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: Scenic Float / Going-to-the-Sun Road / Lake McDonald
Drive east this morning to Glacier National Park, one of the most treasured natural landscapes in the United States. Famous for its ice-carved valleys and sheer peaks, Glacier contains some of the most pristine natural ecosystems left in the Lower 48. Our introduction begins with a scenic float on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, a stretch of water that birthed the National Wild and Scenic River System in the 1950s. Bordering Glacier National Park, the Flathead is one of the premier undammed rivers in Montana, coveted by anglers for its cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, whitefish and kokanee salmon. Look for ospreys and eagles as we pass through a steep, walled canyon, and stop for a picnic lunch along the way.
This afternoon, we board a classic open-top Red Bus for a private tour along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass. One of America's most famous national park drives, this narrow byway, an engineering marvel completed in 1932, twists and climbs around Glacier's rocky 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. Dropping back down the west flank of the pass, we overnight on the wetter side of the park, where dense stands of fir and cedar cover the mountains, and fern and mosses grow in their shadows. Our destination is Lake McDonald Lodge, a historic hostelry inspired by Swiss alpine architecture. Explore the lakeshore to admire the multicolored rocks in the clear water, or relax in front of the massive stone fireplace in the hotel's famous lobby.
Days 3 & 4: Logan Pass / Many Glacier
Early on Day 3 we return to Logan Pass, wandering trails on the summit through alpine tundra thick with white bear grass and glacier lilies. Look for abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep and the shaggy white mountain goat that is the park’s emblematic animal. Listen for the whistle of hoary marmots darting among the rocks, and keep an eye out for black bears and grizzlies feeding among the bushes in avalanche chutes. After a picnic lunch, continue over the Continental Divide to the east side of the park. Along the way, learn about the Lewis Overthrust fault and the region's tumultuous geological history, studied by scientists from around the world.
This afternoon we enter Many Glacier, one of the park's classic glacial valleys. Scoured into a broad U-shape by rivers of ice that retreated some 10,000 years ago, Many Glacier features ragged crags, waterfalls that glissade from icy ledges, and alpine lakes set like gems in the rocky backdrop. We see why the Blackfeet gave the name "Backbone of the World" to the greater Glacier Park ecosystem. Look for 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 in the "American Alps," in the vision of the railway barons behind its construction. It sits on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake overlooking a panorama of crenellated peaks. On Day 4, we learn about the ecology of our environs as we get within view of an active glacier, an experience future visitors may be less likely to have as climate change hastens the melting of the park's permanent ice features.
Days 5 & 6: Waterton Lakes National Park
Traveling north across the Canadian border, we spend two days exploring Waterton Lakes National Park. As Glacier's sister park, Waterton shares a border and an ecosystem, as well as joint UNESCO World Heritage Site status. In 1932, these two parks together became the first International Peace Park. Stay at the historic Prince of Wales Hotel which, like the grand park hotels of Glacier, was a pet project of railway baron James J. Hill. His favored chalet-style architectural themes are vividly represented in this unique structure, and its location overlooking Upper Waterton Lake is beyond compare. Completed in 1927, the hotel has been named a National Historic Site of Canada.
Waterton is a continuation of Glacier's stunning landscapes, and opportunities abound to discover this less-visited region. Wander around the small townsite where deer and bighorn sheep often graze upon the lawns. With our Expedition Leader, explore a sampler of enticing trails that capitalize on the panoramic vistas at every turn. Weather permitting, enjoy a cruise on sparkling Waterton Lake.
Day 7: Glacier National Park — Private Red Bus Tour / East Glacier
After a final morning in Waterton, return to the American side of this International Peace Park, taking one more Red Bus tour up the east side of Going-to-the-Sun Road as far as Logan Pass. If skies are clear, lustrous evening light should make for a last round of fabulous photography from the alpine heights.
Descend to spend two nights at Glacier Park Lodge, one of the country's most magnificent national park hotels. Built at East Glacier Station 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. It was known locally by the Blackfeet Indians as it Omahkoyis, or "Big Tree Lodge." Located at the foot of Dancing Lady Mountain, the hotel provides an optimal base from which to explore our dramatic environs.
Day 8: Badger-Two Medicine / Boat Cruise on Two Medicine Lake
Today we have the privilege of exploring an exceptional tract of land on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with a local guide from the tribe. The Badger-Two Medicine region is an almost entirely roadless expanse of mountains, high ridge tops, forested river valleys and wetlands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. It is located at the intersection of the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and is part of the headwaters of the Missouri River. After two decades of effort, Badger-Two Medicine is on the cusp of permanent protection by Congress as a Cultural Heritage Area. We discover a portion of it on a guided hike today, learning about the Blackfeet Nation’s ancient connection to this land and its creatures, with a picnic lunch along the way. Wildlife abounds in the region, including grizzly and black bear, wolverine, deer, elk, moose, mountain goat and bighorn sheep.
Early this evening, board the historic boat Sinopah for a cruise on Two Medicine Lake. The oldest boat in the park’s fleet, Sinopah was built in 1926 for the Glacier Park Hotel Company, the tourism subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway. Afterward, gather for a farewell dinner.
Day 9: Kalispell / Depart
This morning our Glacier National Park trip concludes as we get an early start for the drive back to Kalispell, where we meet departing flights this afternoon. Following Highway 2, our scenic route skirts the south side of the park, passing through Essex, a historic stop on the Great Northern Railway line between West and East Glacier where trains took on additional coal and water. Our journey concludes at Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell.