Exploration and Development of the Region Since 1800

In the early 1800s, French, English, and Spanish trappers came in search of beaver. In 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition came within 50 miles of the area that is now Glacier National Park.

As the number of people moving west steadily increased, the Blackfeet, Salish and Kootenai chose to reside on those parts of their homelands that had boundaries set by the U.S. government in order to survive a rapidly changing world. The Blackfeet Reservation adjoins the east side of Glacier National Park, the Blood Reserve is north of Cardston, and the Peigan Reserve is east of Pincher Creek; the Blood Timber Reserve is surrounded on three sides by Waterton Lakes National Park. The Salish and Kootenai reservation is southwest of Glacier. This entire area holds great spiritual importance to each of these tribes.

The railroad over Marias Pass was completed in 1891. The completion of the Great Northern Railway allowed more people to enter the area. Homesteaders settled in the valleys west of Marias Pass, and soon small towns developed.

Under pressure from miners, the mountains east of the Continental Divide were acquired in 1895 from the Blackfeet (in the Agreement of 1895). Miners came searching for copper and gold. They hoped to strike it rich, but no large copper or gold deposits were ever located. Although the mining boom lasted only a few years, abandoned mine shafts are still found in several places in the park.

Around the turn of the century, some people started to look at the land differently. Rather than just seeing the minerals they could mine or land to settle on, they started to recognize the value of spectacular scenic beauty. Facilities for tourists started to spring up. In the late 1890s, visitors arriving at Belton (now called West Glacier) could get off the train, take a stagecoach ride a few miles to Lake McDonald, and then board a boat for an eight mile trip to the Snyder Hotel (the forerunner of the Lake McDonald Lodge). No roads existed in the mountains, but the lakes allowed boat travel into the wilderness.

Last updated: July 9, 2019

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936



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