Glacier & Waterton: An International Treasure (Photo Departure)
9 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: 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
Drive east this morning to Glacier National Park, one of the United States' most treasured natural landscapes. Famous for its ice-carved valleys and dramatic mountain peaks, Glacier boasts some of the most pristine natural ecosystems left in the Lower 48 states. We'll have abundant opportunities to view 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.
Spend two nights at Glacier Park Lodge, one of the country's most magnificent 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." Located at the foot of Squaw Peak Mountain, the hotel provides an ideal base from which to explore our dramatic environs.
Day 3: Glacier National Park—Two Medicine Valley
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 Two Medicine Valley, once a site for sacred Native American rituals, where we admire the multicolored rock layers of the mountain walls. Though 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.
Days 4 & 5: Waterton Lakes National Park
On a drive through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, stop to learn about the tribe's rich culture and history. Continuing 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 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 this less-visited region. Wander around the small townsite where deer and 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 and an easy hike into a more remote sector of Glacier's wilderness.
Days 6 & 7: Glacier National Park—Many Glacier
Return to the American side of the ecosystem, 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 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 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.
Day 8: Going-to-the-Sun Road / Lake McDonald
Experience one of America's most celebrated drives today as we travel the Going-to-the-Sun Road across the park. An engineering marvel completed in 1932, the narrow byway 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. On the summit at Logan Pass, 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, descend to the wetter west side of the park, where dense forests of fir and cedar cover the mountain flanks and fern and mosses grow in their shadows. At Lake McDonald Lodge, another historic hostelry inspired by Swiss alpine architecture, relax in front of the massive stone fireplace in the hotel's famous lobby before gathering 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 to meet departing flights this afternoon.
All This Included
When naturalist John Muir visited Glacier in 1901, he wrote, “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.” Muir’s words are still valid today in this beguiling landscape of peaks, meadows, wildflowers and meltwater lakes fed by rills tumbling down off the park’s namesake ice shelves. Subalpine forests and high rocky ramparts are home to grizzly bears, mountain goats, elk and more. This rare small-group foray into the natural bounty of Glacier—plus Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park, which shares a border and an ecosystem—will refresh and energize contemporary spirits just as it did a century ago.
Whitefish: Grouse Mountain Lodge
Glacier National Park: Glacier Park Lodge
Glacier National Park: Many Glacier Hotel
Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald Lodge
Waterton Lake: Prince of Wales Hotel
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