The National Divide – Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, MT and Canada

We made it! Celebrating in our campground with the great mountains behind us

We made it! Celebrating in our campground with the great mountains behind us

It’s early September and we were in Glacier National Park in mid-July, just to give you a time frame. Glacier turned out to be our top spot of the entire nine month trip around the US and a small portion of Canada. I’d go back to Glacier in a heartbeat. There’s so much natural breathtaking majesty in this part of the country. If you ever get a chance to visit, GO!

After a couple of weeks in some beautiful scenery at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and Big Sky and Bozeman, Montana, and Jackson, Wyoming, I really didn’t think I would be blown away by Glacier National Park and Waterton Lake National Park (which is just across the border in Canada). But, I keep underestimating God’s imagination. Although Glacier is not too far away from these other places (a long day’s drive), it’s completely different in setting and feeling. While Yellowstone is touristy, and Jackson is resort-y, Glacier is peaceful and awe inspiring.

The west entrance to Glacier National Park

The west entrance to Glacier National Park

We originally reserved a camping spot at the St Mary campground inside east part of Glacier. When we got there our spot, C149 in the C Loop (along with most other spots we saw), was pretty unlevel and we couldn’t get the Moho to level out so we could get the slides open. If we were only going to stay a day or two, that would have been alright but we’d booked a whole week and there were four of us (our ten year old nephew Caleb was still traveling with us) so we needed the extra space the slide-outs provide. Enter Plan B. We headed over to the KOA right outside the park but they were packed full and only had a small, unlevel grass spot that we probably couldn’t have even gotten to with our Moho. So we said good-bye and went across the street to Johnson’s RV Park. They’d gotten pretty good reviews online, and had a very level spot for us with electric and water hook-ups and a great view of the mountains and St Mary Lake. We said “yes please” and settled into our spot.

The empty campground at Johnson's in St Mary. This would not last long.

The empty campground at Johnson’s in St Mary. This would not last long.

The next day we drove the Going-To-The-Sun Road that cuts right through the middle of Glacier National Park. It was constructed in the late 1920s and designed for the vehicles of the day, so no motor homes bigger than about eighteen feet can drive the road. There are some pretty hairpin turns going down the west side of the mountain toward Lake McDonald, so it was comforting to know no big rigs were going to come barreling at you from the other direction. The drive on the road was pretty much amazing. It takes about an hour from either side to get to Logan Pass at the top and essentially in the middle of the drive. On your way you see a couple of glaciers (or you can hike to a couple more, but there aren’t very many left), huge roadside waterfalls, and you can stop to hike on a billion different trails. We didn’t do any hikes that day, but we did stop on the west side (St Mary where our campground was was on the east side) at Lake McDonald. There’s a lodge there and some spots you can park along the road and walk down to the lake. We found one with a shoreline of small, smooth rocks and hung out for a bit. The day was pretty warm and Caleb and Chris went in for a swim. The water was so clear and inviting, and not even really that cold, that after I waded in around my ankles for a bit staring at all the beautiful colored rocks on the bottom, I just had to go in. I hadn’t brought my swimsuit so I went in in my clothes. It was totally worth it, and I dried off pretty fast after swimming around for awhile. Zeph hung out in his diaper along the shoreline and we all had a fantastic time. We drove into West Glacier to get some dinner and ended up at the Elkhorn Grille (in the small town of Hungry Horse), which had some super yummy huckleberry chicken and other dishes. We didn’t realize until we were driving back into the park that the Going-To-The-Sun Road shut down at night! They close it at Logan Pass at 9pm, and we were just driving up the hill at 8! Needless to say, we tried to rush a little as we knew it took about an hour to get to Logan Pass and if there were any slow looky-loos in front of us we were going to have to turn around, drive back down to West Glacier and drive around the entire park – about a four hour detour. LUCKILY we made it about ten minutes to nine, and the drive back down to the east entrance and St Mary was easy. We even saw a small grizzly bear off the side of the road on our way!

My feet in Lake McDonald. The rainbow rocks are quite impressive.

My feet in Lake McDonald. The rainbow rocks are quite impressive.

The next few days we kinda took it easy. I had major laundry to catch up on, and it was a bit windy so we stuck close to the Moho. We did find a tiny little Mexican food place in St Mary, I don’t remember the name, but it had decent Mexican (by Midwest standards). A few days into our stay, we decided to venture into Canada to check out Waterton Lakes National Park, the other piece of the International Peace Park. I guess the US and Canada decided to do sort of a dual park in order to preserve natural habitat for the animals – who don’t know about invisible country borders – and promote friendly relations between the two countries. It’s funny that the parks are basically connected, but they have a totally different vibe. We didn’t explore all of Waterton, but what we saw was quite impressive. We crossed the border (good thing we had a note from Caleb’s mom in addition to his passport, stating that he was allowed to travel with us, since he’s Canadian and we are American the border agents were very thorough in their checking up to make sure he was safe and belonged with us) and went in via what I think is the south entrance. We quickly saw the Prince of Wales Hotel up on a hill and drove up to check it out. On the road as we drove under some trees we noticed a decent sized grizzly sleeping in a branch just over our car about twenty feet above us. We opened the sunroof and quietly snapped a shot or two. What a sight! That’s as close as we’d been able to get to a bear safely. He kept snoozing and we kept driving to the hotel.

Oh just a bear snoozin' in a tree above our heads (in the car)

Oh just a bear snoozin’ in a tree above our heads (in the car)

Prince of Wales Hotel is lovely, it looks like it’s straight out of the Alps (as so much of the architecture does in these two parks) and the view of Waterton Lake was spectacular. We ordered some food for lunch in the restaurant (the parks leave a bit to be desired when it comes to food but I guess they can when they have a captive audience) and walked down to the lake. The water was pretty darn cold (not sure if it’s fed by a glacier or not) but we had a great time climbing on the rocks and skipping stones. Across the lake was a little village that we drove to, which had shops and restaurants and a hotel and a campground. This was probably the place we’d camp at if we ever go back. The location in Waterton Park is perfect, it’s smack dab in the middle. And it had all the conveniences you need. We shopped around, had some snacks, and ended up back on the lakeside skipping stones while Zeph napped in his stroller.

This place is INSANE in its beauty. Like nowhere else. Waterton Lake.

This place is INSANE in its beauty. Like nowhere else. Waterton Lake.

We did a few hikes to some waterfalls during our stay. We did St Mary and Virginia Falls (totally easy and worth it), and Running Eagle Falls in the Two Medicine section of Glacier (also totally worth it). This is where we saw a full grown black bear across the river from us, about forty yards away. There were like ten or so other people around and the bear stayed on his side of the river. The waterfall there was really cool – it comes right out of the side of the mountain! After seeing quite a few other waterfalls on our journey, this one came as quite a delightful surprise. We also hiked to a waterfall in Waterton that I can’t remember the name of… oops! I do remember it was pretty though, if that helps? I’ve never met a waterfall I didn’t like.

Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine

Running Eagle Falls in Two Medicine

After we left Two Medicine on our last day in the parks, we headed back to camp to get ready to move west again. I needed to finish laundry and it was fried chicken night at Johnson’s RV Park Restaurant (super good food and huge family-style portions).

Ahhhh the beauty of this place is overwhelming

Ahhhh the beauty of this place is overwhelming

Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton National Park, the Canadian side of Glacier

Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton National Park, the Canadian side of Glacier

The boys checkin' stuff out at Logan Pass

The boys checkin’ stuff out at Logan Pass

 

 

 

  • Granny Adams

    fantastic post!