Exploring Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

July 29, 2016 Posted by: Ranger Michael

Paradise is a beach on still water; upon which you’ll find endless skipping stones, a bottomless cooler, and the company of friends equal to it all… Or at least, that’s what some fellow rangers and I decided as we cooled off next to the water on a hot July day.

Everyone who comes to Glacier National Park can find their own little slice of paradise. From the cool water of crystal clear lakes, to the fields of wildflowers in high alpine meadows, there’s more than enough here to last a lifetime.

But now that we’ve made it to the end of July, things are heating up. Not just in terms of the temperature outside, but also in visitation. We’ve finally arrived at peak season! School is out, trails are clear of snow, and the park is in full swing.

This year, we’re seeing more people than ever before. Like many other parks across the country, we’re experiencing record visitation. Though it’s hard to point to one reason why, the numbers we’re seeing here this summer may be thanks (in no small part) to our centennial celebration. Next month on August 25th, the National Park Service is turning 100! 

Part of that celebration this year has been encouraging others to get out and Find Your Park. Whether that’s here at Glacier, back at home or anywhere in-between, the idea is to encourage us all to find and support a park that means a lot to you.

Glacier National Park will forever hold a special place in my heart. Getting the opportunity to share this place with others all summer long is one of the greatest joys of my life to date. For that reason, I thought I had “Found my Park”.  That didn’t mean I was done exploring though, and the initiative got a fellow ranger and I to explore our park next door: Waterton Lakes National Park.

We have received a cavalcade of distinctions here in Glacier. We’ve been recognized as everything from a National Park to a World Heritage Site, and even a World Biosphere Reserve. Perhaps one of our most unique honors though, is that we were made into the first ever International Peace Park. In 1932, Glacier (U.S.) and Waterton Lakes (Canada) National Parks partnered together. This partnership sought not simply to preserve the biodiversity and history shared by these two places, but also to embody an idea of peace. Peace among nations, amidst some of the most difficult struggles we’d ever faced.

This being my third summer season here at Glacier, I’d known about Waterton Lakes National Park for a while. That said, my experience with the park was limited to mostly secondhand accounts. So while I was excited at any opportunity to let people know that we were an International Peace Park, my knowledge of our sister park was sorely lacking. As time went on though, a thought hit me: What excuse do I have? I have a passport, means of travel, and a standing invitation! 

With that in mind, my friend Ranger Olivia and I set off to familiarize ourselves with our northern neighbors. We whipped out a map, freshened up on the conversion between kilometers and miles, and set about planning a trip to Waterton. With our passports in one hand and coffee in the other, we started off on the 3.5 hour drive from West Glacier to Waterton Townsite. 

Before we set off, we’d reserved a spot aboard a hiker shuttle in order to hike to Carthew and Alderson Lakes. So when we arrived we were not only greeted by a gorgeous view of Upper Waterton Lake, but also the friendly welcome of a bus load of hikers. The hike itself, after a quick bus ride, was an amazing 18 km (11 mile) journey. Seemingly around every corner was another work of art. Whether that was the snow-covered basin of Cameron Lake, the sweeping vistas that offered views back into the U.S., the immense presence of Alderson lake, or the dynamic Cameron Falls that welcomed us back to town, we were left awe-struck the whole way.

Without intending to, it seemed that we stumbled into one of the most beautiful places in the whole of the Rocky Mountains.

Seeing though as we’d just hiked 11 miles though, the next thing we stumbled into was a restaurant. Parks Canada, unlike the National Park Service, has municipal infrastructure in many of their parks. Meaning, they have a community of year-round residents and amenities. Including a ton of options for pizza, candy, coffee, bagels, tacos, etc... So after stuffing out faces, we set out to head home.

Our last stop before leaving Waterton was the Bison Paddock. A quick 10 minute drive from where we ate, bison roam in their natural grassland habitat. As they marched off into the sunset, our trip drew to a close. With our bellies full of food, our cameras full of pictures, and our hearts full of fond memories, we began the journey home.                                                                                     

Now that we’ve been back in Glacier for a while, I realized something. I’m more excited than ever to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial. By virtue of the Find Your Park initiative, we found more than just a park. We found a place abound with views that left us breathless. We found a place whose citizens and visitors alike welcomed us with open arms. We found inside ourselves a glowing pride; a pride to work for a place that set aside all precedent to extend a hand of friendship. And lastly, I found an incredible place that I’m afraid I’ll never have enough time to truly know.

For those who have been to Waterton, please share some of your experiences! Learning tips from the pros who’ve been before is the best way to plan any adventure.

For those who are without passports, don’t despair! There is more than enough here in Glacier to last you a lifetime. But to celebrate our last 100 years, I encourage all who can to celebrate our sister park and northern neighbor as well. As an International Peace Park, our parks are better together. Between the two of us, there are more than enough slices of paradise to go around.

Hey Ranger! 

“Do I need my passport to go to Waterton?” 

A very common question we get this time of year! While together we are an International Peace Park, Waterton Lakes still lies within Canada. Like any other international travel, you still need an active passport to visit their park.

Happy Trails,

Ranger Michael

Glacier National Park, Waterton, Canada, Peace Park, travel, NPS Centennial, Find Your Park

Last updated: September 17, 2016

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