I remember the first time I saw a grizzly bear in the wild—it was while guiding a group of travelers on an incredible hiking and biking trip through one of the most spectacularly scenic landscapes in the world: Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (WGIPP). Created through a shared peace and ecosystem management agreement between the United States (Glacier National Park) and Canada (Waterton Lakes National Park), WGIPP is one of the most spectacular cross-border, internationally protected regions on Earth.
Developed in 1932 as the world’s first international peace park, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park helped set the stage for the at least 170 international cross-border areas that are now protected globally. So, if you are lucky enough to visit, a guided tour with experts who know how and where to get away from the crowds and discover the best that this region has to offer, here’s what you can expect.
Many Glacier Valley
As John Muir said in 1901, “Get off the tracks at Belton Station [now West Glacier] and in a few minutes you will find yourself in the midst of what you are sure to say is the best care-killing scenery on the continent.” Scoured into a broad U-shape by rivers of ice that retreated some 10,000 years ago, Many Glacier is arguably the iconic valley of the park, featuring granite crags, waterfalls glissading from icy ledges high above, and alpine lakes set like gems in the rocky backdrop. In fact, you’ll readily see why the Blackfeet Native Americans gave the name “Backbone of the World” to the greater Glacier Park ecosystem.
I’m not talking about the Chicago Bears, but rather the massive, majestic, undisputed heavyweight king of the North American animal kingdom, grizzly bears. WGIPP is one of the few remaining places in the world where the brown bear is still numerous enough that you may actually see a bear in the wild. Going with a naturalist guide who knows the area and how to deal with a hopefully not to close-encounter is always beneficial! Otherwise, even if you are following one of the more popular trails within the two parks, be sure to carry bear spray and make plenty of noise around blind corners!
The accommodations in Glacier and Waterton Lakes national parks are – and forgive my slang – super cool! Think massive log cabins with a Swiss chalet twist, nestled up against lakes with incredible views of the Rocky Mountains, serving up local favorites like huckleberry ice cream. Glacier Park Hotel is a real treat, while Many Glacier Lodge is a grand historical lodge that sits regally on the shores of Swift Current Lake. It offers breathtaking views, gorgeous sunsets and tasty huckleberry margaritas in the lodge lounge. North of the border, be sure to check out the Prince of Wales Hotel, which re-imagines a cozy Swiss chalet with its soaring roofs, gables and artistic balconies.
The “Going to the Sun Road” is spectacular, if not a little knuckle-grinding in a couple of spots! 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 rise toward the blue sky. On the summit at Logan Pass, you can wander trails through alpine tundra thick with white bear grass and avalanche lilies. Be sure to keep an eye out for mountain goats and bighorn sheep while listening for the whistle of hoary marmots darting among the rocks.
In addition to the grizzly bear, you have a good chance of seeing many other magnificent wildlife that call this region home. Hiking along a scenic trail, don’t be surprised to come across bighorn sheep, bald eagles, mountain goats, moose and elk, depending on the time of summer and your location. Less seen, but still present, are wolves, coyotes and mountain lions.
Some of the most “care-killing” scenery anywhere in the world? Check! Native American history? Check! Historic lodges? Check! And incredible nature and wildlife everywhere? Check!
I have some of my fondest memories from my journeys through this UNESCO World Heritage Site, memories that I will cherish forever. So much so that I’d say if there is one bucket list destination not to miss, then Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park should be toward the top of that list.
This guest post was written by Peter Davis Krahenbuhl, co-founder and former president of Sustainable Travel International (STI).