Mental Floss
TRAVEL

11 Facts About Glacier National Park

By Megan Snyder
Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park
Grinnell Lake in Glacier National Park / HaizhanZheng/iStock via Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

Glacier National Park, established May 11, 1910, boasts over a million acres of America’s most awe-inspiring wilderness. More than 3 million people visited its snow-covered peaks in 2021, making Glacier the 27th-most-visited park in the national park system. So what exactly makes the place so alluring? It could be the turquoise lakes, the mountains, or maybe the unprecedented wildlife biodiversity. Here are a few reasons why people continue to visit this jewel in Montana.

1. Glacier National Park is part of the world's first international peace park.

Glacier National Park and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park were established as the first international peace park in 1932. After early management agreed that the upper Waterton Valley shouldn’t be divided between the U.S. and Canada, the two parks joined together as a symbol of goodwill, with both sides working with each other to preserve this wilderness. Every year since, Rotarians have performed an annual symbolic ritual where they shake hands at the border and "pledge not to take up arms against each other."

2. The local wildlife has hardly changed since the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The wildlife is one of the reasons that Glacier earned a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1995. Because of its acreage and early protection efforts, the park has maintained nearly all of its original animal species present before Europeans visited the area. The only mammals that no longer roam this part of Montana are woodland caribou and bison.

3. Glacier National Park is called the "crown of the continent."

Given the diversity of flora and fauna across the park, it should come as no surprise that Glacier National Park is often called the “crown of the continent.” Naturalist and historian George Bird Grinnell [PDF], who led the efforts to establish Glacier National Park, coined this name in the early 20th century.

4. Mountain goats are an important part of Glacier National Park's identity.

Mountain goat adult and juvenile eating wildflowers
Mountain goats in Glacier National Park / Zeiss4Me/iStock via Getty Images

Mountain goats are among the park’s most famous residents. These hardy animals are so prevalent that they are Glacier’s official symbol. One of the best places to spot the agile animals is at the Goat Lick Overlook, a mineral lick located in the southern part of the park.

5. The park's early architecture displays European flair.

After the area's designation as a national park in 1910, an increasing number of tourists made the trek to the mountains. To accommodate the crowds, the Great Northern Railway constructed a series of chalets and hotels that were designed to mimic lodges in Switzerland. These designs, combined with the use of natural materials, were dubbed “parkitecture.” Though WWII caused many of the lodgings to fall into disrepair, some of the buildings were saved and are registered as national historic landmarks.

6. One of the park's peaks supplies water to three oceans.

Triple Divide Peak has the unique distinction of sending water to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans. The Continental Divide and Northern Divide, which direct water flow to the oceans, converge at the peak’s summit. This means that any water that falls on Triple Divide Peak will flow to the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean (by way of the Gulf of Mexico), or Arctic Ocean (by way of Hudson Bay, which is sometimes considered part of the Arctic Ocean).

7. Visitors can take boat tours in vintage watercraft.

Canoes at Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park
Canoes at Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park / Yin Yang/iStock via Getty Images

Wooden boat tours have been a feature of Glacier National Park since the 1920s, and many of the original boats still cruise today. Among the oldest is the Sinopah, a 45-foot vessel that carries visitors on Two Medicine Lake; and Little Chief, a 49-passenger boat found at Saint Mary Lake.

8. Historic "red jammer" buses transport guests to scenic sights and help reduce traffic.

U.S. national parks introduced tour buses in the 1930s in an effort to reduce car traffic. While the buses were eventually phased out at other parks, Glacier continued to offer tours in the historic "red jammer" buses, so called because drivers could be heard jamming the gears going up and down the mountain passes. The refurbished fleet of 1930's buses continues to take guests to Glacier's notable sights and across the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

9. Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road is a modern engineering marvel.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park
Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park / Joe Wiggins/iStock via Getty Images

Traveling east to west, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile scenic drive through the park. The road, which was opened in 1933 with all the major structures finished in 1937, has received several distinctive honors, including being registered as a national historic place, national historic landmark, and historic civil engineering landmark. The road also appeared in the opening credits of 1980’s The Shining.

10. Glacier National Park is shaped by fire and ice.

Although the park receives an average annual snowfall of around 138 inches, Glacier has a long history of wildfires. The park recorded 64 fires in 1936 and experienced a severe fire season in 2003, when 13 percent of the park’s land burned.

11. You can cross the international border in the northern part of the park.

Located along Waterton Lake, Goat Haunt is considered the center of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Visitors wishing to cross the border into either country need to present their ID before receiving a mountain goat-shaped stamp on their passports.

This article originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.

facebooktwitterreddit