Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is just 650 easy highway miles away from Portland, Oregon. This Rocky Mountain wonderland is well worth the 12-hour drive, an outstanding destination for alpine scenery, hiking, wildlife and adventure.
Waterton, the Canadian part of the park, was set aside in 1895. Glacier National Park in Montana was established in 1910. The adjoining parks were merged as the world’s first International Peace Park in 1932 – a symbol of cooperation and a shared love of natural beauty. To further underscore its uniqueness, the park was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995.
The park encompasses one million acres of peaks, forests, lakes and (dwindling) glaciers. Straddling the Continental Divide, its melting glacier waters drain into the Atlantic, Pacific and north to Hudson Bay. With a half-dozen peaks over 10,000 feet, the park is characterized by deep U-shaped valleys carved by huge ancient glaciers. Many of those valleys now cradle long, deep lakes, including renowned Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, Saint Mary Lake, Upper Waterton Lake and others.
In the years immediately after Glacier Park was created in 1910, the Great Northern Railway began building lodges and backcountry chalets to promote tourism and train travel. Fashioned after the mountain lodges in Switzerland, venerable Many Glacier Hotel, Lake McDonald Lodge and others have been accommodating tourists for a century.
In 1932, work began on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, a frighteningly narrow 53-mile road that allows motorists to drive (slowly) from east to west or vise-versa through the heart of the park. This engineering marvel of a road crosses the Continental Divide at spectacular Logan Pass, 6,646 feet above sea level.
Waterton-Glacier is mostly wilderness, a hiker’s paradise. Some 700 miles of trails allow visitors to get intimate with the park, including its acres of seasonal wildflowers and abundant wildlife. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears and grizzly bears are commonly seen.
To see the park’s namesake glaciers, however, you better not wait for long. Global warming is having a devastating impact on the once-massive bodies of moving ice. Compared to just 50 years ago, the park’s glaciers are a fraction of their former size and some have disappeared altogether! The famous Grinnell Glacier, for example, is half the size that it was in 1850 when first photographed. It is fast becoming a high mountain lake. Some climatologists predict that the park’s glaciers will essentially be gone in just 30 years – with dire ramifications for water supplies, wildlife, and the entire ecosystem! So don’t delay putting a visit to Waterton-Glacier on your calendar.
Hikers in Waterton-Glacier are urged to carry pepper spray or air horns as protection against bears. Although attacks are rare, a loud noise or irritating spray can prevent confrontation. Also remember that passports are necessary to cross the border into Alberta to see the beautiful Waterton portion of the park.