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An Adventurer’s Guide to Glacier National Park, British Columbia, Canada

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Established 1886

Glacier National Park in British Columbia offers stunning landscapes, rich history, and diverse wildlife. Established in 1886, it’s a haven for adventurers seeking hiking, skiing, and breathtaking views in a pristine natural environment.


Nestled in the heart of British Columbia, Glacier National Park offers adventurers a sublime blend of rugged landscapes, pristine wilderness, and a rich tapestry of natural history. Spanning over 1,349 square kilometers, the park is a sanctuary for those seeking a genuine connection with nature, away from the trappings of modern life. Established in 1886, it is one of Canada’s oldest national parks, standing as a testament to the country’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage. The park’s name is derived from the numerous glaciers that once blanketed the region, remnants of which still adorn the park’s high peaks and valleys.

Glacier National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a myriad of activities year-round. Whether it’s hiking through ancient cedar forests, skiing down snow-capped mountains, or marveling at the star-studded skies, there’s something for everyone. The park’s diverse ecosystems support a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and marmots, making it a prime destination for wildlife viewing.

The park’s dramatic landscapes are characterized by rugged mountain ranges, deep valleys, and an array of waterfalls cascading down from glacial meltwaters. This geological wonderland is a paradise for geologists and nature lovers alike, providing a glimpse into the Earth’s dynamic processes over millions of years. With its combination of stunning natural beauty, rich history, and endless recreational opportunities, Glacier National Park in British Columbia is an adventurer’s dream destination.

Read our complete British Columbia travel and adventure guide here.

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Getting to Glacier National Park

Reaching Glacier National Park is part of the adventure, offering travelers a scenic journey through some of British Columbia’s most breathtaking landscapes. The park is accessible by car, bus, and train, each mode of transport providing a unique perspective on the region’s natural beauty.

By Car: The most common way to reach Glacier National Park is by car. The park is conveniently located along the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), which runs through the heart of the park. This makes it easily accessible from major cities such as Calgary, Alberta, and Vancouver, British Columbia. From Calgary, it’s a 4.5-hour drive west along the scenic highway, passing through Banff National Park and Yoho National Park before reaching Glacier. From Vancouver, the drive is approximately 8 hours east, taking travelers through the stunning landscapes of the Fraser Valley and the Rocky Mountains.

By Bus: Several bus companies operate routes that pass through Glacier National Park, making it accessible for those who prefer not to drive. Greyhound Canada offers services from major cities like Vancouver and Calgary to the nearby town of Revelstoke, which is about a 35-minute drive from the park’s western entrance. From Revelstoke, visitors can arrange for a taxi or shuttle service to take them directly to the park.

By Train: For a more relaxed and scenic journey, visitors can take the train to Glacier National Park. VIA Rail’s Canadian route runs between Vancouver and Toronto, stopping at the town of Golden, which is about a 45-minute drive from the park’s eastern entrance. This iconic train journey offers breathtaking views of the Canadian Rockies and the surrounding wilderness, providing a unique and memorable way to reach the park.

By Air: The nearest major airports to Glacier National Park are Calgary International Airport (YYC) and Kelowna International Airport (YLW). From either airport, visitors can rent a car and drive to the park. Calgary International Airport is approximately a 4.5-hour drive from the park, while Kelowna International Airport is about a 4-hour drive. Both airports offer car rental services and shuttle options, making it easy to reach the park from afar.

Local Transportation: Once in the park, visitors can explore its many attractions by car, bike, or on foot. The Trans-Canada Highway runs through the park, providing easy access to trailheads, campgrounds, and viewpoints. For those who prefer not to drive, the park offers shuttle services during the peak summer months, connecting key areas and trailheads.

Human History

The human history of Glacier National Park is as rich and varied as its natural landscapes. For thousands of years, the area that is now Glacier National Park was inhabited by Indigenous peoples who thrived in this rugged environment. The park’s history is a tapestry of indigenous culture, European exploration, and the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Indigenous Peoples

Long before European explorers set foot in the region, the area that is now Glacier National Park was home to various Indigenous groups, including the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) and Secwepemc (Shuswap) peoples. These groups had a deep connection to the land, relying on its resources for sustenance and cultural practices. The Ktunaxa, for example, used the park’s valleys and forests for hunting and gathering, while the Secwepemc traveled through the region on seasonal migrations. Their knowledge of the land, passed down through generations, was vital for survival in this challenging environment.

European Exploration

The arrival of European explorers in the early 19th century marked a new chapter in the history of Glacier National Park. The first recorded European to explore the region was David Thompson, a fur trader and mapmaker working for the North West Company. In 1811, Thompson traveled through the area, mapping the Columbia River and its tributaries. His explorations opened the door for further European incursions into the region.

Throughout the 19th century, the area attracted fur traders, miners, and settlers, drawn by the promise of natural resources and new opportunities. The rugged terrain and harsh climate made travel and settlement challenging, but the region’s beauty and potential continued to attract adventurous souls.

The Canadian Pacific Railway

The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the 1880s was a pivotal moment in the history of Glacier National Park. The railway, which connected eastern Canada to the Pacific coast, passed through the heart of the park, bringing an influx of people and development to the region. The completion of the CPR in 1885 made the park more accessible and played a significant role in its establishment as a national park.

The construction of the railway through such challenging terrain was an engineering marvel, involving the construction of tunnels, bridges, and trestles. Workers faced harsh conditions, including avalanches and extreme weather, but their efforts were rewarded with the completion of one of Canada’s most important transportation routes.

Establishment of Glacier National Park

In 1886, just one year after the completion of the CPR, Glacier National Park was established as one of Canada’s first national parks. The park’s creation was driven by a desire to protect its natural beauty and promote tourism in the region. The CPR played a crucial role in the park’s development, building hotels and promoting the area as a premier destination for travelers.

The Glacier House, built by the CPR in 1886, became a popular destination for tourists and mountaineers. The hotel, located near the Illecillewaet Glacier, served as a base for exploring the park’s rugged terrain. Mountaineers from around the world were drawn to the area, seeking to conquer its peaks and glaciers.

Modern Era

Today, Glacier National Park continues to attract visitors from around the world, drawn by its stunning landscapes and rich history. The park remains a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the people who have called this region home, from the Indigenous peoples who first inhabited the land to the railway workers who carved a path through its rugged terrain.

The park’s history is preserved and celebrated through interpretive programs, museums, and historic sites, offering visitors a glimpse into the past while they explore the natural wonders of the present. As a protected area, Glacier National Park ensures that future generations will continue to experience its beauty and learn about its rich cultural heritage.


Glacier National Park boasts a diverse and vibrant ecosystem, characterized by a wide range of flora and fauna that thrive in its varied landscapes. The park’s ecological richness is a result of its location at the convergence of several distinct biogeoclimatic zones, each contributing to the park’s unique natural environment.


The park’s vegetation varies significantly with elevation, ranging from lush temperate rainforests in the valley bottoms to alpine tundra on the high peaks. This diversity creates a mosaic of habitats that support a wide variety of plant species.

Lowland Forests: In the lower elevations, particularly in the wet western portions of the park, temperate rainforests dominate. These forests are characterized by towering western red cedars, western hemlocks, and Douglas firs. The understory is lush and green, with ferns, mosses, and shrubs like devil’s club and salmonberry creating a dense ground cover. These forests provide critical habitat for many wildlife species and are a key component of the park’s ecological health.

Montane and Subalpine Zones: As the elevation increases, the vegetation transitions to montane and subalpine zones. Here, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and lodgepole pine are the dominant tree species. The understory becomes less dense, with shrubs like huckleberry and heather dotting the landscape. In late summer, these areas are often ablaze with colorful wildflowers, including lupines, paintbrushes, and asters, creating stunning displays of natural beauty.

Alpine Tundra: At the highest elevations, where the environment is too harsh for trees to grow, alpine tundra prevails. This zone is characterized by hardy, low-growing plants such as moss campion, glacier lilies, and alpine forget-me-nots. These plants have adapted to the extreme conditions, including high winds, cold temperatures, and a short growing season. The alpine tundra provides important habitat for specialized wildlife species and offers breathtaking vistas of the surrounding peaks and glaciers.


The diverse habitats of Glacier National Park support a wide variety of wildlife, making it a prime destination for wildlife enthusiasts. The park is home to several iconic and elusive species, each contributing to the ecological balance of the region.

Mammals: One of the most famous residents of Glacier National Park is the grizzly bear. These majestic creatures are a symbol of the wilderness and play a crucial role in the park’s ecosystem. Black bears are also commonly seen, especially in the lower elevations where they forage for berries and other food sources. Other large mammals in the park include mountain goats, which are often spotted on the rocky slopes, and elk, which can be found grazing in the meadows.

Birds: Birdwatchers will find Glacier National Park a paradise, with over 200 species of birds recorded in the area. The park’s diverse habitats provide ideal conditions for a variety of avian species. Bald eagles and golden eagles soar above the valleys, while peregrine falcons and ospreys can be seen hunting in the skies. In the forests, visitors might spot woodpeckers, warblers, and thrushes, while the alpine regions are home to ptarmigans and rosy finches.

Amphibians and Reptiles: The park also supports a range of amphibians and reptiles, although they are less commonly seen due to their secretive nature. Species such as the western toad, long-toed salamander, and garter snake can be found in the park’s wetlands and forests. These creatures play important roles in the park’s food web, contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem.

Conservation Efforts

Preserving the ecological integrity of Glacier National Park is a top priority for park management. Efforts to protect the park’s ecosystems include habitat restoration projects, wildlife monitoring programs, and initiatives to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. Education and outreach programs also play a crucial role in promoting awareness and understanding of the park’s ecological values.

Climate change poses a significant threat to the park’s ecosystems, with rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns affecting the distribution of plant and animal species. Glacier monitoring programs track the health of the park’s glaciers, providing valuable data on the impacts of climate change. Efforts to mitigate these impacts include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainable practices within the park.


Glacier National Park’s stunning landscapes are a testament to the powerful geological forces that have shaped the region over millions of years. The park’s geology is characterized by rugged mountains, deep valleys, and numerous glaciers, all of which tell a story of dramatic geological processes and changing climates.

Geological History

The geological history of Glacier National Park dates back to the Precambrian era, over 1.5 billion years ago. During this time, ancient seas covered the region, depositing layers of sediment that would eventually form the park’s oldest rocks. These sedimentary rocks, primarily composed of limestone, shale, and sandstone, provide a window into the Earth’s distant past.

Mountain Building

The park’s dramatic mountain ranges are the result of complex tectonic processes that have shaped the region over hundreds of millions of years. The formation of the Rocky Mountains, which began around 170 million years ago during the Jurassic period, was a key event in the park’s geological history. This process, known as the Laramide Orogeny, involved the collision and compression of tectonic plates, causing the Earth’s crust to buckle and fold, creating the towering peaks and deep valleys that define the park’s landscape today.


One of the most significant geological forces to shape Glacier National Park is glaciation. During the Pleistocene epoch, which began around 2.6 million years ago, the region experienced multiple glacial periods. Vast ice sheets covered much of North America, including the area that is now Glacier National Park. These glaciers sculpted the landscape, carving out deep valleys, sharp ridges, and U-shaped troughs.

As the glaciers advanced and retreated over time, they left behind a variety of glacial features that are still visible in the park today. Moraines, which are accumulations of rock and debris deposited by glaciers, can be seen throughout the park, marking the former extent of the ice. Cirques, bowl-shaped depressions carved by glaciers, are common in the high alpine areas and often contain small glacial lakes.

Glaciers Today

Although the glaciers that once dominated the landscape have largely retreated, Glacier National Park is still home to several active glaciers. These glaciers are remnants of the last major glacial period, which ended around 10,000 years ago. The Illecillewaet Glacier, located near the park’s western entrance, is one of the most accessible and studied glaciers in the park. Visitors can hike to viewpoints overlooking the glacier and witness firsthand the ongoing process of glacial retreat.

Rock Formations

The park’s diverse rock formations provide a glimpse into its complex geological history. The oldest rocks in the park, known as the Purcell Supergroup, date back over 1.5 billion years and are primarily composed of sedimentary rocks such as limestone, shale, and sandstone. These rocks were deposited in ancient seas and have since been uplifted and folded by tectonic forces.

In addition to the sedimentary rocks, the park also contains significant deposits of metamorphic and igneous rocks. Metamorphic rocks, such as schist and gneiss, are formed through the alteration of existing rocks under high pressure and temperature conditions. Igneous rocks, such as granite and basalt, are formed from the cooling and solidification of molten rock. These rocks provide valuable insights into the tectonic and volcanic processes that have shaped the region.


Glacier National Park is also known for its rich fossil record, particularly in the Burgess Shale, a renowned fossil site located just outside the park’s boundaries. The Burgess Shale contains exceptionally well-preserved fossils of marine organisms from the Cambrian period, around 505 million years ago. These fossils provide a unique window into the early evolution of life on Earth and have been instrumental in advancing our understanding of ancient ecosystems.

Geological Research and Conservation

Ongoing geological research in Glacier National Park helps scientists understand the complex processes that have shaped the region and continue to influence its landscapes. This research is critical for informing conservation efforts and ensuring the long-term preservation of the park’s geological features.

Visitors to the park can learn about its geology through interpretive programs, visitor centers, and guided hikes. By understanding the park’s geological history, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for the dynamic forces that have created its breathtaking landscapes.

Best Places to Stay

Glacier National Park offers a variety of accommodations to suit different preferences and budgets, from rustic campgrounds to comfortable lodges. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature or enjoy modern amenities, there are options to enhance your stay in this stunning park.


For those who want to experience the park’s natural beauty up close, camping is an excellent option. The park has several campgrounds, each offering a unique setting and amenities.

Illecillewaet Campground: Located near the park’s western entrance, Illecillewaet Campground is a popular choice for campers. It offers 60 sites, including both tent and RV options. The campground is situated in a lush forested area, providing a serene and peaceful environment. Amenities include potable water, pit toilets, and picnic tables. The campground is also conveniently located near several hiking trails, including the Glacier Crest and Great Glacier trails.

Loop Brook Campground: Loop Brook Campground is another great option for campers, located near the eastern entrance of the park. This campground has 20 sites, suitable for tents and smaller RVs. The sites are nestled among towering trees, offering shade and privacy. Amenities include potable water, pit toilets, and picnic tables. The nearby Loop Brook Trail provides an opportunity to explore the area’s rich railway history and stunning natural scenery.

Backcountry Camping

For the more adventurous, Glacier National Park offers backcountry camping opportunities. The park’s backcountry is a pristine wilderness, accessible only by hiking or skiing. Permits are required for backcountry camping, and visitors must be prepared for rugged and remote conditions. Popular backcountry camping areas include the Hermit Meadows and the Asulkan Valley, both offering stunning alpine scenery and a sense of solitude.

Lodges and Cabins

If you prefer more comfort and convenience, there are several lodges and cabins available within and near the park.

Glacier House Resort: Located just outside the park’s western boundary, Glacier House Resort offers comfortable accommodations with stunning mountain views. The resort features a variety of room options, from cozy lodge rooms to spacious log cabins. Amenities include an indoor pool, hot tub, and a restaurant serving delicious meals. The resort is also a hub for outdoor activities, offering guided tours, equipment rentals, and easy access to hiking and biking trails.

Heather Mountain Lodge: Heather Mountain Lodge is another excellent option, situated near the park’s eastern entrance. This rustic yet elegant lodge offers comfortable rooms and suites with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. The lodge features a restaurant that serves locally-sourced cuisine, a cozy lounge, and a hot tub for relaxation after a day of exploring. The lodge also offers guided hiking and skiing tours, making it a great base for outdoor adventures.

Nearby Towns

For those who prefer to stay outside the park, the nearby towns of Revelstoke and Golden offer a range of accommodations, from budget-friendly motels to luxurious hotels.

Revelstoke: Revelstoke, located about a 35-minute drive from the park’s western entrance, is a charming town with a variety of lodging options. The town offers everything from cozy bed and breakfasts to full-service hotels. Popular options include the Regent Hotel, known for its comfortable rooms and central location, and the Sutton Place Hotel, which offers luxury accommodations and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Golden: Golden, situated about a 45-minute drive from the park’s eastern entrance, is another great base for exploring Glacier National Park. The town offers a range of accommodations, including budget motels, charming inns, and upscale resorts. Popular options include the Kicking Horse River Lodge, which offers rustic charm and modern amenities, and the Mount 7 Lodges, known for its spacious cabins and beautiful mountain views.

Enjoying the Park

Glacier National Park offers a wealth of activities and experiences for adventurers of all ages and interests. From hiking and wildlife viewing to skiing and stargazing, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this stunning natural wonderland.


Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Glacier National Park. The park boasts an extensive network of trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes.

Great Glacier Trail: The Great Glacier Trail is a must-do hike for visitors to Glacier National Park. This moderate trail is approximately 6 kilometers round trip and offers stunning views of the Illecillewaet Glacier. The trail follows the route of an old railway bed, passing through lush forests and alongside rushing streams. The final viewpoint provides a breathtaking panorama of the glacier and surrounding peaks.

Glacier Crest Trail: For those seeking a more challenging hike, the Glacier Crest Trail is an excellent option. This strenuous trail is about 12 kilometers round trip and involves a significant elevation gain. The trail climbs through dense forests and alpine meadows, offering spectacular views of the Illecillewaet Glacier and the surrounding mountains. The final viewpoint, perched on a narrow ridge, provides a panoramic view of the glacier and the Selkirk Mountains.

Asulkan Valley Trail: The Asulkan Valley Trail is another popular hike, known for its stunning alpine scenery and opportunities for wildlife viewing. This moderate to strenuous trail is approximately 13 kilometers round trip and follows the Asulkan Brook through a beautiful valley. The trail passes through old-growth forests, subalpine meadows, and rocky slopes, offering breathtaking views at every turn. The final viewpoint, located at the Asulkan Hut, provides a stunning panorama of the valley and surrounding peaks.

Wildlife Viewing

Glacier National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, making it a prime destination for wildlife enthusiasts. The park’s varied habitats support a wide range of species, from large mammals to birds and amphibians.

Bear Watching: One of the highlights of visiting Glacier National Park is the opportunity to see bears in their natural habitat. Both grizzly bears and black bears are commonly seen in the park, particularly during the summer and fall when they are foraging for food. The best times for bear watching are early morning and late evening, when the bears are most active. Popular bear viewing areas include the Illecillewaet Valley, the Asulkan Valley, and the Great Glacier Trail.

Birdwatching: Birdwatchers will find Glacier National Park a paradise, with over 200 species of birds recorded in the area. The park’s diverse habitats provide ideal conditions for a variety of avian species. Popular birdwatching spots include the Illecillewaet Campground, the Loop Brook Campground, and the alpine meadows along the Glacier Crest Trail. Species commonly seen in the park include bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and a variety of songbirds.

Skiing and Snowboarding

In the winter, Glacier National Park transforms into a winter wonderland, offering excellent opportunities for skiing and snowboarding. The park is known for its deep snow and challenging terrain, making it a popular destination for backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

Rogers Pass: Rogers Pass, located in the heart of Glacier National Park, is one of the best places for backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the park. The area is known for its deep snow, steep slopes, and breathtaking scenery. Popular routes include the Asulkan Valley, the Illecillewaet Glacier, and the Balu Pass. Skiers and snowboarders should be prepared for challenging conditions and should always check avalanche forecasts before heading out.

Climbing and Mountaineering

Glacier National Park offers excellent opportunities for climbing and mountaineering, with its rugged peaks and challenging terrain. The park’s high alpine areas are a paradise for climbers, offering a variety of routes and stunning views.

Mount Sir Donald: Mount Sir Donald is one of the most iconic peaks in Glacier National Park and a popular destination for climbers. The mountain offers a variety of routes, ranging from moderate scrambles to challenging technical climbs. The North West Ridge route is the most popular and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.


With its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife, Glacier National Park is a paradise for photographers. The park offers countless opportunities to capture breathtaking images, from the towering peaks and glaciers to the lush forests and alpine meadows.

Best Photography Spots: Some of the best photography spots in the park include the Illecillewaet Glacier, the Asulkan Valley, and the summit of the Glacier Crest Trail. Sunrise and sunset are particularly magical times to capture the park’s beauty, with the soft light casting a golden glow on the mountains and valleys.


Glacier National Park offers some of the best stargazing opportunities in British Columbia, thanks to its remote location and lack of light pollution. The park’s clear, dark skies provide the perfect conditions for observing the stars, planets, and other celestial wonders.

Best Stargazing Spots: Some of the best stargazing spots in the park include the Illecillewaet Campground, the Loop Brook Campground, and the summit of the Glacier Crest Trail. During the summer, visitors can enjoy ranger-led stargazing programs, which offer a guided tour of the night sky and insights into the park’s astronomical wonders.

Educational Programs

Glacier National Park offers a variety of educational programs and interpretive activities, designed to enhance visitors’ understanding and appreciation of the park’s natural and cultural heritage.

The park’s ranger programs include guided hikes, wildlife talks, and evening campfire programs, covering a range of topics from the park’s geology and ecology to its human history and conservation efforts. These programs are a great way to learn more about the park and its unique features.

The park’s visitor centers, located at the Illecillewaet and Rogers Pass, offer exhibits, educational displays, and information about the park’s natural and cultural history. The visitor centers are also great places to pick up maps, trail guides, and other resources to help plan your visit.


Glacier National Park in British Columbia is a true gem, offering a wealth of natural beauty, rich history, and endless opportunities for adventure. Whether you’re hiking through ancient forests, skiing down pristine slopes, or simply soaking in the stunning scenery, the park provides a unique and unforgettable experience.

From its diverse ecosystems and fascinating geological features to its rich cultural heritage and abundant wildlife, Glacier National Park is a destination that captivates the imagination and inspires a deep connection to the natural world. As you explore the park’s rugged landscapes and immerse yourself in its serene beauty, you’ll discover why this remarkable place has been cherished by adventurers and nature lovers for generations.

By preserving and protecting Glacier National Park, we ensure that future generations can continue to experience its wonders and create their own memories in this extraordinary wilderness. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on an adventure in Glacier National Park – a journey that promises to be as enriching as it is exhilarating.

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