Travelers stumble upon a Montana Inn when stranded near Glacier National Park
After a long day of driving, we had finally arrived outside of Glacier National Park. All we had to do was set up camp, but the question was, where was this campsite?
My partner, Chris, and I had been traveling the U.S. for two months, sleeping in our Subaru and mostly making camp on free, dispersed campsites. We had traveled from the Smoky Mountains, through the South and Southwest, up through California and had finally made it to Montana.
We were no stranger to challenges. When camping full-time, nothing is as easy as it should be. But it was an unusually difficult day. We were tired and cold, and our map was leading us in circles around the park. When we finally found some campers, our car bottomed out trying to make it down the rough road. It was getting dark when we pulled up to what was, potentially, a place to camp –– but it didn’t feel right. I knew that if we stayed there I wouldn’t sleep that night, instead I’d be listening for footsteps or howls.
It was May and many places were still closed –– not opening until mid-June when the weather warms up. But we had passed a small inn that, according to Google, was open year-round.
When we pulled up to The Great Bear Inn around 10 p.m. the property was dark. I was about to break down in tears when the front door opened and a man in jeans, a t-shirt and no shoes stepped out into the front.
“What can I help you guys with?” he asked.
“We were hoping to stay here,” Chris said tentatively.
“Come on in,” the man answered. “I’ll go grab Bunny.”
We followed him inside and were instantly struck by the cozy and welcoming feel. The great room was full of big windows, wood fixtures, a stone fireplace and lots of little bear decorations. We quickly learned that we were the only people staying in the eight-room bed and breakfast, which would soon fill up as the season got into full swing.
While Bunny set up our reservation, the man who welcomed us (Larry, as we soon learned) showed us to our basement room. A king size bed and bathroom suite felt like a luxurious change from our usual accommodations. With a switch of the fireplace, the warmth of the room echoed what we were feeling within.
Before settling in, Bunny asked what time we wanted breakfast the next morning. Just the thought of waking up to a hot meal already had me excited. It had been a long time since we had had breakfast prepared for us, and not having to brave the cold to ignite our camp stove felt like a relief.
Down in our room, we took hot showers and fell asleep watching Bridgerton with a cup of hot tea, safe and cozy, just as we hoped.
When we came upstairs the next morning, it was the first time we could really appreciate the views. The windows, dark the night before, now overlooked the dense pine forest, small cabins with mountains blanketing the horizon. The warmth that Larry and Bunny had welcomed us still lingered, helping us feel at home.
We sat with Larry and Bunny, learning the reason the couple bought the inn three years ago: to spend time together. Since most of their lives had been made up of work, their time with one another happened only in stolen moments, usually at the beginning and end of each day. Running this property allowed them to work on something side by side
Larry and Bunny have five kids and fifteen grandkids scattered across the country. During the holidays, the Inn closes down so the whole family can gather and celebrate.
In listening to their story, Chris and I felt so much gratitude for the company. After a year of isolation during the pandemic, we were reminded how much we missed these very experiences and connections.
Bears were the next topic of conversation. We had many, many questions about bears. We looked through photos of animals captured on their trail cameras on the property, including one of a grizzly bear in the back of Larry’s pickup truck, which we found both hilarious and terrifying.
We were sent on our way with advice on where to find huckleberries (although it was too early in the season) and a list of things to explore in Glacier National Park.
For Larry and Bunny, it was probably just routine hospitality. But for us, our stay at The Great Bear Inn was a highlight of our trip. Exactly when we needed them, Larry and Bunny were there to welcome us in.
Taylor Mulcahey is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She loves hiking and camping, and is even happier when she gets to write about it.