travel How-to: Road trip through Glacier National Park in the winter

road trip glacier

Here at Gadling, we’re big fans of visiting National Parks in the off-season. There are fewer crowds, less headaches and more chances to enjoy the natural aspects that made these magnificent places so spectacular to begin with. The only trouble is the weather. Generally speaking, many of the United States’ National Parks partially shut down when Old Man Winter shows up, driving away a good deal of would-be tourists and also limiting how much of the park you can see. The famed Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park is drowned in snow from October to April, and the majority of Yellowstone‘s roadways are closed to automobiles during Wyoming’s lengthy winter. And when it comes to one of America’s true gems — Glacier National Park — the star attraction is completely off limits to even 4WD vehicles for three-quarters of the year.

With the Going to the Sun road shut down, is there even a reason to travel to northwest Montana to give this majestic place a look? Without a doubt, yes. It’s true that Glacier, even in her 101st year as a National Park, is most open to exploration in the regrettably short summer season, but there are massive benefits to going in the winter. For one, hardly anyone else is there. You’ll be lucky to see a dozen others exploring the park on a given winter day, giving you ample opportunity to get lost inside this truly gigantic place. But there’s something else that few people consider when pondering a visit to Glacier in the winter: Highway 2. Read on to hear our secrets on making the most of an off-season visit to Montana’s largest National Park.

%Gallery-114793%During the winter months, which usually stretch from October to April depending on snowfall, only ~12.5 miles of the Going to the Sun road is open to motor vehicles. Even those are usually covered with a light layer of snow and ice, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle as you head in.

road trip glacier

From the West Glacier entrance ($15 vehicle entry fee required), around 11.5 miles are cleared, taking you from the Visitor’s Center to McDonald Lodge. This route tiptoes around the shoreline of Lake McDonald, the Park’s largest lake at ~10 miles long and ~1.5 miles wide. Thus, you’ll find various opportunities to park your vehicle and walk out to the shoreline, with just you, a vast range of mountains and a few lingering clouds to photograph.

road trip glacier

If you visit on a particularly hazy day (not tough to find in the winter), you’ll usually see loads of grey in the sky. If the clouds hang right, you’ll have friends believing that your shots across the lake are actually of Iceland or somewhere far more exotic than America’s Treasure State. With the snow covered banks, the setting creates a perfect opportunity to tinker with your metering techniques — snowy landscapes are one of the few places where spot metering is actually preferred, and with no crowds pushing you around, you’ll have plenty of time to adjust your settings to get the perfect vibe and tone from your shots.

road trip glacier

About three-quarters of the way to McDonald Lodge, there’s a spectacular view from the lake’s shoreline. It’s roughly halfway between each end of the lake, presenting a golden opportunity to utilize your compact camera’s Panorama mode. Below is a shot that was quickly composed using the inbuilt Panorama mode on Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G. It’s obviously not the high-quality stuff you’d see out of a properly arranged DSLR, but considering that this took about ten seconds to generate, it’s not a bad way to remember just how vast this lake really is. If you’re serious about panoramic shots, we’d recommend bringing along a GigaPan Epic robot, which you can mount your camera on and program to swivel around in a set interval to capture a very high-resolution, high-quality panoramic shot.

road trip glacier

Once you circle out and head back out of the same entrance you came in on, the real fun begins. If you continue on Highway 2 East, you’ll be heading towards East Glacier — the other side of the park. What most tourist fail to realize is that this road actually runs through the southern part of the park, and there’s no fee required here. If you pack snowshoes, you’ll have an unlimited amount of options for stopping and exploring the wilderness around you, and it goes without saying that the views of the surrounding mountains are a photographer’s dream. Highway 2 is rarely “clear” in the winter, so we’d recommend a 4WD vehicle and slowed speeds while traveling. It’s a solid 1.5 hour drive from West to East Glacier, but ever inch of it is jaw-dropping.

road trip glacier

Think you’ve now seen all there is to see of Glacier National Park in the winter? Not so! Once you reach Browning, MT, you’ll want to head north and turn left onto Starr School Rd. This will divert you over to Highway 89 North towards the Alberta border, giving you an incredible view of Glacier’s towering peaks from a distance. It’s an angle that you simply won’t get while driving through the heart of the park on Highway 2, and the snow covered summits provide even more reason to keep your shutter going. The drive northward to Alberta remains gorgeous, and we’d recommend driving on up if you have your passport handy.

road trip glacier

Even the National Park’s website won’t tell you of the surrounding highways to traverse if you’re interested in seeing as much of Glacier National Park in the winter as possible, but now that you’ve got the roads you need to travel, what’s stopping you from renting a 4WD and seeing the other side of this stunning place? Be sure to pack along your camera and brush up on the basics — snowy mountains definitely present unique challenges when shooting, but they also provide the perfect opportunity to finally try out that ‘Manual’ mode you’ve been trying to ignore. And if you’ve got a geotagging dongle or a GPS-enabled compact camera? Make sure to document your trip with locations that correspond to the stops your make along the way!

Best travel tips from real travelers

Have you checked out Gadling’s 100% reader-generated feature, “100 words or less.” In “100 words or less,” YOU — the expert traveler — get to share your expert travel tips with Gadling and all our readers. Know a sure-fire way to score a cheap hotel room? Confident you know a trick to get an airline upgrade? Share it with us!

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite tips below. Enjoy.

Hotel tips
If you often leave personal items in hotel rooms, remind yourself by writing it down — but write it on a mirror with a dry erase marker instead of on a piece of paper you could easily overlook.

Today’s tech-savvy world requires a lot of equipment to stay “plugged-in.” Cell phones, laptops, and MP3 players all require power cords to recharge. Since these items don’t need to be plugged in all the time, it’s easy to forget your power cords when checking out of a hotel. Increase your chances of recovery by writing your name and contact information on a piece of masking tape and securing the tape to your power cord.

If you’re concerned about the cleanliness of your pillow, the inside of your shirt is probably cleaner (or at least more acceptable) to lie on than a suspect pillowcase. Simply turn the shirt inside-out, slide it over your pillow, and you’re good to go… to sleep.

Sleep better with these other hotel tips.


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Cruise trip tips

Packing a dry erase board and markers and attaching to your cabin door accomplishes several things, including helping you to identify your room and providing an easy way for your family to communicate their whereabouts.
Take an insulated travel mug on your next cruise and it may become your favorite accessory.

If you’re cruising as part of a big group of family and friends, it’s a lot of fun to divide into teams for a scavenger hunt. Items for the hunt can be dares, found objects, and fact-finding missions.

Get a key chain necklace and put your room key on it. Wear this around your neck at all times to avoid losing it or having it stolen.

Whenever we go on a cruise, my husband and I always plan to snorkel on at least one island. On our first cruise, we went on a shore excursion that provided the snorkel, but then we got smart.

Most cruise ships today are multi-deck mini-cities carrying as many as 5,000 passengers. And, unless you’re traveling alone, you may find yourself separated from your traveling party at some point during your cruise. How to stay connected? Give each member of your group a two-way radio, all programmed to the same frequency to help keep you organized and in touch.

Visit our other cruise trip tips.


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Road trip tips

To keep maps and directions safe during a trip, laminate them. For around $30, a home laminating machine will seal standard letter size pages. (Copy and print stores have the capability to laminate larger maps for a minimal fee.) Alternatively, you can use contact paper to cover paper maps. In addition to being more durable, laminated maps offer the advantage of allowing you to draw your route on the map and easily wipe it off later, if you change your mind.

To avoid hours of boredom, plan a “scenic scavenger hunt.” It’s easy. Just write down a list of 100 things you might see along the way, like landmarks, buses or bridges. The first person to complete the list wins.

Before embarking on a road trip, map out two different routes — a slower, scenic route and a shorter, faster (less scenic) route.

Motor through more road trip tips.

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Dining out on vacation tips
When traveling to a foreign city, you can usually find the cheapest and best-tasting food by looking for menus that are written entirely in that city’s native language.

You’ve spent so much money on just getting to Hawaii or Florida, why pay more to sit inside a restaurant? Weather permitting, you should be outside on the grass! Or on the sand. Or at a picnic table.

Before you go out of the country, make a few wallet-sized cards that list what you can and can’t eat in the native language(s) of the country you’re visiting.

Devour more dining out on vacation tips.


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Souvenir tips

T-shirts have always been my favorite travel souvenir. Many of them were sized for an eight year old and most were dreadfully stained, but I could hardly get rid of them. They were my mementos! Instead of tossing them, I cut out all the images and logos and made a travel quilt.

A great take-home and space-saving souvenir for wine lovers are corks from bottles you’ve enjoyed while traveling.

When you find yourself not knowing exactly where you’re going, ask a local to draw directions for you. Keep a store of interesting napkins or papers and a pen on hand to take advantage of the opportunity of being lost. Asking for directions might also lead you to start some great conversations and to gain a deeper insight into the locale you’re visiting.

Save some of these souvenir tips for later.

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Airplane tips
During your next flight, be considerate of the passenger in front of you. When settling down into — or, getting out of — your seat, don’t grab the seat in front of you for leverage.

Sick of hearing about a stranger’s dysfunctional family or odd medical conditions? Avoid conversations all-together by doing a simple thing: wear headphones. They don’t even need to be plugged in.

Your seats are reserved. There’s no circulating air until the plane takes off, and even if you’re the first person on the plane, you’re going to be hot, you’re going to have to move, and you’re going to get elbowed — and maybe get luggage dropped on you. Also, if you’re not the first person to board, you’re going to spend 20 minutes slowly creeping down the crowded walkway. So… stay out in the relative open space of the terminal waiting area until the gate agents make the final boarding call.

Take off with these other airplane tips.

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Traveling with kids tips
Buy at least one disposable camera for each child on the trip. These are inexpensive and will keep your child entertained for a long time. Tell each child that they should take pictures of things on the trip that they find interesting.

The front passenger is always the navigator when I’m traveling with my family or a group. However, I discovered that you can turn your children into junior navigators while helping them learn geography at the same time. It helps eliminate them from asking, “Are we there yet?”

Rather than lug boxes of baby necessities around, consider ordering supplies online — diapers, food, etc. — and shipping them to your destination. You’ll have more room in your car; there’ll be less to pack and unpack; and your neck won’t be so sore from hauling boxes in and out of the house.

Grow up with these other traveling with kids tips.

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Packing for travel tips
Contact lens cases with screw-on lids make great travel accessories. When you want to take small quantities of hair gel, sculpting wax, eye make-up remover, an essential oil, Aloe Vera, or under-eye cream, you can’t beat contact lens cases. They’re small. They don’t leak. They can hold one week’s worth of lotion or gel in each little section.

When traveling over the holidays with gifts, never pre-wrap! Wrapped items may need to be inspected by the TSA, and that could mean they’ll be unwrapped by security before you even get to your destination.

Here’s a way to pack your smallest, but most expensive, items without losing them or space in your suitcase: find a typical pill box and place your precious metals in there. Anything from rings to necklaces will fit.

Store these additional packing tips.

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International travel tips
Guidebooks are all well and good, but they rarely take you off the beaten path. Before arriving in an unfamiliar place, pick an unusual food to track down in your destination; it’s even better if you can find the same food in multiple countries.

Always carry a small calculator when you travel internationally. It will save the day when you are trying to figure out how much things cost in “real” money.

When traveling abroad, get at least a small amount of foreign currency for tips and other unexpected cash expenses before leaving the airport or crossing the border.

Explore the unknown with these other international travel tips.

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To submit your own tips, sign up for a free account at Seed, filter the assignment list by the category “travel” and look for assignment requests with the words “100 words or less.” (And yes: if your tip is published, you will be paid!)

[Photos: Flickr | Fly for Fun; StrudelMonkey; StrudelMonkey]

Distracted driving rules drive you to distraction

Road trips are a staple of summer travel. You load up the car, cram in the kids and put the pedal to the metal. Well, it’s not that simple any more. The rules with which you have to contend vary from state to state, especially when it comes to distracted driving (also “known as get off your cell phone while driving”). Can you go hands free? Should you just shut up and drive? It depends on the state.

We’ve become more reliant on our cell phones, and not just for talking. Travel apps abound, and iPhones, BlackBerry devices and Androids laden with them help us communicate with each other to get local color, find hotels and cheap gas and even get from Point A to Point B without getting lost. All these tools that make travel easier could make driving safely harder, as you desperately need to monitor the Twitter public timeline while blowing down the highway at an absurd rate of speed.

Well, it turns out that keeping track of distracted driving rules from state to state, particularly if you’re on a long road trip, can lead you into distracted driving. Simply put: trying to obey the law can cause you to break it.Distracted driving laws, according to MSNBC, are far from uniform:

So far, 30 states – and some local jurisdictions, including Chicago and Phoenix – now have laws that address using cell phones or sending text messages while driving. Fines range from $20 to $150 for the first offense.

Unfortunately, the laws aren’t uniform. One state may ban handheld phone use in cars while another may allow it. Texting while driving is banned in dozens of states, but will result in a ticket in others only if you get into an accident.

Just keeping track of distracted driving laws can distract the heck out of you. So, you may want to print them out, MSNBC suggests, particularly since these laws aren’t always posted at state borders. A better idea, I think, is to e-mail or text them to yourself … which only works in states where you can use your cell phone while driving. D’oh!

Even better? Bring a copilot.

[photo by Lord Jim via Flickr]

Healthy travel: a tip list

You can never have too much travel advice, in my opinion. You can have bad travel advice, but the folks at online travel news site eTurboNews have compiled a great list of tips designed to help you keep your arteries unclogged and your spine in alignment while you fly or road-trip this summer. Nothing new or ground-breaking, but definitely worth repeating.

Part of the list is dedicated to finding more nutritious alternatives to fatty, sodium-laden airport and airline fare. Since childhood, I’ve possessed a deep phobia of airline food, so I’ve always brought my own in-flight meals. Now that tight-fisted domestic airlines are depriving passengers of even a bag of pretzels, all the more reason to hit the grocery store the day before you travel. If you frequently travel last-minute, make sure you keep a stash of healthy snacks, such as unsweetened dried fruit, granola bars, or nuts in the pantry so you can grab-and-go.

There’s good advice, too, on little things you can do to avoid tweaking your back or neck, and preventing those unsightly varicose veins. I would add that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a much more serious, life-threatening issue on long-haul flights. Get up once an hour and take a lap around the plane, and move your legs by doing some stretches in your seat. Happy, unbloated, limber travels!

[Via shine.yahoo.com]

Road Trip Tips: make lodging part of the journey, not just a place to stay

Spring’s upon us, and those summer months you’ve been desperately waiting for are nearly here (in this hemisphere, anyway). We can’t help but say that anytime is a perfect time for a road trip, but the prime months for hitting the highway are just ahead, and that leaves you precious little time to prepare. In haste, many road trippers tend to overlook, or simply brush aside, one critical aspect of their journey: lodging. For whatever reason, lodging has become more of a hassle and unsatisfying expense than anything else. Call it the empty calories of a road trip, if you will. Trust us — it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the best aspects of exploring America (or any nation, for that matter) by road is the near limitless amount of options you’ll have when looking for a place to rest your weary soul at the day’s end. Join us after the break as we explain just how vital proper lodging research is to a fulfilling road trip, and how to find yourself in a venue that’s not only close to attractions you’re after, but that integrate seamlessly into the region you find yourself in.Be a historian

So, now that you’ve settled on a destination for day 1 of your road trip (or any successive day), you’ll need to figure out where you’ll be tucking yourself in for a night of well-deserved rest. We will say that camping is always an option, and if that’s your cup of tea, we couldn’t encourage it more highly. For the purposes of this article, however, we’ll be focusing on slightly more sophisticated options — hotels and bed & breakfast venues, namely. Let’s say you’ve settled on staying somewhere in the wild, wild west of America for a few days. To get more specific, let’s focus our attention on one of the wild’s most adored locations: Deadwood, South Dakota.

Obviously, Deadwood is coated in history. Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down on the very streets that tourists from all walks of life come to visit. The old architecture still covers the town, and the gorgeous Black Hills that surround it assist in ushering you into an era that still thrives scores after the west was won. That’s fine and dandy during the day — you’ll have no issues finding a copious amount of things to do in the area while the sun’s up — but what happens when the moon sets up shop, your gambling budget is whittled down to nothing and your entire family is clamoring for a place to rest? For many, they simply wheel over to the nearest hotel with a “Vacancy” sign lit, plop down a credit card and call it a night. Essentially, the lodging is not only an unimportant part of the experience, it’s one that’s immediately forgotten once check-out time comes.

There’s a better way, and it’s to find a venue that enhances one’s stay in an area. Believe it or not, finding a place that does this is far easier than you might imagine, particularly with the Internet putting a world of knowledge just a few clicks away. If you’re in a historic town, one of the easiest ways to find a venue that ties in with the surroundings is to search for historic hotels, B&Bs, hostels, etc. Something that’ll take you back in time and give you a better grasp on where exactly you’re at. In the Deadwood region, there’s no shortage of lodging options that have been standing for decades, and by and large, few have changed. But on our recent trip to the area, we wanted to see if a modern player could integrate itself into the landscape in a way that would be transparent to the traveler. We wanted to feel as if we were in Deadwood, but with all the amenities of a hotel that opened its doors to the first guests just a few short months ago. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish — numerous hotels in the area looked markedly out of place given the aged surroundings, but The Lodge at Deadwood caught our eye.

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Built atop a hill just a mile or so outside of downtown Deadwood, this mega-hotel just screams Deadwood 2.0. Going in, we wanted to experience a venue that was Deadwood through and through, enabling us to feel as if our hotel was just as much an attraction as the region’s own Chubby Chipmunk chocolate factory (to die for, by the way). Why pay for a lodging venue that adds no value to your trip outside of providing a shower, bathroom and bed? Your road trip is likely to be one of the more memorable things you do — you might as well select a venue that’s memorable and relevant to where you’re staying, right? That’s the goal we sought to accomplish while staying at The Lodge, and in short, we felt they nailed it.

Unlike some of the historic downtown hotels, The Lodge is set just outside of town. Still surrounded by the gorgeous Black Hills, the venue was established to be all-inclusive if you’d like. There’s a full scale casino on the property, a restaurant, meeting rooms and plenty of opportunities to mingle with other travelers. The good news is that a car still isn’t required to enjoy Deadwood proper; a trolley makes its way out to the property on a regular basis, though we certainly appreciated the ample (free!) parking available given the whole “road trip” thing. We never felt detached from downtown Deadwood even though we were a mile away, and that’s precisely the point.

The design of The Lodge at Deadwood was carefully chosen; the deep wood timbers that make themselves visible are indicative of the region, and the gorgeous views continually remind you of the special place that you’re in. Unlike some of the older options in the area, though, everything here was supremely modern. From the HDTV nestled on the wall to the high quality, western-themed bedding to the deep brown / black color schemes to the exceptionally clean gaming floor, there’s little question that this place has delivered modern day touches to a place steeped in history, all without losing touch with what makes Deadwood, well, Deadwood.

Get with the times

Now, let’s say your headed to a place with just a few more locals than Deadwood. Like… Minneapolis. No question, the city positioned between NYC and LA has a deep amount of history behind it, but what makes this city so special is just how modern it is. It’s artsy, it’s edgy, it’s sophisticated, and it’s continually relevant. Regardless of whether you keep with the latest fashions and trends in your home town, you can totally get away with posing in a place like this, and let’s face it — half the fun in a road trip is doing your darnedest to become a local in as many places as possible. To that end, we sought out one of the most lauded boutique hotels in the downtown area to reside in for 24 hours, and if you’re looking to plant yourself right smack dab in the middle of everything, there’s hardly a better place to head than Le Méridien, Chambers Minneapolis.

Of course, staying at a place like this will require a larger-than-average outlay of cash, but who said city living was cheap? We’re trying to find places that integrate with the feel of the locale, remember? It only took about ten steps through the door for us to feel immediately more cosmopolitan, surrounded by downright astounding works of art (many seen in the gallery below), a gorgeous eatery and dozens of viewpoints into the city streets below. Located on Hennepin Avenue, we were able to dash our car for the evening and enjoy the best The Mill City had to offer, and honestly, your night’s stay effectively includes a pass to a modern art museum. The installations that were scattered about during our stay were nothing short of jaw-dropping, and even the LCD-based piece above the retro-styled cigarette machine demanded a few moments of your time just to take in its simplistic brilliance.

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The room itself felt like a direct reflection of the bustling, chilly city below. Adorned in white and red accents, the highlight of the room was a bathroom that included its own LCD, twin white sinks and a massive shower, the latter of which featured a rainfall head that was utterly magnificent to stand beneath. And the art doesn’t stop at the lobby; the actual shower protrudes out into the room on one side, with a coated glass that looks like a continually changing rainfall painting from the outside looking in. Again, a touch of brilliance you won’t find at your everyday chain hotel. The basket of fresh fruit was also welcoming, and the bed was undoubtedly the most comfortable I’ve personally ever slept on. Yeah, it’s $300+ a night, but at least you’ll encounter a few things that are quite literally nowhere to be found at more mundane establishments.

It’s all about the culture, man

Not in the mood for historic nor modern? You’re not quite out of luck. Another aspect to seek out when selecting a lodging venue that’ll consistently be remembered as an integral part of your trip is to find one dripping with culture. Many times, these places will indeed have been around awhile, but more often than not, they’ll be off the beaten path and of the bed & breakfast variety. One key element that B&B owners can control more readily than hotels is culture, design elements and accessories. When looking to spend a few days deep within the Black Hills of South Dakota, we stumbled upon a hundred-year old facility that had been hosting families, workers and wandering bodies for decades upon decades: the Hisega Lodge. Overlooking a babbling brook some ten miles (by road; it’s more like 40 by any other measure) from Rapid City, this warm and welcoming B&B was decorated with images from its early days and dressed up with age-appropriate furnishings by its proud new (since 2007, anyway) owners.

The Hisega Lodge has room for 22, but it’s just as intimate with only a couple. Providing a quiet respite from a long, activity-laden day on the road, we immediately forgot our cares and escaped into a world far, far away from this thing we know so well as “reality.” The inn was carefully maintained as to not remove the old world charm, and all the quirks of a century-old mountain home aided in the experience: gently creaking floors, sloping porches and unpredictable ceiling heights were all here, and all helped to make it one of the more memorable B&Bs we’ve had the opportunity to stay at. The lodge was originally built as a vacation home to be used by multiple families at once, all looking to escape to the beautiful Black Hills. Suffice it to say, it’s still succeeding in doing what it was built to do. The homemade breakfast feast was astounding in both taste and beauty, and moreover, we were made to feel like family by a couple who adore the Black Hills just as much as anyone lucky enough to meander through them.

Stop staying with no purpose

In case you’ve missed the message, there’s simply no reason to not think carefully about the places you choose to stay when you head out on the road. With a small amount of research into the history, culture and “known-fors” of a given location, you can easily find hotels, hostels, B&Bs and other lodging options that do more than simply provide a bed. Unless you’re a hardcore nomad, you’ll be sleeping somewhere reasonable each and every night of your road trip — shouldn’t you make each night count just as much as the days?

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The venues mentioned here offered complementary media stays, but the views expressed and venue choices are entirely my own; images provided by Dana Jo Photography]