This year, Montana’s Glacier Country would like to congratulate our neighbors to the north in Canada as they celebrate their 150th birthday. Parks Canada is inviting visitors and locals to celebrate with them by offering free admission to all of their national parks and historic sites with a Discovery Pass for 2017. We’ve put together a seven day loop tour that incorporates northwest Montana along with some of these historic and iconic sites in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, making a great two nation vacation. Here are the highlights if you’d like to come along.
Day 1: NW Montana and Eureka
Fly into Glacier Park International (FCA) in Kalispell. Car rentals are available from the airport. Highway 93 passes through the charming town of Whitefish, where you can grab a quick bite at one of the local eateries on Central Ave. Next stop off Highway 93 is the quaint town of Eureka which sits on the banks of the Tobacco River. Eureka’s small-town hospitality is evident with the welcome signs and flag-lined streets. Stop in at the Tobacco Valley Historical Village—a collection of restored buildings from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Have a picnic at Riverside Park, which hosts a farmers market every Wednesday from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. in the summer months.
Day 2: British Columbia, Canada
After crossing the border into British Columbia stop in the town of Fort Steele Heritage Town. Fort Steele was an outpost for the North-West Mounted Police who came to bring law to the itinerant gold seekers from America’s wilder West. Here, over 60 buildings have been restored since the site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site in 1961. Visit the heritage tradesman and women who were essential to daily life including blacksmith, leather workers, dressmakers, tinsmiths and gold panners. See livestock demonstrations, including daily care and feeding of the Clydesdale’s that provided the horse-power back in the day.
Continue your travels north through the beautiful sprawling pasturelands of the valley with the jagged Canadian Rockies to the east eventually coming into Canal Flats. Be sure to stop at Canal Flats Overlook for a breathtaking view of the Kootenay River Valley and Columbia Lake. This lake is the originating source of the Columbia River, that eventually flows south through the Columbia River Gorge between Washington and Oregon and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon.
Stop in at one of British Columbia’s legendary attractions, Fairmont Hot Springs, Canada’s largest natural hot springs. There are accommodation options from RV to hotel lodging. Further on up the highway is the ultra-charming village of Radium Hot Springs that greets visitors with a welcome sign that reads “The Mountains Shall Bring Peace to the People.”
Overnight in Radium Hot Springs.
Day 3: Kootenay National Park/Banff National Park
The west gate of Kootenay National Park is located just outside of town. Sinclair Canyon serves as the entry into Kootenay National Park with striking cliffs of colored rocks on either side. Make sure you allow some time this morning to soak in the natural soothing waters of Radium Hot Springs while being surrounded by dramatic cliffs. And don’t worry if you forgot the towels or swimsuits, they are available for rent along with lockers.
The hiking possibilities start immediately after your soak so take your lunch, bear spray, binoculars and enjoy your day in Kootenay National Park. Don’t forget to stop at the many viewpoints that overlook the Kootenay Valley or at the Continental Divide separating the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. Leaving Kootenay National Park takes you straight into Banff National Park for an evening at Lake Louise.
Overnight in Lake Louise.
Day 4: Lake Louise/Banff
Make this an early morning for the very best views of Lake Louise before the crowds begin to form (before 9 am or after 7 pm). The Victoria Glacier on Mount Victoria forms a dramatic backdrop at the head of Lake Louise for the most photographed location in the Canadian Rockies.
Take the famed hike to Lake Agnes Tea House, open June 4 – October 10, located 3.5 km (2.1 miles) from the Lake Louise parking lot. The tea house—open since 1905—is set on the shores of Lake Agnes. Together with Mirror Lake and Lake Louise, these lakes are often called the “Lakes in the Clouds”. Choose from more than 100 varieties of teas, along with hearty homemade soup and sandwiches on freshly baked bread.
If not for an overnight, be sure to step into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to see the elegant yet relaxed atmosphere of the 552 room luxury resort. The 125-year-old resort also boasts the finest dining around. Choose from The Walliser Stube or fine dining at The Fairview or Lago Italian Kitchen, or enjoy the tradition of afternoon tea with views of Lake Louise.
Leave enough time to visit the ultra-charming town of Banff. Walk along Banff Avenue and visit boutiques, galleries, museums and eateries along with chateau-style hotels and curio shops.
Overnight in Banff.
Day 5: Waterton Lakes National Park
Today is another recommended early start and a bit of a travel day as you make your way through Alberta on Highway A1 east towards Calgary the largest city in Alberta. Stop and see the cosmopolitan city. Memorial Drive along the Bow River offers views of metropolitan activities from bikers to runners and walkers.
As you head south look for the interpretive center, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site. This archaeological site built right into the cliffs preserves the remarkable history of the Plains People. Due to the native peoples understanding of the bison behavior and regional topography they hunted bison by stampeding them off cliffs.
Continue on to Waterton Lakes National Park and part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park where Montana’s Glacier National Park and Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park meet at the border between the United States and Canada. Designated the first International Peace Park in 1932 to commemorate the bonds of peace and friendship between the two nations.
There is plenty of activity options in Waterton Lakes National Park but a “must do” is a cruise from Canada across the border into the United States on Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. Listen to experienced local guides give informative and entertaining commentary for the 2-hour cruise. July through mid-September the boat will stop at Goat Haunt—the northern gateway to the wilderness of Glacier National Park.
While there are options for your overnight stay, we recommend a room at a true historic icon, the Prince of Wales Hotel. As one of the most photographed hotels in the world, the Prince of Wales hotel sits on a bluff with stunning views of Waterton Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park.
Overnight in Waterton.
Day 6: Glacier National Park (east side)
There are two border crossings into the U.S. from Waterton Lakes National Park. The most convenient is Chief Mountain border crossing on AB 6 crossing over onto Montana Highway 17. However, it is a seasonal crossing only open May 15 – September 30, from 9 AM – 6 PM. Dates and times may vary. Several miles east utilizing AB 2 and U.S. Highway 89 is the Piegan/Carway border crossing open daily, 7AM – 11PM year-round.
Just beyond Babb is the road to Many Glacier Hotel. Stop in to visit the historic lodge that just received a multi-million dollar renovation including a restored spiral staircase. This would be a good day to combine a boat tour on Swiftcurrent Lake and a day hike to Grinnell Glacier, catching another boat back after the hike.
Stop at the St. Mary Visitor Center to gather daily information on park activities, open trails, wildlife watch areas. The east side of the park offers wonderful day hiking opportunities and interpretive boat tours on Two Medicine Lake, St. Mary Lake and Swiftcurrent Lake with Glacier Park Boat Company.
If time allows take a trip into Browning, the largest city on the 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Exhibits of cultural artifacts at the Museum of the Plains Indian are among the finest in the West. The Blackfeet Heritage Center and Art Gallery and the Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village feature traditional and contemporary arts and crafts.
Travel the park’s southern boundary along Highway 2. Visit Essex, home to the historic Izaak Walton Inn that once housed workers for the Great Northern Railroad. Visit the small town of West Glacier before heading towards the west entrance of Glacier National Park.
Overnight at Izaak Walton Inn, Lake McDonald Lodge or Belton Chalet.
Day 7: Glacier National Park (west side)
You’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic drive in the lower continental United States than the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. A wilderness of lakes, towering peaks and remnants of glaciers is readily accessible. Hop aboard a red bus tour of the 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road. The red bus drivers, known as Jammers, are your tour guides and provide information about the park’s flora and fauna, history, geology and glaciology. Another tour option is Sun Tours, which tells the perspective from the Blackfeet Indian and the emphasis Glacier National Park has had on Blackfeet Nation throughout the centuries. NOTE: The Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses a high mountain pass and due to weather is only open from the end of June to the middle of October (weather permitting). Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road is restricted for private vehicles longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet.
If time allows take a scenic boat tour on Lake McDonald or a guided horseback trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters or hike the most popular trails on the west side, Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake trail. Make a reservation at the historic Belton Chalet (built in 1910) for a gourmet dinner in the lovely dining room.
Find the full Two Nation Vacation itinerary here. For more information on where to stay throughout Western Montana, visit our tour operator website. If you need additional tour itinerary assistance, feel free to drop me a line; I’m always here to help.