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October 22, 2010

National Parks: Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

Filed under: 2010, National Parks, The List, UNESCO World Heritage — anotherheader @ 10:45 pm

Wild Goose Island sits in the middle of Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park

Recently we’ve begun a quest to visit all of the 58 National Parks in the United States.  It seemed like a good scheme when the plan oozed up to the top of our over taxed craniums.  We’d take time to see the parks we’d missed and revisit some of our favorites.  How hard could it be anyway?  It felt like we’d been to most of the National Parks already.

It turns out that reaching all of the parks is a major commitment.  The challenge is daunting and overwhelming.  It is easy enough to see the parks in the western states, but there are parks scattered across the globe.  Did you know that there are 12 U.S. National Parks outside of the contiguous 48 states? On further review, we have not been to most or even half of the National Parks.  What were we thinking?

For now, the challenge remains on the books.  In the spring we visited Zion and The Grand Canyon.  Now there are two down and a mere 56 parks to go.  This might take some time.  We’d mark our next park off the list when we visited Glacier-Waterton on our summer road trip.

A moose enjoys Cameron Lake's under water plants

The UNESCO World Heritage designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park straddles the border between Alberta Canada and Montana in the United States.  Our road trip route took us to stops on both the Canadian’s Waterton Lakes and the United States’ Glacier portions of the parks.  There are two names for a contiguous international park but now it seems that the Canadians may have named their portion of the park better.  Waterton-Glacier’s glaciers are expected to have all melted by 2020.  Perhaps Glacier National Park may soon become the National Park Formerly Known as Glacier.

We approached Waterton from the north and west, crossing the Continental Divide somewhere past Fernie BC and circling around the top of the park before reaching the entrance.  In late summer the eastern approach to Waterton Park traverses the low golden hills of the prairies.  The fresh snow dusted peaks of the National Park become visible miles from the entrance.  It felt like fall.  It was cold, in the low fifties, and determined to get much colder at night.  The aspens, tinged with yellow, were on the verge of the full-blown color change.  In the mountains of the north, winter comes early.

Early September’s rains and low clouds followed us through British Columbia and into Waterton National Park.  In the Park, between the showers, we canoed across Cameron Lake.  In the rental boat we crossed the border into the United States.  It’s an easy international crossing.  There are no border agents patrolling the lake to check passports.  A moose was on duty, though.  As we sliced through the water towards the border, a young female moose with dual citizenship eased into the cold lake waters to feed on the underwater vegetation.  The moose was aware of our presence but not particularly concerned.  She gave us a close inspection as our canoe drifted by.

Upper Waterton Lake

The next day we had hoped to hike to Crypt Lake but the heavy rains returned.  This hike, which involves a boat ride, a ladder, and a tunnel, will have to wait for another visit.  Later in the day, with the weather improved, we did manage a sightseeing tour of Upper Waterton Lake on the Motor Vessel International.  Like Cameron Lake, the far side of Upper Waterton Lake is in the United States.  The MV International crosses the border mid-lake.  Did you know that they cut the vegetation along the 49th parallel to designate the border between the US and Canada?  The clear-cut vegetation makes the border easy to identify but somehow a six-meter wide clear-cut swath does not make me feel any safer.

MV International

The rain was still heavy the next day as we hooked up the trailer and headed to the United States side of the park.  It was our personal record 24th international border crossing of the year.  This crossing was marked by another inspection of the inside of the Airstream trailer.  We believe that the border agents, like every one else, just wants to see what it looks like inside the aluminum orb we tow behind the truck.

Weather knows no borders.  When we reached a campground near the eastern entrance to Glacier National we hunkered down and waited for the cold wet storm to pass.  It took its time.  The conditions were not much better the next day but we had to get out.  A trip along Glacier’s famous “Going-to-the Sun-Road” seemed our best bet.

The Goat Haunt Ranger Station's pier at the end of Upper Waterton Lake

On the 10th of September in 2010, the 68-year-old Going-to-the-Sun Road was not at its best.  The closed in weather limited the vistas.  Add in road construction with the inevitable delays and muck and a more suitable name for the route seemed to be the “Going-through-the-Mud Road.”  At least on the drive back, when the weather started to lift, we found out that there is indeed National Park worthy scenery in Glacier.

Cleared vegetation on the banks of Upper Waterton Lake marks the border between Canada and the United States

The next day with better weather we visited the Many Glacier Valley area.  Many Glacier Valley was named by George Bird Grinnell, the former editor of Forest & Stream Magazine (now called Field & Stream) in order to make it sound exotic and Native American in origin.  In the valley we opted a short hike to Lake Josephine.  Aside from the alpine glacier lakes and the changing colors we’d get a National Park wildlife experience, of sorts.

We passed the normal signs at the trailhead that warned of bears, cougars, rampaging moose, and predatory squirrels.  Soon we were passing the returning hikers on the trail.

The first couple:  “There’s a bear and two cubs up the trail about a mile.”

Us:  “Are they black bears or grizzlies?”

Them: “Black bears.”

The next couple:  “I don’t know if you’ve heard, there’s a bear and two cubs up the trail.”

Us:  “What type of bears?  Grizzlies or black bears?”

Them:  “Grizzlies.”

Us:  “Are you sure?”

Them:  “Definitely grizzlies.”

Us:  “How far?”

Them:  “About 15 minutes.”

I don’t think they heard our mental “hum.”

Next couple (there are a lot of people on this trail):  “Just to let you know, there are a couple of bears above the trail a couple of miles ahead.”

Us:  “Grizzlies or black bears?”

Once again, it seemed, we found ourselves doing another spontaneous survey.

Them:  “Black bears.”

Us:  “How far?”

Them:  “A quarter mile.  We turned back before we saw them.”

More clairvoyants on the trail, I guess.

Lake Josephine (panorama)

The next group, now about 30-minutes up the trail:  “A bear and two cubs are on the trail.”

Us:  “Grizzlies or black bears?”

Our survey continued.

A friendly moose on Cameron Lake

“Black bears.  Be sure to make noise.  They are below the trail.”

A National Park volunteer, finally a voice of reason, came by next:  “Just to let you know, there’s a sow and two cubs below the trail up ahead.”

Us:  “Grizzlies or black bears?”

The volunteer:  “Black bears.  Make noise and keep your eyes open.  When I left they were near the water.”

Us:  “How far?”

Volunteer:  “A few hundred feet.”

The trail to Josephine Lake

Further up the trail we reached another group.

The group:  “There’s a sow and two cubs on the trail up ahead.”

Us:  “Grizzlies or black bears?”

Them:  “Black bears.  But there are two cubs!”

Next a solo hiker came by.

The hiker:  “There’s a bear and two cubs up the trail.”

Us:  “Grizzlies or black bears?”

The hiker:  “Definitely grizzlies.”

(The solo hiker seems to have missed my confused look.)

Us:  “How far?”

The hiker:  “15 minutes.  Are you carrying bear spray?”

Us:  “No.”

The hiker, after a concerned pause:  “You should be.  I don’t know if I’d go on.  Be careful.”

(By the way, we never asked any of the hikers if there were bears ahead.)

Swiftcurrent Lake

The next group:  “A bear and two cubs are up ahead.”

One member of the group was clutching a bottle of bear spray with white knuckles ready to instantly fire at any movement in the bushes.

Us:  “Grizzlies or black bears?”

Faithful camera assistant

Them:  “Black bears.”

Us:  “The last guy said that they were grizzlies?”

Them:  “We saw grizzlies also.”

Us:  “Where?”

Them:  “Up the hill near the glacier.”

Us:  “Are you sure?”

Them:  “Definitely.  We had binoculars.  They were a long ways away back up near the glacier well off the trail a few miles ahead.”

The glacier was back up another trail about 4 miles away.  The grizzlies were even farther away than that.  I thought about telling them that I had seen grizzlies also, in a zoo, several years ago, but it just didn’t seem appropriate.

Josephine Lake and the "bear" trail

At the trail junction, with the weather coming back in heavy, we stopped to turn around before we got drenched.

A group came up and asked:  “There are bears up ahead?”

Us:  “We didn’t see any.”

We never did see any bears though we had to have passed the point where they must have been.  We did see a lot of bear hysteria, though.  Most likely our biggest risk might have been a stray blast of bear spray.

There are more pictures on Picasa.


  1. Maybe S. and I should lend you our inflatable kayaks for your next roadtrip to watery areas (so maybe not a winter desert southwest trip). We took them with us to Glacier and Yellowstone a few years back, and had a great time paddling them (including drifting past a moose resting on the banks of a river in Glacier).

    I you borrow the boats, you’ll have to provide paddles and PFDs. We don’t have extras of those…

    Comment by PeterD — October 23, 2010 @ 1:51 am

  2. […] Glacier (2010) […]

    Pingback by The List « Another Header — December 7, 2010 @ 12:07 am

  3. […] around the world are retreating at a startling rate.  We’ve seen glaciers in New Zealand, North America, and South America and in Europe. The evidence of the glacier’s retreat is obvious in person and […]

    Pingback by France: Chamonix, Chemin de fer du Montenvers « Another Header — February 24, 2011 @ 12:38 am


    Comment by Yves de Belleval — December 4, 2012 @ 3:56 am

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