Water originating in Glacier National Park—much of it from snowmelt—can be considered the headwater of the continent. Water that runs down Triple Divide Peak flows in three directions, eventually winding up in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay. Glacier National Park is where everything bright and strong and never tamed comes together on high: wolves, white-tailed ptarmigan, storms that hit the Great Divide like tsunamis with golden eagles surfing the wind waves, twisted trees 200 years old but scarcely tall enough to hide a bighorn sheep, impatient wildflowers shoving through snow to unfurl their colours, alpine glow on ancient ice, and great silver-tipped bears.
The Montana refuge, established on May 11, 1910, is part of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park—1,800 square miles of what naturalist John Muir called “the best care-killing scenery on the continent.” Multihued summits—hittled by ancient glaciers into walls and horns—rise abruptly from gently rolling plains. Some 762 lakes, dozens of glaciers, and innumerable waterfalls glisten in forested valleys. A scenic highway crosses the park, making much of its beauty accessible to the casual visitor. More than 700 miles of trails await hikers and horseback riders. In 1932 Canada and the United States declared Waterton Lakes National Park (founded in 1895) and neighbouring Glacier National Park (founded in 1910) the world’s first International Peace Park. While administered separately, the park’s two sections cooperate in wildlife management, scientific research, and some visitor services.
The tremendous range of topography in Waterton-Glacier supports a rich variety of plants and wildlife. Almost 2,000 plant species provide food and haven for more than 60 native species of mammals and 260 species of birds. In the 1980s the grey wolf settled into Glacier for the first time since the 1950s. But now strip-mining and oil, gas, housing, and logging projects proposed or underway near the park’s respective borders endanger the habitats of both water and land animals, including elk, bighorn sheep, and the threatened grizzly. Park officials and conservation groups are working with the U.S. Forest Service, the Canadian government, the Blackfeet Tribe, and private companies to try to protect critical habitats. Sheltered valleys and bountiful food have lured people here for nearly 10,000 years. Ancient cultures tracked bison across the plains, fished the lakes, and traversed the mountain passes. The Blackfeet controlled this land during the 18th and much of the 19th centuries. Credit: National Geographic Society.