Through the Looking Glass: East Glacier’s Best New Trail Angel
Luna was cleaning out her restaurant in East Glacier, Montana so that she could sell it. Though it was now 2021, it had been a crazy idea in the first place back in 2009 when it was just a business plan on the wall. She’d been pregnant, applying for food stamps and financing to buy the property at the same time.
Even though Luna was broke, she was telling people at the bank that she had both the money and ability to run a restaurant, if they would just give her the money. Her friend, Beth, had told her “Don’t take no for an answer.”
Call it a miracle or a disaster, but the global financial crisis let her slip in under the door, and Luna and her husband, Will, were determined to make it work. That summer, she underwent a cesarean delivery of their first child, Lilli, and was back to bussing tables eight days later.
“When you’re poor and you get a business and you get an opportunity, you don’t want to screw it up,” she told me. The couple then welcomed Aven, their second child along the way – even as the stress of parenting and running a restaurant almost killed them. Life was hellish at times, but it was theirs.
A Chance Opportunity
Yet even after surviving through a decade of harsh lessons, another catastrophe struck a near-fatal blow. This time a global pandemic wiped out the tourism industry in a blink, and if the property wasn’t going to pay for itself, then Luna couldn’t keep it. With the world reeling in tragic calamity, that’s when something finally changed for the better.
Beth, a local trail angel, came and found Luna, with two bloody and beaten CDT thru-hikers in tow. They’d gotten wrecked in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Beth didn’t have the time to take care of them. Instead, she brought them to Luna.
What is Looking Glass Basecamp?
Luna’s hostel, Looking Glass Basecamp, has become the go-to place to stay for CDT hikers in East Glacier. Located on Pikuni (Blackfeet) land, it is both an essential stop and hub for hikers headed in either direction. Pikuni-owned and -operated shuttles run in and out of Luna’s, accessing the remote northern terminus, which is otherwise a long and difficult hitch.
For SOBOs, who are just starting their journey, it’s an easy place to find a potential trail family. For NOBOs, it’s the perfect spot to reunite with long-lost trail friends that have been just out of sight for days or months.
And as a result of being both their final town stop, and the first stop for celebrating their achievement once they’ve reached Canada, there’s a seething mix of hikers in the fall. In finishing the CDT some have just completed one of the biggest undertakings of their lives, and the others are right on the cusp of accomplishing the same.
North of Looking Glass, the CDT passes through Glacier National Park, which presents thru-hikers with a dizzying bevy of permits and planning to juggle. To the south is the Bob — a long food carry, and full of grizzlies. Luna’s place is a safe haven between these two demanding sections, providing respite to hikers who are trail weary and tired of complex logistics.
A stay at Looking Glass has the feeling of a magical sleepaway summer camp. Luna just gets it, and her hollowed-out, restaurant-turned-hostel reflects that. There are small cabins to rent and plenty of space to camp in the yard. Or you can sleep on the floor for just a few dollars.
Included is a fully operational professional kitchen, which is available to hikers and allows them to make their own home-cooked meals. This is something that many NOBOs have been dreaming about for months by the time they make their first tentative chops with a knife. All combined, Luna’s is a space bursting with all the community and love of the trail.
READ NEXT —
Back to The Beginning: The First Hikers
Luna remembers the image very clearly. In the spring of 2021, Paul Bunyan, one of Beth’s bedraggled hikers, was standing in the doorway of Cabin One. It was pouring, he was drenched, and he had scrapes all over his legs. “I’ll take this one,” he said. “I’ll settle with you later.” Then he went inside and disappeared for three days.
Luna had never rented a room before. She didn’t know what she was doing. Some of her old restaurant employees used to stay in those cabins, not always with the prettiest results, but at least she knew them. Now, her husband was traveling, she was alone with her two kids in their shipping container house, and there was a stranger on her property. A small part of her was panicking.
In time, Paul Bunyan emerged. Luna, who is friendly to a fault, soon got to know him and discovered that his trail name was often shortened to “Bunny,” because he was just that sweet. She made him lasagna and brought him ice packs, wondering at the same time if she was being too hospitable. All the while, she was also wracking her brain for what she could do to save the property.
It All Makes Sense
She had seen and smelled plenty of CDT hikers during her time in East Glacier, though she didn’t know quite what they were up to. Years before she’d even considered opening the restaurant, when she worked at the Whistle Stop next door, a guy had shown up to eat on the patio wearing only a little blue towel. She thought it was strange, but was hard up on cash and willing to wait on anyone who walked through the door. Only years later, once thru-hikers had brought her into the community, did she realize that the man in the blue towel had just been doing laundry.
Rested and recovered under Luna’s watchful care, Bunny eventually hiked into the park, leaving her alone to contemplate her future. But after a few days, he returned with a fresh gaggle of hikers behind him, saying “Here, Luna! Here’s your business!”
Who Is Luna?
Luna may have been destined to end up in East Glacier, even if it took her years to find it. She grew up in West Aliquippa, near Pittsburgh, which was a town next to a steel mill with only one way in and one way out. When she was ten, her parents’ tumultuous split left her with more questions than answers, and from then on, her mother had a hard time keeping food on the table.
Later in life, she found seasonal work. After bouncing in and out of community college, one year she put everything into her car and took off for Ocean City. Although that trip ultimately ended with her returning home after a bad experience with a roommate, it was an important first step away from Aliquippa, and the next year, she and a friend found summer jobs in Yellowstone. Luna offered to drive, navigating with paper maps and payphones.
Finding Her Place
Yellowstone was a better place for her. The people, the wildlife, and the landscape all had a profound impact, though it was a single moment that would come to define her life. An accident left her car totaled, so with the season winding down, she caught a bus to Portland before hopping on a train to Pittsburgh. Seventeen hours later, that train pulled into East Glacier.
“Everything in my body wanted to get off the train,” she told me. It looked like “the best place in the world to ever be,” and she felt as if some supernatural force was pulling at her sleeve. That next summer, Luna and her friend made that feeling a reality, relocating to East Glacier for good. She met her husband that same year, and they’ve been together ever since.
What do you do in East Glacier after you grow up? Although she had technically been an adult for some time, Luna had to ask herself this after years of waiting tables and enjoying everything that living seasonally had to offer. She and her husband had been going to Las Vegas during the winter to work, but then she got pregnant, and she didn’t want to be pregnant in Vegas.
Instead, they came back to Glacier. Although they didn’t have any jobs lined up, they found a little apartment, and Luna got it in her head that together they could run a restaurant. With a little help from her neighbor who happened to be a bank manager, they were able to secure financing and make that idea a reality. She named the joint after herself because she was “pregnant and crazy,” as she puts it.
An Avalanche of Pies and Stress
Against all odds, Luna and Will were successful, which was a blessing and a curse. At their peak, they employed 25, and Will was making 12-25 huckleberry pies a day. Yet, even then, it wasn’t worth it. While winter was the family’s time to rest and recover after the hectic summer rush, the stress of earning all of their income in four months was taking its toll. “It was killing us,” Luna told me, “literally. My stress, my anxiety, my eczema, I was losing my hair I was so stressed out.”
Then in 2018, after failing to find a sustainable balance even after drastically reducing their service, the two said no more, no matter what. In 2019, they leased out the restaurant to the business owner next door — just before the emergence of COVID-19 threw the entire globe into chaos.
To Luna, East Glacier had been a Neverland of sorts, but she eventually grew up and discovered that living there as an adult came with a tough learning curve. Over nine years she had hired and fired so many people that, despite her best intentions, her name wasn’t immune from being dragged through the mud. As a result, she was now tired and withdrawn, and with the added uncertainty of the pandemic, she wondered if she could stay in the place that she loved so much.
Word of Mouth Does Its Thing
“Are you Luna?” asked Gizmo after walking into Looking Glass and finding Luna and Will standing in the kitchen. They’d been making burritos, brainstorming, maybe wondering if these hikers really were the ticket to keeping their property. Gizmo had already heard about them, saying, “Everyone loves you, Luna!”
Luna was stunned – when was the last time anybody had said something so sweet to her? Now, unexpectedly, she was standing in her former restaurant crying. “All I do is open my door,” she told me, “I’m not doing anything for these people, and they’re just so sweet and happy and excited to be on this earth.”
Of course, Luna was doing more than she realized. It takes a specific type of person to open their door to thru-hikers. Even if she felt a little out of place at first, watching them dance, laugh, and have fun together, she fit into the community like a foot into a trail runner.
A CDT Hostel is Born
In her early days of hosting, a hiker named Freight Train wandered over to Luna’s storage container house and yelled up to her. “Luna! Can I ask you a question?”
She went downstairs. “What, Freight Train?”
“Can I sleep in here?” He asked, gesturing to the abandoned restaurant.
Luna wondered why on earth he would want to do that. He had paid for a cabin, after all. Then she remembered that the wifi didn’t reach beyond the restaurant. “You just want to talk to your lovey all night,” she jested.
“How’d you know?”
Of course, Luna didn’t mind. As word spread and more hikers came through, she’d show them the cabins and the camping area, then she’d offer them the floor for $15. More and more guests began taking her up on this minimal luxury option, so she got back to clearing out the restaurant furniture – no longer so that she could sell the place, but so it could fill up again, this time with happy hikers.
A small SOBO bubble carried Luna’s name all the way down the trail, spreading the word. And when the NOBOs eventually came through, Luna described to me “A festival of fun people just walked up on my property, they’re helping me save my property, they’re paying my mortgage right now, and this is the best time I’m having.”
READ NEXT —
Luna and Hikers: The Perfect Match
Hanging around countless CDT hikers has probably made future thru-hikers of Luna’s kids. Aven is 11 while Lilli is 13 and already planning to have her 21st birthday on the AT. During my stay, I remember them bushcrafting a magic wand for one hiker, Wizard Spoon, and presenting it to him. It was a lovely, thoughtful gift.
Luna muses that she probably shouldn’t get attached to thru-hikers, even though she does anyway. Since East Glacier is also home to the Pacific Northwest Trail’s eastern terminus, she sometimes gets to see the same hiker twice, on different journeys. We joked that somebody should create a trail called “Luna’s Loop” that just keeps bringing hikers back to her.
I think the heart of Looking Glass is Luna’s openness. There was a day in 2022 when she was having a hard time — she’d had some deaths in the family — and a hiker named Ranger caught her to chat. For once, she just wanted to keep one of these vagabonds at arm’s length, finish her work, and get back to her house. But Ranger opened up about the death of someone close to him while he was on the PCT. Now fresh off the CDT, he was going west to mark the anniversary.
They were both an emotional mess and ended up standing there, hugging and crying. “For me,” she says, “letting the universe bring me hikers showed me that in moments when you don’t want things to happen and you try to shut things down and be in control of your life, like–” she pauses. “Don’t shut things down.”
These days, Luna is working towards selling merchandise, getting new furniture for the hostel, and, as always, expanding her resupply options. She aspires to harness the financial windfall that thru-hiker bubbles bring with them, but she doesn’t want to attract too much attention either. Remembering the hellish stress of her days running the restaurant, she’s scared of ever being that busy again. Instead, she wants the freedom to be herself, and she wants to protect the space she’s built for hikers as well.
And it is a vital space. It may be impossible to overstate what a boon Looking Glass is for CDT hikers. Having a welcoming place to call home for $15 a night is no small thing, especially when considering the elevated prices for a room along the rest of the trail. “I’m a poor kid who went to the national parks,” she told me, “and I want to make sure that all the poor kids can get to Glacier too.”
Featured image courtesy of Luna
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.