In summer, when Glacier National Park is open and millions of tourists and locals descend on the beloved park, places like West Glacier and East Glacier Park can almost feel metropolitan. People are everywhere. Traffic is backed up for miles. It can be hard to find a quiet spot of seclusion.
But head out on U.S. Highway 2 along the southern edge of the park, take a turn near Essex and you’ll find a little peace and quiet among the chaos that is Glacier in summer. The Izaak Walton Inn and surrounding property have long been called the “Gem Between” due to its centralized location (27 miles from West Glacier and 30 miles from East Glacier Park) between Glacier’s two main hubs.
The inn was constructed in 1939 by the Addison Miller Company and funded by the Great Northern Railway, the transcontinental railroad that helped develop this part of the state. While today the inn primarily caters to tourists and visitors, its original purpose was to house railroaders, especially those based in Essex in winter when extra workers were needed to keep the tracks clear of snow. The inn opened for business on Nov. 16, 1939. It was named for Sir Izaak Walton, a 17th-century sportsman who authored a number of books on flyfishing. The grand name might have seen like a bit much for what was essentially employee housing, but it perhaps hinted at the railroad’s hopes for Essex. Years earlier, the Park Service was considering adding a new entrance into the park at Essex and the railroad didn’t want to miss out on another income stream if it were to become the next gateway. Unfortunately, World War II put those plans on ice and Essex maintained its peace and quiet.
Over the years though, more and more people began to discover the Izaak Walton Inn. In the 1950s, the Addison Miller Company sold it to a new operator and in the following decades, more accommodations and amenities were added to it. Today, eight railroad cabooses and one locomotive have been turned into rooms on the Izaak Walton property. The inn also maintains 18 miles of nordic ski trails.
In 2006, the previous owners sold the inn to Brian Kelly, an ironworker and blacksmith from Chicago. Kelly said he was “tired of the rat race” and looking for something different when he and his family moved to Essex to run the Izaak Walton. The Kelly family lovingly cared for the property for 16 years before deciding to move on. In late 2022, it was announced that LOGE Camps, a Washington-based hospitality company, was buying it for $13.5 million.
Word of the sale quickly spread through the close-knit Glacier community and at least initially some feared the new owners would change the beloved old inn. A rumor even spread around town that LOGE planned to turn it into a nudist colony.
But the new owners have assured locals that they love the inn as much as everyone else and does not want to alter its rustic charm. What the new owners do want to do is update a few things, ensuring the inn can keep welcoming visitors for decades to come. This summer, the inn will close for renovations, but officials are hopeful that they’ll again be able to welcome people late this year.
“We have a ton of respect for the history of the Izaak Walton Inn,” said Slate Olson, head of marketing for the company. “We want to create a destination where you feel the history, but you also appreciate the updated touches and amenities.”