Naturalist and author John Muir once advised visitors to spend "a month at least" exploring Montana's Glacier National Park and while the advice was a stretch in his day, it seems virtually impossible in ours.
In today's fast-paced world, most people struggle to find a week of vacation time -- let alone a month. The best our family could do recently was a four-day weekend exploring both sides of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and while it may not have been enough time to make me truly immortal as Muir once promised, it was just enough time to make me wish I had more.
Situated along the Continental Divide, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a stunning, ice-carved terrain of mountains, valleys, glaciers, waterfalls and trees. On the Canadian side, Waterton is the place where "prairies meet mountains" and this provides prime wildlife-viewing opportunities -- especially in August and September when the berries ripen and bears come out to enjoy a pre-hibernation feast. On the Montana side of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road provides a breathtaking view of the Continental Divide and is one of the most spectacular drives in the world.
Together, the two parks are relatively free of crowds and wonderfully full of wildlife. Most visitors don't have a month to spend exploring either Waterton or Glacier, but anyone who has visited either almost always wishes they did.
Hitting the Highlights
Located in the southwestern corner of Alberta about three hours south of Calgary, Waterton Lakes National Park has had a long connection with Montana's Glacier National Park. The two parks are linked geographically via the Continental Divide and in 1932 they became officially linked as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park -- the world's first International Peace Park. Together, the two parks form a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Bears Hump: At 1.5 kms., the Bears Hump hike is a short and strenuous family hike that is well-worth the effort. At the top, you are rewarded with great views of the mountains, the lakes and the valley.
Red Rock Canyon: The 16-km. drive to Red Rock Canyon is one of the best wildlife-viewing routes in the park. From the safety of our car, we saw 10 bears on a recent visit. The hike along the canyon provides great views of the striking colours of the bedrock layers.
Waterton Shoreline Cruise: Take your passport on this two-hour scenic cruise and you can get a goat-shaped stamp at the Goat Haunt crossing in Montana. You'll also need a passport if you want to do the hike to Kootenay Lake, Montana.
Mountain Meadow Trail Rides: Located just outside the national park, this outfitter offers trail rides and pack trips that are not your typical nose-to-tail treks. Multi-day trips include accommodations at a lovely high-country wilderness base camp. (mountainmeadowtrailrides.com)
Carriage House Theatre: Located in the town of Cardston about 40 minutes outside Waterton, this theatre company is known for its high-quality productions performed during the summer months in a historic theatre building. (thecarriagehousetheatre.com)
Glacier National Park
Pie for Strength: No visit to Glacier is complete without pie and the Park Caf© in St. Mary, Montana has some of the best in the state.
Their slogan is "Pie for Strength" and there are 17 different kinds of pie baked fresh daily on-site. They also serve salads, burgers, sandwiches and other classic American fare.
Going-to-the-Sun Road: The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a spectacular introduction to the International Peace Park -- twisting and turning around mountains and hugging cliffs as it crosses the Continental Divide. Completed in 1932, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark that is absolutely spectacular and should not be missed. If you feel uncomfortable driving this road, consider taking one of the red jammer buses that run regularly between the historic lodges in the park. You don't have to stay in one of the lodges to use the buses. Be sure to stop at Logan Pass and take the short hike to Hidden Lake Overlook.
Lake McDonald: At 16 km in length, Lake McDonald is the largest lake in Glacier National Park and one of the most scenic spots in the park. While in the area, enjoy a lake cruise or one of the day hikes in the area, such as Trail of the Cedars or the Avalanche Lake hike.
For a more challenging, full-day adventure, consider exploring the Highline Trail and taking the free shuttle back to your car. Lake McDonald Lodge is one of the best bets for accommodations in the area. New this year are hostel-style rooms that sleep two to three people for $75 per night, as well as new luxury suites starting at $315 per night. (nationalparkreservations.com)
-- Postmedia News