Continental Divide

The Continental Divide separates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds of North America. In Glacier, the divide follows the crest of the Lewis Range from Marias Pass to Flattop Mountain and then swings west to the crest of the Livingston Range, which it follows into Canada. The Continental Divide forms the western border of Waterton Lakes National Park, which lies completely on the east side of the divide. In Waterton, all drainages flow into the Saskatchewan River Basin, generally a northeast route towards Hudson Bay.

Triple Divide
In Glacier National Park, there is actually a triple divide because waters potentially can flow into three drainages. The creeks and streams in the southeast section of the park feed into the Birch and Marias Rivers, then the Missouri and the Mississippi and empty into the Gulf of Mexico. The water in the northeast section feeds into the St. Mary River that joins the Saskatchewan River Basin. From there, some of the water flows into Lake Winnipeg, then into the Nelson River which drains into the Hudson Bay. All water west of the divide feeds into the Flathead River, which then flows through Flathead Lake and empties into the Clark Fork which joins the Columbia River to the Pacific. The many streams of Waterton-Glacier make important contributions to the great rivers of the continent. There are few other areas of similar size that generate a volume of water equal to that flowing out of the parks.

Glacier's Triple Divide Peak (8020 ft/2446 m) is a rather rare hydrologic feature. From the summit, water flows to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Hudson Bay. The peak can be viewed from the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the Two Dog Flats area, on the east side of the park. Other triple divides (hydrological apexes) are found in Jasper National Park and in Siberia.

 
Rushing water flows into the distance.
Water rushing in the North Fork of the Flathead River.

NPS

Mountains and Watersheds


Driven by topography, watersheds divert and direct water throughout a landscape. Snow and rain within those watersheds flow into specific creeks, lakes, basins, rivers, and oceans. A Continental Divide occurs at a grand scale, directing water into different watersheds and ultimately oceans or seas. North America is separated by a Continental Divide that spans two continents, stretching all the way from the Bering Strait in Alaska to the bottommost tip of South America. Winding through Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the Continental Divide crosses through the heart of Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.

In Glacier, the divide follows the crest of the Lewis Range from Marias Pass to Flattop Mountain and then swings west to the crest of the Livingston Range, which it follows into Canada. The Continental Divide forms the western border of Waterton Lakes National Park, which lies completely on the east side of the divide. In Waterton, all drainages flow into the Saskatchewan River Basin, generally a northeast route towards Hudson Bay.

Triple Divide


Glacier National Park is home to a unique feature known as a triple divide, where waters potentially can flow into three drainages. The creeks and streams in the southeast section of the park feed into the Birch and Marias Rivers, then the Missouri and the Mississippi and empty into the Gulf of Mexico. The water in the northeast section feeds into the St. Mary River that joins the Saskatchewan River Basin. From there, some of the water flows into Lake Winnipeg, then into the Nelson River which drains into the Hudson Bay. All water west of the divide feeds into the Flathead River, which then flows through Flathead Lake and empties into the Clark Fork which joins the Columbia River to the Pacific.

The many streams of Waterton-Glacier have a significant influence on the great rivers of the continent, the people who live near them, and the aquatic life you can find throughout. Fish and aquatic invertebrates that are found in one area of the park may not be native to another watershed within the park boundary (SUCH AS THE _________) To learn more about the aquatic life in Glacier, check out our Fish in Glacier page, and our Insects, Spiders, Centipedes, Millepedes page. There are few other areas of similar size that generate a volume of water equal to that flowing out of this area.

Glacier's Triple Divide Peak (8020 ft/2446 m) is a rather rare hydrologic feature. From the summit, water flows to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Hudson Bay. The peak can be viewed from the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the Two Dog Flats area, on the east side of the park. Other triple divides (hydrological apexes) are found in Jasper National Park and in Siberia.

The Divide as a Destination


The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) was established by Congress in 1978, and at the time was the third scenic trail in the country behind the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails.

The CDT follows the Continental Divide for 3100 miles between Canada and Mexico, including 110 miles in Glacier. Beginning at the trail's northern terminus in Goat Haunt, it winds its way down to the southern end of the park at Marias Pass. Along the way hikers pass through the Many Glacier, St. Mary, and Two Medicine Valleys.

For those interested in dayhiking sections of the CDT, check out our Hiking the Trails page. For those interested in backpacking some or all of the CDT within Glacier, you'll need a backcountry permit for overnight camping. For more information on permits and reservations, check out our Backcountry Camping page.

 

Last updated: December 14, 2020

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

(406) 888-7800

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