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September 15, 2008

Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

Our final Canadian and first US stop on this part of the trip was a visit to Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, in south-west Alberta and northern Montana, founded in 1932 as the world’s first international peace park. The combined parks encompass more than 1800 square miles and have more than 700 miles of hiking trails and wilderness camping. The Waterton section in Canada enjoys two UNESCO designations – a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. We spent 2 days exploring the town site and roads in and around the park. The town is a miniature version of Jasper or Banff, providing the essentials of food, fuel and accommodation but with less choices, plus outdoor outfitters and tourist services such as boat rides, guided hikes and nature walks.

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Red Rock Canyon is a spectacular walk around very unique rock formations, and yes you guessed it, they’re red, very red. The trail is kind of a figure eight loop, first to Blakiston Falls and then around the canyon itself.



Our second day we drove to Cameron Lake and walked briefly around the area, but it was cold and the season was winding down so there was little activity.


waterton 003_editedOne of the most famous photographs of this Canadian jewel of our national park system is of the Prince of Wales Hotel, which is sited high above Waterton Lake and looks south down its entire length. Naturally, like all the other visitors, we took our photo as well.

On Saturday, Sept 6th, we travelled south from Alberta (the Waterton section), to West Glacier in Montana. Bernie managed to pick a route beside yet another rail line, this time the BNSF mainline. After setting up at the RV park and a little grocery shopping, we visited the US National Park Visitor Centre to plan our trip inside the park.

If you’ve been following along with our trip this year (and we hope you have), you’ve probably realized this is our year of great drives – the Alaska Highway, the Dempster, Top of the World, Denali Park Road, Klondike Highway, the Richardson, Yellowhead, and the Icefields Parkway – and then the Going-to-the-Sun Road, in Glacier National Park, the US section of the international peace park.  

IMG_8144_editedMost of our drives have been in a valley near the bottom of a mountain range but this one – 50 miles through the park – is along the edge, kind of halfway up the side. Most of the trip is 1 lane in each direction, but some of it is 1 lane total, while they are rebuilding several sections, the first such work in many years. This year is the 75th anniversary of the road opening.

Vehicles over 21 feet (including bumpers) and 8 feet wide (including outside mirrors) are prohibited, due to the many sharp turns along the route. The road skirts the edge of lakes, McDonald at the west end and Saint Mary at the east end, near the town of the same name and crosses over Logan Summit, elevation 6,646 feet (2,025 metres), a rise of over 3,500 feet from West Glacier.


Waterton 006_editedThe NP ranger suggested we allow 3 hours for the drive – about 16 miles an hour – and he was close. It only took us about 6 hours plus the 2 hour return to the RV park on the regular highway. We’ve lost track of the number of short hikes and photo stops we made, but as you can guess, there were lots of them.
The first was a 1 mile boardwalk hike on the Trail of the Cedars nature trail, a protected original growth cedar forest, with some trees estimated to be over 500 years old.

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Other spots included Avalanche Creek, (a narrow gorge through red mudstone– picture to left)  Packers Roost, Triple Arches and the unique Garden Wall, believed to have been formed by 2 glaciers scraping both sides of the top of the Continental Divide until there was only a thin wall of rock remaining. Of the many mountain ranges we have seen on this trip, it was indeed one of the most unusual features.  Unfortunately, no good picture stopping area that would show the narrow ridge.

waterton 005_editedAs we travelled we were surrounded by mountains of 8,800 to 10,000 feet, including the Going-to-the-Sun Mountain at 9,642 feet (2, 939 metres), near the Jackson Glacier Overlook. Several were still snow covered even though it was the first week of September.



Along with hundreds of other tourists, we visited the Logan Summit (6,646 ft) Visitor Centre for a bathroom break and more photos of the spectacular scenery.   There are a number of hikes that can be taken from here and this is the view from part way out on one of them.

waterton 007On the highway on the way back, we stopped to check out the world famous Glacier Park Lodge. The lodge and other out buildings are built with logs (many of the structural ones are 3 feet in diameter).

It was built by the Great Northern Railroad about a hundred years ago and is still a special stop on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route. Luckily for me, the train had just arrived and there was lots of activity.
waterton 008


The train is met by red limousines built by Ford in 1938. These special vehicles, with a capacity for 16 people, have a convertible top and are used for sightseeing in both parks.  A few years ago they were refurbished keeping all the original design.

We arrived back at the RV about 8 PM after an outstanding day. As many times as we have said it, there is apparently a never-ending supply of “Wow’s” to be seen across this continent.

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The next day, we returned to Lake McDonald to visit the log lodge there. Although not as big, it is about as old as Glacier Park and has much of the same appeal.

The following day, after a lazy morning we drove into Kalispell, the major community in this part of Montana, for a few supplies.  On our way back we stopped to visit the dam that creates the Hungry Horse Reservoir.  It’s one of the world’s largest concrete dams at 2,115 feet at the crest and has a 39 foot-wide roadway crossing it.  Although all set up to provide information on the dam, we were too late, as everything was closed.  Probably because we were there after the Labour Day weekend.   

Wed. Sept. 10th, we hit the road for Missoula, Montana, the first of several stops in the western part of ‘Big Sky Country’ and we’ll write about them in our next chapter of this great road trip.

Ross & Bernie

Posted by Bernice at September 15, 2008 11:38 PM


Isn't the Going to the Sun highway incredible? Have been over it about 5 times. And, the lodges are so beautiful. Did you eat lunch or eat at the Prince of Wales hotel? Wonderful place as long as you don't have to be hasseled trying to get back into the U.S. Anyway, your pictures again bring back a lot of memories. Thank you. Bette

Posted by: Bette Andrew at November 23, 2008 02:50 PM