Natural Habitat Adventures

Glacier & Waterton: An International Treasure

Glacier & Waterton Photo Itinerary

Itinerary Map
Day 1: Kalispell, Montana
Arrive in Kalispell and transfer to our hotel in nearby Whitefish, where our Glacier National Park & Waterton Lakes photography adventure begins with a welcome dinner this evening.

Day 2: Glacier National Park — Trail of the Cedars / 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 dramatic mountain peaks, Glacier contains some of the most pristine natural ecosystems left in the Lower 48 states. We'll have abundant opportunities to see and photograph many of the species that call it home, including the mountain goat, the park's emblematic animal. Along the way, learn about the Lewis Overthrust fault and the region's tumultuous geological history, studied by scientists from around the world.

Our focus today is the west side of the park, and we begin with a walk on the Trail of the Cedars. The Lake McDonald Valley is on the interior edge of the of the Pacific Northwest maritime climate zone, and the area marks the extreme eastern range of moisture-loving trees such as cedars and western hemlock. These tall conifers, plus Douglas fir, blanket the mountain flanks west of the Continental Divide while ferns and mosses grow in their shadows. A footbridge over Avalanche Creek provides dramatic view of Avalanche Gorge, with opportunities to photograph the rushing cascades.

Later we experience our first trip up the west side of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, as far as Logan Pass. An engineering marvel completed in 1932, the narrow byway twists and climbs around Glacier's rocky spine all the way to the Continental Divide. Descend to spend the night at 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: Going-to-the-Sun Road / Many Glacier
Follow Going-to-the-Sun Road once more to Logan Pass. Waterfall spray creates rainbows as streams pour off rock precipices, while serrated peaks poke the blue sky, and we stop frequently for photos of the scenic splendor. At the 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.

After a picnic lunch, it’s time to drop down the east slope of the Divide to enter one of the park's iconic valleys at Many Glacier. 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 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 two nights, was built in 1915 as a grand Swiss-style chalet meant to complement its setting in the "American Alps," in the vision of the railway barons who constructed it. It sits regally on the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake, overlooking a panorama of crenellated peaks. Walks and hikes take us 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.

Days 5 & 6: Waterton Lakes National Park
Continuing north across the Canadian border, we spend two days photographing 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 lodges 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 was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995.

Waterton is a continuation of Glacier's stunning landscapes, and opportunities abound for us to discover exhilarating photography subjects in 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 beautiful Waterton Lake.

Day 7: Glacier National Park—Going-to-the-Sun Road / East Glacier
After a final morning in Waterton, return to the American side of the ecosystem to spend the day on another pass along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Traveling as far as Logan Pass, we hope for beautiful evening light and more enticing photo opportunities as we have our final views from the road.

Descend to the small village of East Glacier, just outside the park boundary, and our destination of Glacier Park Lodge, one of the country's most magnificent national park hotels, to spend two nights. 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. The Blackfeet Indians called it Omahkoyis, or "Big Tree Lodge." Located at the foot of Dancing Lady Mountain, the hotel provides an optimal base from which to explore and photograph our dramatic environs.

Day 8: Glacier National Park—Two Medicine Valley / Boat Cruise
Explore Two Medicine Valley today, an area rich in Native American history. Lying on the eastern edge of the park, the valley borders the Blackfeet reservation. From the trailhead at Two Medicine Lake, a morning hike leads through the valley, once a site for sacred Native American rituals, where we admire the multicolored rock layers of the mountain walls. Through the exertion level is moderate, the beauty of the sheer cliffs and peaks surrounding us provide scenic rewards usually reserved for more strenuous efforts.

Along the trail, look for a great array of wildlife frequently seen here. Moose, elk and deer graze on tall 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 reside in this mix of aspen, prairie and coniferous forest, and their many different calls and songs provide a delightful soundscape for our day in the valley. This evening, we have a boat tour on Two Medicine Lake followed by a farewell dinner.

Day 9: Kalispell / Depart
This morning our Glacier National Park photo tour concludes as we get an early start for the drive back to Kalispell via Highway 2 , where we meet departing flights this afternoon.
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