The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is an enormous chunk of wilderness that straddles the border between north-western Montana and Alberta, Canada. The American section (Glacier National Park) weighs in at over 1,000,000 acres, and the Canadian section (Waterton Lakes National Park) at 130,000 acres. The park is surrounded on all sides by national forests that dwarf it's own considerable area: the Flathead (no Zork jokes please) Provincial Forest and Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park in British Columbia, the Bow-Crow Provincial Forest in Alberta, and the Flathead National Forest, the Lewis and Clark National Forest, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. The Continental Divide runs straight through the middle of the park; in fact, the Hudson Bay Divide also meets up with the Continental Divide here as well, at Triple Divide Peak.

Created in 1932, Waterton-Glacier was the first international peace park in the world. It represents goodwill between the US and Canada, as well as "a need for cooperation and stewardship in a world of shared resources." Steward L. Udall, US Secretary of the Interior under JFK and LBJ, said of the IPP:

"The unheralded line that separates Canada and the United States is the longest unfortified border in the world today, and perhaps in all of history. It says to mankind: Let not the cartographers rule; elevate nature and human friendship."
However, a 20-foot-wide swath has been maintained on the border since the inception of the park, amid considerable protest. At one point the swath was maintained with herbicide, although it is now cut by hand. The International Peace Park Association (IPPA) has been urging both nations since 1995 to allow the swath to regrow, both for ecological reasons and to keep with the spirit of goodwill that the park represents.

Simply put, the scenery is stunningly beautiful. The landscape is deceptively majestic; unlike other parks of comparable size (Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, the Badlands, etc), Waterton-Glacier has no instantly recognizable landmark or terrain features. Instead, it is populated with sheer gobs of generic pristine mountains, generic pristine lakes, generic pristine forests, and generic pristine gorges. Plentiful vistas provide far too much scenery to take in at once, or capture with a photograph. One could sit for an hour at each overlook, just staring at all the natural beauty around. A word of advice for anyone visiting Waterton-Glacier: take all the hikes you can fit into your schedule. It's worth it, trust me. And wear bear bells. Waterton-Glacier is home to grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, mountain lions, wolverines, mountain goats, elk, moose, bald eagles, golden eagles... aw heck, just lots of wildlife, ok? They are everywhere, as if they own the place. Wait... they do own the place. It's nature, remember?

The main attaction of the park is Going to the Sun Road, which already has two great nodes that gush about it better than I could. I visited Waterton-Glacier when I was almost 13, on a road trip with my family. We did not visit the Canadian part of the park, so I can't say anything first-hand about it. We drove most of Going to the Sun Road in our old minivan. I was humbled, to say the least. While we were on a boardwalk nature trail later on, we saw a park ranger sprinting back to the trailhead. And I mean absolutely sprinting, full 100 yard dash speed. It's not often you see someone running full tilt and not racing someone, which is why I rememeber so clearly. We didn't know what was going on at the time, but we read about it in the paper days later, on our way down through Idaho. Turns out a family had lost control of their car, and went careening off the side of the road. Realize, of course, that this means the car must tumble over 1000 feet into the gorge. Luckily none of them were killed, although the parents were badly injured and only escaped the car after it had fallen 100 feet. Ironically enough, the children were not wearing seatbelts, which enabled them to jump out of the car without injury. I remember this disturbed me greatly at the time, since I always wear my seatbelt.

Of all the parks and landmarks we visited on our trip (Niagara Falls, Upper Penninsula, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Grand Canyon, Arches, the Mississippi River, and some waterfall place in northern PA), I think I liked Waterton-Glacier best (ok, I loved Arches almost as much) because it was the most pristine. There were relatively few visitors, and we all felt like we were in on a secret. I would highly reccommend it to any nature lover, and I'm definitely going back myself sometime. It's the kind of place that can make you optimistic in a time when there's so much to be sad about in the world.

Much more info where that came from:

Big 'ole map:

Thanks to Gorgonzola for correcting my misinformation about the width of the border swath. He also points out that the swath is "required by the 1925 treaty that defined the border."

back to: U.S. National Parks and Monuments

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