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Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park: World Heritage Site

Park sign with Canadian and US flag with mountains in background. Photo by Martin Kraft, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38015817
The park's sign at Chief Mountain border crossing.

Photo by Martin Kraft, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38015817

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and World Heritage Site straddles the northern Rocky Mountains along the border between the United States and Canada. The world's first "international peace park," the combined site encompasses breathtaking snowcapped mountains, high-altitude lakes, and rivers cascading from glaciers. Glacial landforms, preserved fossil assemblages, breathtaking rock formations and other geological features provide outstanding aesthetic beauty. Ancient cedar-hemlock forests, alpine tundra, and extensive bunchgrass prairie provide diverse natural habitats for over 300 terrestrial species of animals. These mountains are home to a number of threatened or endangered species including the grizzly bear, gray wolf, lynx, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon.

Waterton-Glacier's distinctive climate, its interface between mountain and prairie ecosystems, and its three separate watersheds, all help to create a rich diversity of flora and fauna that is particularly impressive given the relatively small area included in the parks. Straddling the international border, Waterton-Glacier symbolizes goodwill and cooperation between Canada and the United States. Referred to as the Crown of the Continent, this area is home to one of the world’s most remarkable and unique natural environments.

In addition to its natural beauty, the parks have a long and rich history for the area’s native populations. American Indians have lived in and used these mountains for over 10,000 years and this long occupation continues to the present day. The Blackfeet Indians and their closely related tribes north of the border occupy traditional lands east of the park boundaries. On the western site, Kootenai and Salish Indian tribes. To this day, all of the nearby tribes look to the mountains as sacred areas and continue to visit them for reasons both traditional and ceremonial.

Early European explorers arrived in the Waterton-Glacier area primarily in search of animal pelts. Over time, this exploitation of the region’s natural resources expanded to include the establishment of a mining industry, and groups of settlers soon began to migrate to the area. By 1891, the completion of the Great Northern Railway allowed a greater number of people to enter into the heart of northwest Montana, leading to a significant increase in the region’s settlement along with the development of small towns.

Around the turn of the century, people began to view the land differently, recognizing that the area had a unique scenic beauty. Efforts for the area to gain national recognition of the site’s natural and cultural significance prevailed. Waterton Lakes became Canada’s fourth national park in 1895 and Glacier National Park became the tenth national park in the United States in 1910.
Decades later, in 1932, the United States and Canada jointly designated the two sites to create the world’s first International Peace Park to commemorate the peace and goodwill the two nations continue to share.

Today, visitors to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park are given a variety of options through which they can experience the area’s natural grandeur, scenic beauty and rich history. In the United States, one of Glacier National Park’s major highlights is the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50 mile (80 km) National Historic Landmark traversing the park's wild interior. Winding around mountainsides and offering some of the best sights in northwest Montana, visitors are invited to drive all or part of the road’s distance, with opportunities to hike, camp, and obtain food and lodging along the way. While Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the main highlights in Glacier National Park and provides access to the Lake McDonald Valley, Logan Pass, and the St. Mary Valley, the park offers many other magnificent places to discover. The North Fork, Goat Haunt, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine are also worthy of exploration. Each location in the park is unique, allowing visitors to discover historic homesteading sites, changing landscapes, Native American history, wilderness, peace, alpine meadows, and glacially-carved valleys.

The historic Lake McDonald Lodge (also known as Lewis Glacier Hotel) is a National Historic Landmark and one of the finest examples of a Swiss-Chalet style hotel remaining in the United States, with the exterior of heavy European character, and interior of rustic design unique to the American West. Constructed in the late 19th century and inspired by the Swiss alpine traditions, this historic “destination resort” in an exceptional scenic setting still remains as picturesque as when it first opened. Within the boundaries of Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Sperry and Granite Park Chalets, and the Two Medicine Chalet comprise one of the largest collections of Swiss-chalet structures in the United States.

World Heritage Information: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/354

Glacier National Park: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/goingtothesunroad.htm

Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/waterton/

Last updated: March 29, 2021