Great Lodges of the National Parks
Glacier Lodges: Sperry Chalet
Louis Hill promoted Glacier National Park as the "American Alps." In keeping with this theme, he built a European-style network of 9 chalet complexes. Leaving from Hill's luxury lodges, guests could hike or ride to these rustic buildings in less than a day.
By creating a Park-wide network of facilities, and designing all of the buildings in a unified architectural style, Hill was deliberately entwining the identities of the Great Northern Railway and Glacier National Park.
He was crafting a destination with a strong identity of place. The chalets were a key part of his plan to create, and market, the nation's first "theme Park" - an American-Swiss wonderland, populated by his railway passengers.
Today, only two of these original backcountry sites remain as Hill originally conceived them: Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet.
Both Sperry and Granite Park Chalets owe their survival to the use of native stone as the primary construction material. The masonry of these chalets made it possible to withstand the rigors of Montana winters. In contrast, several of the wooden structures in the chalet system deteriorated so badly that they had to be razed during the late '40s.
At the Sperry Chalet complex, the 2-story dormitory was built in 1913-14, and the smaller dining chalet was constructed in 1915. The masonry at Sperry is a little more rugged than at Granite Park.
Nevertheless, the expert work of Italian stonemasons is visible in both settings.
The Granite Park Chalet posed construction challenges because of the site's high elevation and lack of water. The smaller dormitory was built in 1913, and work began on the 2-story chalet the following year. The complex opened in 1915.
Two men played particularly strong roles in the architecture of Glacier National Park. Samuel L. Bartlett and Thomas McMahon. Both had a hand in Glacier Park Lodge, and McMahon also worked on the Many Glacier Hotel. Both men worked on designs for Sperry and Granite Park Chalets, with Bartlett taking the larger buildings in both cases.
At Sperry, the 2-story dormitory was designed in 1913, the smaller dining chalet in 1915. Both structures emphasize an alpine architectural style that complements the Chalet's setting amid a rocky glacial cirque.
At Granite Park, the dormitory is the lesser building, and the 2-story chalet dominates the site. Perched on the edge of an alpine meadow, the chalet overlooks McDonald Valley, and the design makes good use of the building environment.
It takes considerable commitment to visit these backcountry Chalets, but the rewards are many: inspiring scenery, watchable wildlife, and justifiable pride in completing the journey.
You can hike, or ride a horse, to Sperry Chalet – it's a question of where you prefer the blisters. Sperry Trail (6.5 miles) starts at an elevation of 3,214 feet, and ends above 6,500 feet, leaving many hikers gasping.
This is a "full-service" Chalet, but guest rooms are as they were in the '20s, with no electricity, heat, or running water.
Granite Park Chalet can only be reached on foot. Since reopening in 1996, the Chalet has served as a simple hiker's hostel, with virtually no amenities. Guests must carry their own food. The shortest of three trails to the Chalet is the Loop Trail (3.5 miles), but beware the rapid 2,200-foot rise in elevation.