Glacier-Waterton National Park

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park (Edmond Van Hoorick/Photodisc/Getty)

This is a land of lofty mountain ranges with sculpted glacial valleys, ice cold lakes that mirror mountains and sky, wildflowers and wildlife flourishing in alpine meadows, and prairie grasslands. These exquisite elements make up Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and the adjoining Glacier National Park in the United States. To commemorate the long history of peace and friendship between the two nations, Waterton and Glacier have been designated the Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park World Heritage Site.

Though administered by separate countries and divided by the international boundary, the parks are at the same time united in the most natural of ways. Glaciers carved the Upper Waterton Valley, which lies in both nations; the native plants and animals are similar, and the massive Rocky Mountains span the two countries.

Perhaps the star attraction are the Rockies themselves; peaks such as Stimson, Kootenai, Triple Divide, Summit, Elk and the landforms: Red Rock Canyon, the Garden Wall, Cracker Canyon. The land rises and falls, twists and turns in surprising, exalting ways, and is the basis for the Waterton/Glacier experience.

The lakes, rivers, and streams of Waterton/Glacier are also worthy destinations: big lakes, such as Lake McDonald, St. Mary, and Waterton, sparkling alpine gems, such as Buffalo Woman or Iceberg. Some exceptional lake hikes include the trails to Cobalt Lake and the Quartz Loop. Fishing these waters can be fair to middlin', or an exercise in non-expectant meditation—but with scenery like this, who cares? The North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River run alongside the park and are great floats for experienced raft folk.

Hiking is the best way to experience Waterton/Glacier. Over 900 miles of trails traverse the parks over either some of the most challenging terrain on the planet or level boardwalks. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail begins at the Canadian border and ventures south for 3,100 miles. If you don't have all of the summer and all of the fall, other popular trails include Grinnell Glacier, Apgar Lookout, Cutbank Creek, Gunsight Pass, the Belly River Trail, the Garden Wall, and the Snowshoe Trail. Check our Waterton/Glacier Hiking page for some perhaps lesser known, equally transcendent hikes.

Driving and bicycling are thrilling treats in the parks. Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-drive, or cycle—if your legs, heart, and lungs are up to it. This is a road that was built with good views and thoughtful placement in the landscape as first priorities, efficiency as a distant second. It snakes around mountains, looking over precipitous cliffs across panoramic views. If you want to just look and leave the driving to somebody else, the park offers bus tours. Other roads in or around the park make for some pleasant driving.

The peak season for visiting Waterton/Glacier is the summer, but the parks are open year-round, and particularly the lower realms offer resplendent winter sports. You won't be able to get to the high mountain passes—but the spring melt will happen soon enough.

And you will be back.


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