Watching Wildlife at National Parks

The further we become separated from the pristine wilderness and beauty, the more pleasure does the mind of enlightened man feel in recurring those senses.

George Catlin

In addition to the details of wildlife viewing in the National Parks today, we want to provide you with some important background history that will help you better appreciate everything you are about to see on your journey.

A Brief History

The United States Congress established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. The world’s first national park was born.

During turn of the 20th century, Americans were calling out for the protection of the pristine wilderness and wildlife that abounded in the land of opportunity. With Congress taking the initiative in 1872 to establish Yellowstone as America’s first National Park, more people were getting behind the movement of protecting land for the “enjoyment and wonderment of people.”

Painting from Thomas Moran, known for his contributions to the American conservation movement, illustrating the unique springs located in Yellowstone.

Following the establishment of this park, tourists started to pour in to behold the hot springs, geysers, waterfalls, and wildlife that made Yellowstone a special place on this planet. Businesses, governments, and peoples started to realize they could not only preserve the land, but they could also profit from it after establishing the park boundaries. Yellowstone was an important precedent in the natural progression of park establishment in the United States. People realized if they weren’t careful, they could decimate wildlife populations and disrupt delicate ecosystems that could result in extinction and dire living circumstances.

To this day, park rangers regularly help visitors recreate while minimizing their impact to the ecosystems of National Parks.

Unfortunately, some species, like the Carolina parakeet or the passenger pigeon, were not able to recover from the Western sprawl that so feverishly took place in the United States. The American bison, so typically cited as an example of this sprawl in action, was essentially gone in the wild by the 20th century. But, one herd remained, in none other than Yellowstone National Park. The park rangers took it upon themselves to prevent all poaching in hopes to sustain the species.

Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright, shown here with future president Herbert Hoover in 1928, was involved in the creation of the National Park Service. Later, as agency’s director, he greatly increased the number of parks east of the Mississippi and helped preserve historic sites.

This kind of selfless act gave birth to the conservation movement, heralded by President Theodore Roosevelt. After spending time in what would become the Badlands National Park, the president decided it was important for the American people to not only be able to visit these parks, but to also understand the flora and fauna that existed therein. He saw, firsthand, the disappearance of species as humans slowly moved into the Dakota regions. He knew he wanted to act before any more habitat was destroyed.

Heading to Washington, he took his studies, his observations, and his research, and expanded a number of forest reserves, wildlife preserves, and national parks. Eventually, the National Park system, comprised of hundreds of park s scattered throughout the country, embodying forests, mountains, seashores, oceans, rivers, prairies, and other features, came to be. Once the park battle was complete and the lines were drawn, a lesser-known battle raged on – one that concerned animals.

Understanding American Wildlife

Those first visitors to Yellowstone National Park came for the geology and the scenery. However, it is fabled that they stayed for the wildlife. After noticing the herds of bison slowly depleting in the park, the park management team took some actions to stop poaching. In many cases, park rangers endangered themselves o ensure that the species could not be accessed by poachers. While they worked out the kinks in their system, trying to maneuver around a “ranch-like” process to keep the wild game safe, these park rangers also had to deal with the wild animals that poached on the bison, like mountain lions, coyotes, and wolves. Park biologists tried to intervene and tell Washington rules had to be enacted to prevent the hunting and poaching. As we mentioned above, for some species, it was too late.

While park rangers worked to familiarize themselves with hundreds of thousands of years of wildlife management, they made another grave mistake – they staged bear-feeing events for tourist tickets. Staging these events helped the parks raise money from attendees so they could better protect the boundaries. But, bears with no fear of humans caused a dangerous situation, with many of them clogging roads to go beg next to cars. The Park Service enforced laws prohibiting the feeding of the wildlife.

In the early days of National Park Service management in Yellowstone, bears would be fed at at garbage dumps. Today, bears in the park are wild.

These laws marked the first instance of enacting rules and regulations regarding wildlife viewing in the United States. From these actions, the splendor and enchantment of spotting a wild animal from a distance in National Parks came to be.

In the mid 20th century, the war for the environment roared on, with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act being enacted. These laws worked together to enhance the wildlife management policies to fewer and fewer animals had to be lost at the expense of human negligence.

Simultaneously, the Wildlife Management Report in National Parks was released in 1963, stressing the importance of not only defending big game, but also defending the smaller, lesser known species. This report still guides wildlife management in the parks today.

What’s the most important concept to take away from that report? It’s that if possible, try and minimize all disturbance in natural habitats when in the park. Meaning, stay on foot trails, respect the signs, and to those reading this today, make sure your selfies aren’t in pristine wilderness.

Today, that’s exactly what every park in the United States will ask you to do. By entering a National Park, you are agreeing to these rules of non-disturbance and interference. The parks are supposed to provide you with clearly marked paths and usable areas. For all of the other areas, special permits need to be filed with the local government. With the Parks System over 104-years old today, this cherished American institution places emphasis on native species, natural conditions, and natural processes (yes, this means that some species will kill/eat other species).

Our National Parks do more than just provide visitors with access to the awe and wonder of our planet; they are also protective entities that are home to more than 270 threatened and endangered species. Additionally, our parks are home to more than ¼ of all species throughout the entire United States.

And, if it weren’t for these systems, that endangered species figure would be much, much higher. In fact, nearly half of them would be extinct.

Wildlife Watching 101

Now it’s time to dive into the actual art of wildlife viewing. Humans have been watching animals since our first time on the planet. It’s an art form that connects us to nature, allowing us to observe all that Mother Nature is capable of producing. There is no better place in the entire world to wildlife view than in our National Parks.

National Parks are a great place to look at animals for a number of reasons:

  • The parks are open to all which means anyone can enjoy the viewing.
  • The animals are generally more tolerant of people.
  • The habitats are natural, which means you are seeing these animals where they actually live and belong.

It is hard to estimate how many people go to these parks to view wildlife. It has been surmised somewhere near 88% of visitors to Grand Teton National Park, 76% of visitors to Voyageurs National Park, and 71% of visitors to the Everglades National Park were there to see animals, according to data from the University of Idaho Visitor Services Project. This same survey found that wildlife viewing ranked as nearly the #1 reason why billions of people will make their descent onto an American National Park.

One of the “fun” or challenging elements of wildlife viewing is that you will never see everything in the parks. Remember there are 4,847 vertebrate species in the national parks, as well as 3,988 in the contiguous 48 states. And, keep in mind, scientists admit this is only a fraction of how many species actually roam these parks – that we have yet to discover.

With so many species, so much mystery, and a safe environment from which you can view wildlife, the National Parks are assuredly calling your name.

Why should you view wildlife?

You’ve already expressed interest in familiarizing yourself with the great outdoors by picking up this guide. But, just in case you need a final push to get out there and enjoy the wildlife outside your doors, here are a few reasons why we believe every person should make it a point in their life:

  • You Will Be Healthier: Countless studies have confirmed spending just 20 minutes outside makes people happier, both physically and mentally. That means simply being outside and watching animals roam near by can raise your spirits and reenergize your body.
  • You Will Understand Nature Better: When one has a personal understanding and experience of nature, they can better advocate for the environment and share their awareness with people around them. There is something about seeing these animals up-close-and-personal to really understand their importance in our world.
  • It’s Something Everyone Can Do: Whether you want your kids to spend less time on their phones, or you want to move and exercise more, going outside and looking at wildlife is an all-consuming activity that will keep even the most agitated of children captivated. There is entertainment beyond our mobile devices, and it’s available for you in the National Parks system.

In the following section, we are going to cover some safety groundwork to ensure you are protecting yourself and your family while pursuing animals in America today. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Staying Safe Near Wildlife

Animals are wild, non-domesticated creatures that respond based on instinct. If they feel like you present a threat to them or their baby, they will attack. It’s not an attack out of pleasure or confusion – it’s an attract to protect themselves and their tribes, herds, packs, etc. That’s why you need to view wildlife responsibly. Far too many people have been injured, or killed, by viewing wildlife without any proper understanding of where to go or what to do. We want to clear that up for you.

Look Up the Park’s Guidelines

Different parks will come with different rules based on the animals contained therein. For example, the Everglades will have specific rules related to alligators, whereas Yellowstone will have rules about moose, Grizzly bears, and falling into geysers (by accident). Therefore, we recommend the rule of ‘know before you go.’ Before you arrive at your park, simply look at their website and view any animal hazards or suggestions. If you plan to camp, you will want to check over leaving food outside, etc.

Pay Attention to the Road

It is actually quite common for car pileups and accidents to occur in parks today. That’s because the driver will catch themselves looking off into the distance at the elk beneath the Rocky Mountains, only to forget they are driving a car. If you are traveling with someone else, take turns switching off driving. Whoever is driving needs to pay attention to the speed limits, as well as any animal jams in the road. Should you come upon wildlife in the road, do NOT honk your horn. You will stress them out and cause them to act irrationally. Go slow and keep your eyes on the road.

Keep Your Distance

Although we all want that perfect picture for Instagram or Facebook, it’s important to realize you could be jeopardizing your life. The best way to stay safe around animals is to maintain a distance of at least 25 yards. If you are dealing with predators, like wolves or bears, maintaining a distance of at least 100 yards is to your benefit. However, if you stick to marked trails and overlook points inside the park, you should not find yourself dealing with this kind of scenario. Consider bringing binoculars if you want to be able to see the animal details up close.

Do Not Disturb Wildlife

If you see an animal sleeping or a baby separated from its mother, do not further disturb the animal. It’s the law. It is illegal to feed, touch, tease, frighten, or disrupt the wildlife while you are in these parks. Plus, if you surprise or scare an animal, they are much more likely to attack you out of defense. Stay on the trails to ensure you are not accidentally surprising any animals.

Store Your Food

Animals have much more sensitivity to smells than we do. If you have a half-eaten cookie in your pocket, they can smell that from 100 yards away. Naturally, they are going to try and figure out where that smell is coming from. Try and eat your meals at designated areas and stash your trash. Do not bring opened food with you out on the trail. If you are camping, you must seal your food in a plastic bag and place it in your vehicle. Grizzlies will come looking for it in the night.

Tell a Ranger

If you see an animal that looks sick, rabid, scared, confused, or abused, please tell a park ranger immediately. They need to be made aware of animals that may be dying and more likely to approach you. If you notice an animal, in broad daylight, walking up to cars in a parking lot, close your door and lock it. They could have rabies.

Put the Phone Down

We have all heard of the horror stories in Yellowstone National Park when tourists back into geysers on their phones and end up dying. Although capturing the moments on your phone is perfectly fine, be sure to put it back in your pocket when you are walking. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all time, as well as aware of where you stepping. You could accidently crush a bird’s nest or kill a baby animal. It is best to be as aware as possible.

Look But Don’t Touch

Even if you find yourself face to face with a cordial animal, like a duck or bunny, please refrain from touching them. They could be carrying a disease if they are that comfortable coming up to you, or they could have their sense of danger altered by having you touch and hold them. You need to keep their habitat as uninterrupted as possible, even if they animal appears to be friendly.

Follow Your Instincts

As humans, we have animalistic instincts, too. That’s why if you are feeling a pang of intuition to move, leave, or say something, then do it. Your instincts are your best way of staying safe if you find yourself in a question animal scenario. That’s why it’s especially important to put the phone down. Staring into your phone will create a barrier between you and the environment.

Be Responsible

Lastly, just be responsible. There is no reason why wildlife viewing needs to be dangerous. If you are responsible, aware of your surroundings, and you follow all labeled rules for the park you are in, there should be no problems. Remember that you are now in the animal’s home, not the other way around. Respect them and their way of life. They will show you respect in return.

The Canyon Quest Road Trip

The Canyon Quest road trip will take you across Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where you will visit the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Glen Canyon!

If you are looking for a retreat from Spring through Fall, this road trip can be the perfect itinerary. Although the trip traditionally takes about two weeks to complete, we recommend more time if you want to camp and hike in every park. If you’re flying in, we recommend booking flights through Las Vegas in Nevada, Salt Lake City in Utah, or Phoenix in Arizona.

Grand Canyon National Park

If you have not heard about this National park, then you might well have been living under a rock. The Grand Canyon National Park is the most iconic natural treasures of the United States.

The Grand Canyon is widely admired for the extensive range of colorful rocks that vary in shape, size and depth. The lookout points across the park provide you with stellar views. We recommend hiking on your own or joining a ranger-led tour, which will often detail the full natural history of the Canyon.

Zion National Park

Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon. Zion’s unique array of plants and animals will enchant you as you absorb the rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos, yes you read that correctly, are what make this national park a site to see. The national park is home to the largest cluster of hoodoos or more descriptively, irregular columns of rock, that are situated across the high plateau of the Grand Staircase. During your visit, explore one of the countless trails that exist in the park to discover the true beauty of the location. Like the Grand Canyon National Park, you can take part in ranger programs and camp in the outdoors. You can also take guided horseback rides or book ahead for a private horsing experience within the park.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is famous for its renowned orchards that stem over 2,000 trees including apricots, cherries, apples, peaches, mulberries, pears, walnuts, and almonds.

This park provides you with the unique experience of harvesting fruit. The staff at the park thoroughly maintain the large variety of orchard trees using traditional farming practices so that you can have the ideal fruit picking session during your visit. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the park so you can help preserve the orchards in the same manner they have been for decades.

Arches National Park

This park boasts vivid, abstract, and contrasting landscapes with formations that include massive balanced rocks and colossal fins. The most recognizable features of this park are stone arches that have been photographed countless times during the edge of dawn and dusk.

Canyonlands National Park

Although we have been discussing about the many daytime activities and places to go, the Canyonlands National Park has something for you during the night: stargazing. Canyonlands has preserved the night sky by keeping the light pollution levels low and the great air quality ensures that the stars are vibrantly on display during the night.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon has many sights, but perhaps the most iconic is Horseshoe Bend. Below the rim, the Colorado River makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. On its long downward journey to the sea, the river meandered, sometimes making wide bends, but always seeking the path of least resistance. Over 5 million years the unique twists of Glen Canyon are poignantly summarized by photos of Horseshoe Bend.

The Grand Circle Road Trip can be enjoyed throughout the year. Ideally, it is better to experience these parks during Spring or Fall. The summertime heat may be overwhelming, especially when you are doing physically straining activities such as hiking. Springtime also provides you with the opportunity to harvest certain fruits, such as apricots and cherries, in Capitol Reef National Park.

Skyline and Seashore Road Trip

The Skyline and Seashore Road Trip spans several National Parks Service sites including Shenandoah National Park, Assateague Island National Seashore, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and others.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most protected areas in the eastern parts of the United States and there is no doubt why. This park is abundant with plant and animal life of several different kinds and the serenity of its ancient mountains will leave you dumb founded. This national park was established in 1934 and now, it receives more than 9 million visitors annually. If you find yourself in this park, do not forget to venture out into its abyss, as hiking is one of the most fun and common activities to do there all year long. The most common hiking spots include the Alum Cave Bluffs, Rainbow Falls, Charlies Bunion, Andrews Bald and Chimney Tops. However, always remember to carry the appropriate bear pepper spray with you as the park does have wild bears that have unpredictable behavioural patterns.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most visited areas in America’s National Park System due to the stunning views of the southern Appalachian Mountains that the drive through it provides. The northernmost part of the Parkway starts where the Shenandoah National Park ends. Most of the Parkway in Virginia goes through Jefferson and George Washington National Forests. The scenes across the Virginia part of the Parkway additionally incorporate excellent rolling fields with both olden agrarian sites and of those sites that are still active. The reproduced mountain ranches toward the start of the Parkway gives a brief look at conventional early American establishments. Aside the trip down memory lane, the Parkway also boasts a range of other activities such as bicycling, eco-tourism, fishing, camping, and hiking. Also, to avoid missing out on the blossoming of the flora in the Parkway, it is best to visit the Parkway during summer or early fall.

Shenandoah National Park

If you find yourself reminiscing the rarity of the Appalachian Mountains, you have found yourself in the right place. The Shenandoah National Park lies in an irresistible part of the Blue Ridge Mountain, covered with stunning wildlife and charming flora that will never cease to amaze you at every step of the way. Just like most other National Parks in the country, this park is also known for the hiking adventures that visitors embark on. For those looking to take a relaxing swim during the magnificent sunrise, you will be pleased to know that the Shenandoah River flows through the valley to the west, eclipsed by the Massanutten Mountains.

National Mall

For more than 200 years, the National Mall has symbolized our nation and its democratic values, which have inspired the world. The National Mall – the great swath of green in the middle of our capital city and stretching from the foot of the United States Capitol to the Potomac River – is the premiere civic and symbolic space in our nation. National Mall and Memorial Parks protects the National Mall and its iconic monuments and memorials and over 1,000 acres of greenspace in Washington, D.C.. Come to visit the National Mall and stay to explore all that National Mall and Memorial Parks has to offer.

Assateague Island National Seashore

When visiting the island, there is a high probability you are going to run into a group of wild horses that have learned to live synonymously with their vast surroundings. Other than just admiring the sheer beauty of these horses, you can also ride them in the Over Sand Vehicle (OSV) Zone. This 48,000-acre island situated off the coast of Maryland and Virginia is also ideal for camping, hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, shell fishing, swimming, surfing and yes, shell collecting. Setting aside these traditional activities, you can also get a permit to ride your vehicle in the OSV Zone for a fun and adventurous road trip experience.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Like the Assateague Island National Seashore, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers breathtaking beach experiences for you and your family. If you are up for an adventure, you can set up camp along the beaches and enjoy the unlimited fun that the beach life provides, from going swimming and fishing to getting the perfect summer tan. Watch out for the wildlife on the island because you may just find yourself sunbathing with a seal by your side. Apart from your blubbery friends, the island is also a common visiting spot for sea turtles during the summer as the adult females look to lay their eggs in the sand, thereby make sure you keep a respectable distance and keep the beaches clean!

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach, a city and vacation resort on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast, is the hub of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile string of beaches. It’s also known for its celebrity-designed golf courses. Along its beachfront boardwalk are arcades, souvenir stands and restaurants, as well as the old-fashioned Family Kingdom amusement park and the SkyWheel, one of the country’s tallest Ferris wheels.

Congaree National Park

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Now that we have glanced through what is in store for you when you seek to take part in this amazing road trip, you may be wondering about the when and how?

The best time to enjoy this road trip is during the late spring, summer, and early autumn seasons due to the fact the nature is more alive during this time as the flowers are blossoming and the wildlife is active. This time of year is also ideal for any beach related activity because lets just admit it, nobody enjoys the beach when it is cold outside. You can enjoy the trip in any way you want and therefore the amount of days it takes to complete is completely up to you. Realistically, you can enjoy the experience in a week or two, but it will surely take longer if you are really looking to explore and venture out more.

There is always something for everyone in the great outdoors and if this trip sounds like something you want to do with the ones you love, use the self-guided route at the US-Parks website to help you plan your trip.

Getting to Glacier National Park by Train, Plane, Car and Foot

By train

If you have the extra time and want to see more of the country, the train is a good option for traveling to Glacier National Park. Since much of the early development of the park was led by the Great Northern Rail company, the railroad is an integrated part of the park’s history (and vice versa). Amtrak‘s Empire Builder train service runs from Seattle and Portland through northern Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to Chicago. The Empire Builder westbound train arrives in the evening while the eastbound train arrives in the morning daily at the three stations serving the park. Travellers should arrange accommodations or waiting time accordingly.

  • West Glacier Park Station (Amtrak station code: WGL) – This historic railroad depot has a small historical museum but no ticketing office or automated ticketing machines. Hwy 2 and Going-to-the-Sun Rd., West Glacier, Montana
  • East Glacier Park Station (Amtrak station code: GPK) – This station is open from May 1 through October 1.400 Highway 49 North, East Glacier Park. (After October 1 and prior to May 1, Amtrak trains stop at Browning instead of Glacier Park. Browning is not a staffed station.)

Buses can take you inside the park from West and East Glacier Park:

  • Red Bus Tours, ☏ +1-855-733-4522. It offers a shuttle between West Glacier, Village Inn at Apgar and Lake McDonald Lodge. Reservations are required due to limited space. The fare is $6 between the Amtrak station and the Village Inn and $10 between the Amtrak station and Lake McDonald Lodge. 
  • Glacier Park Inc., ☏ +1 406-892-2525 (U.S.), +1 403-236-3400 (Canada). Offers shuttle buses between Glacier Park Lodge near the East Glacier Park Amtrak station to Two Medicine, Cut Bank Creek, Saint Mary Lodge, Saint Mary Visitor Center, Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Chief Mountain Customs and Prince of Wales Hotel. Fees vary from $15 to $75 depending on how far you want to travel. The fee to enter the park is not included in the bus fee; you’ll need to pay extra to enter the park. You will need to make a reservation if you want the bus to drop and pick you up at Saint Mary Visitor Center. The bus to Cut Bank Creek stops 5 miles away from the campgrounds and trailhead on route 89 and Cut Bank Creek Road. You will need to hike the 5 miles to Cut Bank. 

In addition, trains will stop at the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex Station, by request. The train does not wait longer than 10 minutes, therefore passengers should be ready to board immediately upon the trains arrival.

The train ride from Seattle and Portland is overnight and arrives in Glacier National Park in the morning; the train from Chicago arrives in the evening. The seats’ ample legroom and lack of seat belts make them far superior to their airplane counterparts, and in combination with the train’s Sightseer Lounge Car and reasonably-priced dining car contribute to a relatively comfortable journey.

A full-service Amtrak terminal (and one of their busiest) is available at Whitefish, west of West Glacier, and north of Kalispell. The station at East Glacier is also staffed May 1-October 1.

By plane

Visitors to the park may fly to Glacier Park International Airport near Kalispell, Montana (FCA IATA) (25 mi/40 km from West Glacier). It’s possible to rent cars at the airport or take a shuttle (inquire first before making reservation to a particular airport if you do not wish to drive). Also, the destination of Missoula, Montana (MSO IATA) is possible, though an additional 120 miles (190 km) must be driven. If you live near Los Angeles, San Francisco or Phoenix, there are non-stop flights to Missoula, so, unlike Kalispell, you won’t have to connect.

At Glacier Park Airport, U.S. Airlines and their connection cities include Allegiant Air (Las Vegas); Delta Air Lines (Atlanta (seasonal), Minneapolis, Salt Lake City); United Airlines (Chicago, and San Francisco—summer weekends only and Denver); and American Airlines/Alaska Airlines via Horizon Airlines (Seattle).

Those already residing in the Inland Northwest have very few options besides driving or taking Amtrak. Airline service from Spokane (the largest city in the region) to Calgary and Kalispell has been suspended. To fly, you must go through Seattle on Horizon air, then on to Kalispell, It’s quite costly (relative to the direct distance) to backtrack like that.

Alberta Canada has Calgary International Airport (YYC IATA), 4½ hours north of Glacier National Park. YYC offer nonstop seasonal and year-round flights from Europe (Amsterdam, Glasgow, Frankfurt, London, Manchester, Munich, Paris, Zurich), Asia (Tokyo & Seoul) with Air Transat, British Airways, Air Canada and the major USA carriers. Car rentals are available or a one way airport “charter” van shuttle service with Airport Shuttle Express of Calgary to Glacier National Park, MT and Calgary, Banff or Lake Louise. If needed, be sure you have a multiple-entry visa for Canada (if flying out from there), and a U.S. visa as well.

By car

From the east: Take I-90 freeway to about 8 miles west of Missoula, then exit at US Hwy 93 north (Exit #96). In Kalispell, turn right at US Hwy 2 East (Idaho St.) From there it’s 32 miles to the West Glacier entrance. Or, if you’re approaching from North Dakota on US 2, it’s a straight shot to Glacier Park. Heading west on I-94 across North Dakota, the shortest route to Glacier is exiting at Glendive to Montana Highway 200s to Circle, then north on Montana 13 to east of Wolf Point, then west on Montana 25 to Wolf Point, then US 2 to Glacier Park.

If coming from the south (Great Falls) or East (Havre) and your destination first is Waterton Lakes National Park, the fastest way is taking US 2 to Cut Bank, and then going north on Montana secondary 213 to Del Bonita, where it becomes Alberta Highway 62. At the “town” of Del Bonita, Alberta (2 miles from the border) turn west on Alberta secondary 501 and go to Cardston, and then directly to Waterton Lakes on Alberta Highway 5. This is significantly faster than US 2/89 via Browning.

For East Glacier there are various routes including the I-15 Fwy (see From the South below). However, from the freeways, East Glacier via West Glacier is about the same time and distance. The best route for those wanting to avoid Montana’s freeways and save over 250 miles is to follow I-94 just inside Montana from North Dakota and exit #211. State Hwy 200S becomes 200 (no turns) and later becomes shared with US Hwy 87. On the west side of Great Falls where the highway merges into the freeway, take I-15 North for 12 miles and Exit #290 in Vaughn. On US Hwy 89 go 105 miles to Browning in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. At the museum, turn left and take US Hwy 2 into East Glacier. (If using I-90 you can join this route via Billings. Follow State Hwy 3 at Exit #450, which is later shared with US 12 & 191. Turn left at the end of the highway at “Eddies Corner” and follow as above going to Great Falls.)

Don’t underestimate the huge size of the state of Montana (550 mi/880 km wide). Glacier Park is closer to Seattle than it is to far eastern Montana.

From the west: Take I-90 freeway to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (Exit #12, turn left) on to US Hwy 95. Where US Hwy 2 and 95 split north of Bonners Ferry, turn right to get US Hwy 2. From there, it’s 167 miles to the West Glacier entrance. Don’t forget to set clocks an hour ahead when entering Montana.

A slightly more ambitious (though fully paved) short cut is to stay on the I-90 freeway up to St. Regis, Montana (Exit #33). Then turn left on State Hwy 135 and go 21.6 miles, left on State Hwy 200 for 8.3 miles, right on State Hwy 28 for 46.7 miles, and left on US Hwy 93 in Elmo on Flathead Lake. In Kalispell, turn right at US Hwy 2 East (Idaho St.) This is a very scenic route along the Clark Fork River and Flathead Lake (which both contain all the waters of Glacier Park west of the Continental Divide) with farmlands in between. However, gas (petrol) and other services are limited between the freeway and Elmo.

Using Hwy 200 east from Sandpoint, Idaho is not recommended, as all north-south connections with US Hwy 2 in between Libby and Kalispell are not paved! There’s just no quick and easy way to get through the Cabinet Mountains beyond 15–20 miles from the Idaho border.

From the north (Canada): If first visiting Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, take Canada Hwy 2 south to the junction of the Crowsnest Hwy 3. Then go west (towards BC) 43 km and turn left at Pincher Station on Canada Hwy 6 for another 50 km. Turn right at the junction of Hwy 5 to enter the park. Upon leaving to get to Glacier, make two right turns just after exiting the park, and follow Canada Hwy 6 for 22 km to the U.S. border. This becomes State Hwy 17; turn right in 23 km onto US Hwy 89. The first park entrance is Many Glacier in 7 km (just after Babb).

The international border is closed overnight between Waterton and Glacier, so via Cardston is only way in (see below). Bring US/Canadian passport, passport card or enhanced driver’s license. If bypassing Waterton, take Canada Hwy 2 south to Cardston and cross the U.S. border. This becomes US Hwy 89. The first park entrance is Many Glacier 17 km from the border.

From the south: Take freeway I-15 North to Shelby, Montana (Exit #363) and turn left onto US Hwy 2. From there it’s 70 miles to East Glacier. A short cut would be to exit I-15 in Vaughn, Montana (Exit #290) and take US Hwy 89 to Browning in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. At the museum, turn left and take US Hwy 2 to East Glacier.

For West Glacier, transfer to I-90 West from I-15 (Exit #121) just before Butte, Montana and see From the East above.

By foot

The Continental Divide Trail, a 3,100-mile United States National Scenic Trail, has its northern trailhead in Swiftcurrent Campground, accessible by car from Babb on Glacier Route Three. An alternate route starts from the Apikuni Trailhead, also along Glacier Route Three. This trail exits the park at Marias Pass to the south and runs south along the Continental Divide to Mexico.

Basic Facts about Glacier National Park


Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada — the two parks are known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, and were designated as the world’s first International Peace Park in 1932. The parks were designated by the United Nations as Biosphere Reserves in 1976, and in 1995 as World Heritage sites.


Glacier National Park is a stunning display of the geological processes that changed North America over the last billion years. The rock formations in the park are almost entirely sedimentary, laid down between 1600 to 800 million years ago when this area was an inland sea. They were uplifted during the formation of the Rockies beginning around 170 million years ago, and today contain some of the best Proterozoic fossils in the world. The mountains were carved into their present form by the advance and retreat of glaciers during the last ice age, and the park, as its name suggests, contains an abundance of glacial features, including lakes, valleys, and remnant glaciers (although these have diminished significantly in the last century).