Oh Canada, eh?
The forecast for today was cool (50s) and rainy, so we decided to keep busy by driving to the Canada side and checking out Waterton National Park.
Glacier and Waterton sit on either side of the US-Canada border, respectively. Together, they are a UNESCO World Heritage site and the first International Peace Park.This means that the two parks are managed jointly,the idea being that if nature doesn’t have borders, why should humans? This model has now been replicated and there are about 170 jointly-managed parks around the world.
Waterton is about a 2.5 hour drive from West Glacier, most of it a scenic route that skirts the Southern and Eastern edge of Glacier National Park, then heading north up to the border crossing at Chief Mountain, MT. Waterton straddles the Continental divide just like Glacier does. On the Continental Divide’s East side, the mountains meet the prairie with no transitional foothills, a result of the same overthrusts that pushed the older rocks over the top of younger sediments all over this area. Waterton has no glaciers left but plenty of ice packs still remain. A long, glacier-gouged through forms Waterton lake, the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies and the second-windiest place in Alberta.
We started our drive South and East on Highway 2, and we were delighted to cross the Continental divide just south of Glacier National Park at Maria’s pass – the lowest elevation Continental Divide crossing in Montana. We were excited about this because the other place we could cross the Continental Divide, at Logan pass within the Glacier park boundary, is currently closed due to a wild fire. At Maria’s pass, we stopped at a little square where a monument commemorates John. F. Stevens, the civil engineer who discovered of the route for the Great Northern railroad, and a tall obelisk stands in memory of Theodore Roosevelt, for whom the highway is named. The square overlooks the Lewis Overthrust Fault. The fault is interesting in that the top layer of rock, about 1.6 billion years old, sits on top of younger (only 80 million years old) stones. I am not going to get into the geological forces that contribute to this strange occurrence, but suffice it to say this was our first exposure to the massive mountains of rock that comprise this area.
Before turning North, we stopped at Rock’N’Roll goodness, a little bakery at East Glacier park that won us over with great coffee and our second helping of huckleberry related stuff (our first being the jam at breakfast). Huckleberries are everywhere here and road signs tantalizing you to try a huck pie, huck jam, or some other gooey goodness made of huckleberries are sprinkled as soon as you enter every little town around here. One could do a huckleberry tour around here and it would take weeks if not months to try everything.
Highway 2 took us north along the Two Medicine area, where a namesake river and lake cut into massive mountains of rock covered with ice packs. This was our very first exposure to the beauty that lies within the park boundary, and we were mesmerized.
Highway 2 continued winding north through hairpin turns until St. Mary, where another lake sprawled before us.
The rest of the drive took us through the forest up the Chief Mountain, where we crossed the border into Canada – Olivia’s first foray into the land of maple syrup. We made it into Waterton National park with barely a minute to spare before the boat tour of Waterton lake departed the dock at the townsite.
The Waterton lake boat tour is a unique experience; the lake is bisected by the US-Canada border, and it is the only unmanned border crossing between the two countries.
The tour heads south and it disembarks on the US side at Goat Haunt, where backpackers can continue on foot into Glacier after having their passports checked by a couple of Homeland Security guys. A passport check in the middle of nowhere? Yes, this makes for quite a unique sight.
We were happy the weather held up for us, as it only started raining after the boat tour disembarked back at Waterton and we were walking around the townsite. Waterton is full of little shops and restaurants, and the little town even houses some 50 year-round residents – you won’t find any settlement like this within the boundary of a US national park.
It was late afternoon already, so we headed back to our side of the park. At the border crossing, Olivia was super excited to get a bear stamp in her passport – she had watched me get a Waterton stamp in my national parks passport, and wanted something similar to commemorate her first trip to Canada. We also snapped a photo at the Waterton/Glacier park sign.
We drove another 20 or so miles past our AirBnB to the town of Whitefish, where Olivia had bookmarked a brewery for us to check out. We tried the beer flight at Great Northern brewery, and really loved the Wild Huckleberry lager (told you this stuff was in everything). In fact, we broke the bank taking home a six pack of this stuff for $8 whole dollars.
We walked around the downtown area after dinner and really liked to cute collection of restaurants and coffee shops here. We also spotted our first Starbucks and other amenities we’d been hard-pressed to find in the remote areas around Glacier. In fact, to our surprise, all the little towns around Glacier are incredibly tiny – given that this is the 10th most popular national park in the country, we wondered why that is.
At any rate, although we saw a lot today, all that driving was not easy. We’re looking forward to driving a lot less in the next couple of days and finally going into Glacier tomorrow for some some good hiking. For now, good night, eh?