Glacier-Waterton National Park

Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park (Corbis)

Though administered by separate countries and divided by the international boundary, the Glacier and Waterton parks are at the same time united in the most natural of ways. Glaciers carved the Upper Waterton Valley, which lies in both nations; the native plants and animals are similar, and the massive Rocky Mountains span the two countries. Long before European explorers and settlers began to venture into the Rockies, the peoples native to this region shared the bounties of the land and considered it one.

In the mid-18th century things began to change. The quest for furs drew trappers deep into these mountains, and boundaries were drawn, marking the domains of the great fur-trading companies of the west. Then in 1818, the 49th parallel to the Continental Divide was established as the international boundary between the territory of the United States and what was then territory owned by Great Britain, arbitrarily dividing the natural land area of today's Waterton/Glacier.

In the late 19th century, farsighted men such as Frederick William Godsal in Canada and George Bird Grinnell in the United States labored to persuade their governments to set aside parts of the Rockies as wilderness recreational havens to be preserved for future generations. Their goals were reached in 1895 when Waterton Lakes National Park was established and in 1910 when Glacier was created. As the years went by, people in both nations recognized the natural unity of the parks, and largely through the efforts of Rotary International of Alberta and Montana, the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament in 1932 established the first international peace park—Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park. The park symbolizes the bonds of peace and friendship between the people of the United States and Canada.

Through the United Nations Education and Scientific Organization's (UNESCO) Man and Biosphere Program, Waterton Lakes and Glacier national parks have been designated as Biosphere Reserves. The Man and Biosphere Program explores the relationships between people and the many ecosystems of the world. Biosphere Reserves provide for scientific research, education, and the preservation of biologic and genetic diversity.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »