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Glacier Park & Waterton Lakes: An International Treasure

Discover the Scenic Splendors of One of North America's Most Spectacular Alpine Environments

Day 1: Arrive in Kalispell, Montana

Arrive in Kalispell and transfer to our hotel in nearby Whitefish, where our Glacier National Park & Waterton Lakes tour begins with a welcome dinner this evening.

Day 2: Glacier National Park
This morning we drive east to Glacier National Park, commencing our foray into one of the United States’ most treasured natural landscapes, where glacially carved valleys and dramatic mountain peaks beckon. Glacier boasts the most intact natural ecosystem left in the lower 48 states, and we’ll have abundant opportunity to view many of the species that call it home, including the mountain goat, the park’s emblematic animal. We learn about the Lewis Overthrust fault and the region’s tumultuous geological history, studied by scientists from around the world.

We spend the next two nights at Glacier Park Lodge, one of the country's most majestic national park hotels. Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913 to attract visitors to the park’s wonders, the hotel's grand lobby features log pillars more than 40 feet high and 40 inches in diameter, crafted from Douglas fir trees hundreds of years old. The Blackfoot Indians, awed by the size of the timbers, called it “Omahkoyis,” or Big Tree Lodge. This magnificent property nestled at the foot of Squaw Peak Mountain provides the ideal base from which to explore the drama of our surrounding environs.

Day 3: Two Medicine Valley
Today we visit Two Medicine Valley, an area rich in Native American history. Situated on the eastern edge of the park, the valley borders the Blackfeet Indian reservation. Our exploration begins with a scenic boat cruise across Two Medicine Lake to reach the trailhead for our hike. Later, we hike through winding Two Medicine Valley, once a site for sacred Native American rituals, admiring the multicolored rock layers on the mountain walls. While our hike is moderate in grade, the breathtaking beauty of the sheer cliffs and mountain peaks surrounding us offers scenic rewards usually reserved for more strenuous efforts. We keep our eyes open for the great array of wildlife frequently seen here. Moose, elk and deer graze on tall green grasses and wildflowers in sunny meadows, while grizzlies, black bears, coyotes, wolves and mountain lions seek refuge from the summer heat in shady aspen groves. We may also spot bald eagles, which share Glacier's intensely blue skies with a wide variety of other bird species. In fact, up to 230 distinct bird communities call this mix of aspen, prairie, and coniferous forest home, and their many different calls and songs provide a delightful backdrop to our day in the valley.

Days 4 & 5: Waterton Lakes National Park
Traveling north, we spend the next two days exploring Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. As Glacier’s sister park, Waterton shares a border and ecosystem with Glacier, as well as joint UNESCO World Heritage Site status. In 1932, these two parks together became the first International Peace Park. What better way to complement our experience than with a stay at the historic Prince of Wales Hotel as we learn about Waterton's rich cultural and natural history. Like the grand hotels of Glacier, the Prince of Wales was a pet project of railway baron James Hill. His favored chalet-style architectural themes are vividly represented in this unique structure, and its location overlooking Upper Waterton Lake is beyond compare. Complete in 1927, the hotel was named a National Historic Site of Canada by the Canadian government in 1995.

Waterton is a continuation of Glacier’s stunning landscapes, and opportunities abound for us to discover this less-visited region. We'll stroll around the quaint townsite, where deer and sheep often graze upon the lawns, or explore the enticing trails in the area, capitalizing on the panoramic vistas surrounding us. Weather permitting, we may enjoy a cruise on beautiful Waterton Lake and an easy hike into a more remote sector of Glacier’s wilderness.

Days 6 & 7: Many Glacier Valley
At Many Glacier, we enter one of the park’s iconic valleys. Scoured into a broad U-shape by rivers of ice that retreated some 10,000 years ago, Many Glacier features granite crags, waterfalls glissading from icy ledges high above, and alpine lakes set like gems in the rocky backdrop. We readily see why the Blackfeet gave the name “Backbone of the World” to the greater Glacier Park ecosystem. Keep an eye out for black bears and grizzlies feeding among the bushes in avalanche chutes, mountain goats and bighorn sheep perched on cliffs, and elk grazing in the meadows. Many Glacier Hotel, where we spend the night, was built in 1915 as a grand Swiss-style chalet meant to complement its setting in the “American Alps,” in the vision of the rail barons who constructed it. It sits regally on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake, overlooking a panorama of crenellated peaks. Walks, hikes and boat rides take us right into the natural environs and close to an active glacier, an experience that future visitors may be less likely to have as global climate change hastens the melting of the park’s permanent ice features.

Day 8: Going-to-the-Sun Road
An engineering marvel completed in 1932, Going-to-the-Sun Road twists and climbs around Glacier’s granite spine all the way to the Continental Divide. Waterfall spray creates rainbows as streams pour off rock precipices, while serrated peaks poke the blue sky. On the summit at Logan Pass, we wander trails through alpine tundra thick with white bear grass and avalanche lilies, looking for mountain goats and bighorn sheep and listening for the whistle of hoary marmots darting among the rocks. Cresting the divide, we descend to the wetter west side of the park, where thick forests of fir and cedar hug the mountain flanks and fern and mosses grow in their shadows. At Lake McDonald Lodge, another historic hostelry evocative of Swiss alpine architecture, there’s time to relax in front of the soaring stone fireplace and muse on the week’s wonders.

Day 9: Return to Kalispell / Depart
This morning our Glacier National Park trip concludes as we get an early start back for the drive back to Kalispell to meet our departing afternoon flights.

Physical Rating: Moderate / Flexible

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