Glacier International Peace Park and Beyond

In the Southwest corner in Alberta Canada where the prairies give way to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains is a blend of unusual geology with mild climates and an abundance of wildlife, this is Waterton Lakes National Park. Amidst the mountain peaks are clear lakes, mountain streams, colorful rocks, and cascading waterfalls which await hikers and sightseers, like the 3.6-mile round trip hike to Bertha Falls. As the trail winds its way up the side of the mountain, the views of streams and colorful wild flowers become plentiful where the view of Waterton Lake sitting amidst the towering mountain peaks is beyond spectacular. Unfortunately, the scenic roads through the park are still closed to motorized vehicle traffic due the wild fires in 2017; however, hiking and biking are allowed in these areas of the park. Boarding this National Park to the South in Montana is Glacier National Park, together these two parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Pristine forests, rugged mountains, streams, alpine meadows, spectacular lakes, and wild life is what makes up Glacier National Park located in the Northwest corner of Montana. Other than the Rain Forests of the Pacific Northwest where Cedars and Hemlocks flourish, Glacier National Park is home to many of these trees as old as 500 years and more than seven feet in diameter.

Right through the heart of Glacier National Park is an engineering marvel, going to the sun road, which spans for 50 miles with so many features, one will find it hard to decide which stops to make. The road runs parallel to the two largest lakes in the park. St Mary Lake at the East entrance and Lake McDonald, the largest at 10 miles long and up to one mile wide and just under 500 feet deep is at the West entrance. Located on the Eastern shore is the McDonald Lodge, a national Historic Landmark built-in the early 1900’s to resemble a hunting lodge with Swiss influenced architecture. Not only does the going to the sun road provide spectacular views of colorful wildflowers, towering mountains, cascading waterfalls, beautiful valleys, and impressive glaciers, it also provides either a bone chilling drive or an exciting one, for 9 miles the highway hugs the solid rock cliff walls as it climbs to Logan Pass and crosses the continental divide at 6,646 feet where Mt Reynolds and Clements mountain tower above alpine meadows.

The going to the sun highway provides much more than just awe-inspiring beauty, its where hundreds of miles of hiking trails start, which leads deeper into the wilderness, with some hikes taking a full day to complete too much shorter ones. Some of the most popular shorter trails include, St Mary Falls, a.9-mile hike one way with a 260-foot drop in elevation through portions of the forest which burnt in the 2015 wild fire. As the trail winds its way high above the St Mary river look closely for Moose and Bears watering along the banks. As the trail reaches the falls a wooden bridge leads across the lower section of the falls for an up-close view of the water dropping 35 feet over three tiers, one of the most spectacular and most photographed falls in the park. Feeling energetic, then continue on the trail for another.8-mile one-way hike with a 285-foot elevation gain deeper into the thick lush forest to Virginia Falls. This part of the trail is very scenic with the lush vegetation and towering Pondarosa Pines and huge Cedars. Just under a quarter mile is an unnamed fall which has a series of four tiers, if not for this fall being between St Mary and Virginia Falls this would be a popular destination in the park. Reaching Virginia Falls there are two places to view the falls from. Crossing the bridge at the base allows for the entire falls to be viewed, where the falls drops 50-feet to a secondary chute and then a cascading section at the bottom. About 100 yards to the end of the trail allows one for an up-close view of the initial drop.

At the Sunrift gorge pull-over take the trail up 75-feet to an excellent view of the Baring creek where the water has carved a deep narrow gorge into the bedrock. Coming back down follow the creek under the bridge to where the.4-mile one-way hike with a 250-foot elevation drop leads to the Baring Falls. Although Baring Falls drop is only 25-feet, it’s a very pleasant fall. After spilling over the rock ledge, the Baring Creek flows into St. Mary Lake after a little more than a 100-yards.

At the Sun point parking lot, a short.2-mile level trail starts where the Sun Point Chalet used to lodge visitors from 1913 to 1942. Although the Chalet in no longer here the short walk to the overlook is pure amazing. Standing on the rock mound provides one of the most spectacular views of St. Mary Lake with towering mountain peaks as a back drop.

Trail of the Cedars, the most popular trail in the park and an ideal location for a picnic. The.8-mile loop leads through a forest of Western Red Cedar as big as 7-feet in diameter and towering more than 200-feet into the sky. An abundance of Black Cottonwood and Western Hemlock can be seen throughout the trail as well. A cool refreshing trail, this is.

Other things to do around Glacier National Park includes the Looking Glass Road, this may be a short drive starting at East Glacier Village, but a visual wonder. The highway winds around and over rolling hills with long panoramic views in every direction of sheer breathtaking beauty of nature where groves of Aspen trees and the occasional rocky outcrop and roaming cows are in abundance with framed glaciers in the distance. Another ideal drive is US highway 2 from Columbia Falls to East Glacier where the highway skirts along the South end of Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest on the other side where views and hidden treasures are found along the way, like the Hungry Horse Dam at 564 feet high and 2,115 feet across or the Glacier way fountain, a pipe extending right from the face of the mountain which filters out clear spring water. In addition, US highway 2 traces the historic path of the Great Northern Railway and winds along the Flathead River where wildlife can be seen watering.

Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell features some inspiring views of the Flathead Valley where on a clear day Flathead Lake, the Jewel Basin, and Glacier National Park can be seen as well. With their 7.5 miles of hiking trails through the lush forest around and over steep hills, the park is ideal for hikers of all ages.