Locating Glacier National Park Lesson

Grades: 5–12
Subjects: Geography, Social Studies
Vocabulary: Alberta, Blackfeet, British Columbia, Canada, Continental Divide, Kootenai, National Forest, National Park, Indian Reservation, Peace Park, Salish, triple divide, watershed


Even before Glacier National Park was established in 1910, it was an importantcultural and economic contributor to the state of Montana. The scenery of the area attracted visitors well before the park was established. They came to the area by train. The Great Northern Railway (now Burlington Northern Santa Fe) still runs along the southwest border of the park, and Amtrak still carries visitors to the depots that the Great Northern built at East Glacier, Summit Station, Belton (now West Glacier), and Whitefish.

For the Native Americans whose homelands encompassed Glacier, the area has great spiritual significance. The Blackfeet, for instance, refer to the mountains here as the "backbone of the world." The translation of the Kootenai name for the Lake McDonald area refers to it as "a good place to dance." Today, the Blackfeet Reservation shares Glacier's eastern border. The Kootenai, Salish, and Pend d'Oreille are part of the Flathead Reservation on Flathead Lake.

Glacier National Park straddles the Continental Divide. The divide defines watersheds. West of the divide water flows into the Pacific Ocean and east of the divide water flows into the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay. Because water from the park flows into three different directions, Glacier contains a rare geologic feature - a triple divide. The water that comes from Glacier on its way east or west passes through many different places. The people and animals that live around Glacier depend on the water that comes from the park. For instance, Lake McDonald eventually flows into the Flathead River which flows into Flathead Lake. Along the way that water passes through Columbia Falls and Kalispell.

The Flathead National Forest is on Glacier's western and southern boundaries. The Blackfeet Indian Reservation is on the eastern boundary. To the north of Glacier are the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada. On Glacier's northern border in Alberta is our sister park, Waterton Lakes National Park. In 1932 the two parks were merged to become the world's first International Peace Park.


  • Students will locate Glacier National Park and other landmarks within Montana in relation to: the Continental Divide, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and British Columbia, the three watershed divides (Pacific, Hudson Bay and Gulf of Mexico) and the students' community.
  • Students will locate Glacier and Montana in relation to the Pacific Northwest(US) and Pacific West (Canada).
  • Students will locate Glacier and Montana in relation to North America. Students will identify the bodies of water that Glacier's water ultimately flows into.


For this lesson, you will need:


  1. Using a globe or North American map, introduce students to the location of Montana in the United States and in North America. Point out the location of various landmarks - Rocky Mountains, Canadian Border, the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay, the plains of eastern Montana.
  2. Then, using the transparencies, for the United States and North America see if together as a class, you can locate and label those same landmarks.
  3. Discuss the location of the students' hometown on the map of Glacier and vicinity. Also discuss the location of various protected lands within Montana - national forests, national parks. Point out the Indian Reservations, the three watersheds, and major rivers.
  4. Distribute a copy of the three maps to each student. Decide in advance which things on each map you want them to be able to label. On the North American map they can label the oceans, countries, and state of Montana. On the Pacific Northwest map, they could label the Canadian provinces, American states, and the ocean. On the Glacier map, the could label their home town, the rivers, the lakes, and the three watersheds.

Variations and Extensions

Discuss the importance of the geographic location of Glacier National Park. Have students hypothesize as to why certain types of plants and plant communities live in the park. What about the different animal species that live in Glacier?


On a road map have students trace the route from their school to Glacier National Park. Have them do the same for other landmarks on the map as well.

Last updated: November 6, 2017

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936


(406) 888-7800

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