Waterton Glacier International Peace Park – Montana

Introduction and History

The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a confluence of two parks: the Glacier National Park located in the United States, and the Waterton Lakes National park located in Canada. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, declared both parks to be Biosphere Reserves in 1979. UNESCO also declared the combination of both parks as a World Heritage Site in 1995, due to the distinctive climate of the region, the mountain prairie interface, and the setting of the park union. The park union has the distinguished quality of being the first international peace park created in the world in 1932. The Waterton portion of the park was formed in 1895 and named after the nearby Waterton Lake.

Location of the park union

The Waterton Lakes National Park can be found in the southwest portion of Alberta, Canada, while the Glacier National Park is nearby on the United States border in Montana. The Waterton Lakes National Park portion encompasses 505 square kilometers and its nearest city is Pincher Creek. There were more than 367,000 visitors to the park in 2004. Glacier National Park is significantly larger, encompassing more than 4,100 square kilometers, or over 1 million acres.

Terrain found in the region

Due to the World Biosphere Reserve designation the park union earned in 1979, a number of mountains, lakes, freshwater wetlands, and prairie ecosystems in the region are protected. Additional habitats found in the range covered by the park union include aspen grove forests, prairie grasslands, alpine high meadows, alpine tundra, deciduous forests, coniferous forests, and lower sub-alpine forests. In the Waterton Lakes National Park portion, you can expect lots of rugged mountains and wilderness regions. The elevation of the Waterton Lakes National Park portion ranges from 4,232 feet down at the townsite to 9,547 feet at the peak of Mount Blakiston.

Activities to engage in

There are many scenic trails outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers can campers can engage in, including the Crypt Lake Trail, which is one of the best hikes in the region. The Lake itself is only a short walk from a nearby waterfall called Crypt Falls, from where visitors can take in excellent views of the valley below. The waterfall is more than 150 meters high and is fed by the Crypt Lake. There is a ferry service from the Waterton townsite that enables hikers to reach the head of the trail two times each morning and return to the campsite after being picked up twice in the late afternoon. When peak season is not present (typically between May to June and September to October), the ferries only make one round trip each day. Hiking is popular in both parks, with more than half of Glacier park’s visitors engaging in hiking on some of the nearly 700 miles of trails. Fishing is also popular, with excellent fly fishing options on the park streams.

What to expect when visiting

The Waterton Lakes National Park is operated by Parks Canada. While you can visit throughout the year, the main season when tourists typically visit is between July and August. If you want commercial facilities, the only ones you will find inside the park are those at the Waterton Park townsite.

If you are hiking, be aware that there is no potable drinking water at the head of the trail (where the ferry lands) or anywhere along the trail length. You can use an outhouse where the trail starts at the ferry docking point, and there is another located close to the top of the trail just before you get to the cave entrance. However, it is a good idea to bring your own toilet paper.

The Glacier National Park portion of the union is managed by the National Park Service. The closest airport is located southwest of the park at Kalispell, Montana. However, Amtrak trains stop at both West and East Glacier. You can take company coaches that tour the main roads of the park.