Once referred to as ‘the Canadian Alps,’ Glacier National Park encompasses 521 square miles of impressive glaciers, deep valleys, swift waterways, and towering summits. The park sits in southeastern British Columbia and, along with Yoho National Park, is Canada’s second national park.
Similar to other iconic Canadian national parks, like Jasper and Banff, Glacier’s history is closely tied to the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The railway opened in 1886, the same year Glacier was designated a national park, and linked once-scattered settlements to stunning alpine terrain. The newly accessible park saw a boom in tourism, which led to the construction of several mountain hotels, tea houses, and other facilities, including the famed Glacier House.
Prior to the construction of the railway, the spectacular scenery tucked within the park’s boundaries was largely inaccessible. The railway allowed visitors to gain easy access to truly rugged, mountainous terrain for the first time. Eventually, Glacier be known as “the cradle of North American Mountaineering” and the Glacier house was considered “the first center of alpinism” in North America.
Unfortunately, the park’s unforgiving topography and avalanche-prone landscape proved to be a challenge for its increasing popularity. In 1910, a large avalanche killed 58 people working on the railway over Rogers Pass. This prompted the Canadian Pacific Railway to abandon the original railway over Rogers Pass and build the Connaught Tunnel, which traveled beneath Mount MacDonald.
Over the next several years, the once-booming Glacier House, which sat along Rogers Pass, closed for business and the park began to see a lull in visitation. It wasn’t until the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway in 1962, that the park regained its popularity.
Today, visitors can explore the old stone bridges and trestles, structures, and learn about the park’s unique history via a variety of self-guided trails. The mountain pass that once thwarted engineers, Rogers Pass, leads through the heart of the park and has since been designated a National Historic Site to commemorate the role of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
The park also contains one of Canada’s largest cave systems, the Nakimu Caves, which were discovered in 1902. Nakimu, which translates to ‘grumbling spirits,’ earned its name from the thundering sound of the Cougar Brook as it vanished into a series of sinkholes. The Nakimu Caves are known to be one of the park’s first major attractions. Park visitors would line up to be escorted to the mouth of the cave and over a series of wooden stairs and boardwalks by Charles Deutschmann, the first interpretive guide hired by a Canadian national park. Today, the caves sit beside the ruins of the old Glacier House Teahouse and are far less accessible to the public.
Glacier contains the northern portion of the Selkirk Mountains, a subrange of the Columbia Mountains, as well as peaks in the Hermit, Von Horne, Purity, and Dawson ranges. There are 83 named mountains in the park, including illustrious summits like Mount Dawson, Mount Sir Donald, Mount Macdonald, Mount Abbott, and Uto Peak.
Just as its name implies, the park is not only known for its stunning summits but is also home to over 130 glaciers, including the infamous Illecillewaet Glacier. Though the park’s glaciers have retreated dramatically over the last few centuries, they still cover 51 square miles of the park.
Glacier contains a variety of habitats ranging from lush temperate rainforest to ice-covered alpine terrain. Parks Canada characterizes the park’s biogeoclimatic zones as “rainforest, snow forest, and no forest.” As a result, visitors can expect to encounter a wide variety of wildlife including its most notorious resident, the grizzly bear. Other mammal species in the park include mountain caribou, mountain goat, mule deer, and picas.
Beginning near the remnants of Glacier House, the 7.5-mile Abbott Ridge trek ascends for over 3,400 feet to spectacular mountain vistas and gives hikers the opportunity to immerse themselves in the rugged Columbia Mountains. The trail, which is rated as difficult, climbs a series of switchbacks to alpine tundra and ends along a scenic, narrow ridge.
The Abandoned Rails trail is a flat interpretive trail that travels between the Parks Canada Discovery Center and Rogers Pass National Historic Site. The path, which follows the path of the original 1885 railroad route, is lined with plaques that detail the events of the catastrophic 1910 avalanche that killed 58 people. This tragedy changed the footprint of the railway forever and played had a significant impact on the park’s history.
The Asulkan Valley trail is a long, arduous climb that leads high above the valley floor to the Asulkan Hut nestled on a moraine of Asulkan Glacier. The trail travels alongside a mountain stream, passes the remains of the Glacier House, and leads to several stunning vistas and cascading waterfalls. If you don’t want to make the trek all in a single day, the Asulkan Hut can be reserved through the Alpine Club of Canada.
Revelstoke Mountain Resort features the longest vertical descent in North America and is a popular all-seasons destination tucked within the Selkirk Mountains. The resort, which sits just 40 minutes outside of Glacier National Park, offers two high-speed quad chairs, an eight-passenger gondola, and various levels of terrain to explore. Revelstoke is infamous for its premium resort skiing, cat skiing, and heli-skiing, in addition to offering over 3,000 acres of skiable terrain and over 60 trails. The resort itself contains several restaurants, lodges, B&Bs, and facilities to accommodate guests. The resort is also just a few miles from the town of Revelstoke, making it easy to access even more amenities and lodging.
Open since 1990, the Purcell Mountain Lodge is a backcountry lodge located on the alpine slopes of Bald Mountain. Despite being tucked in the backcountry, the lodge is suited for all ages and abilities and offers luxury accommodations off the beaten path. In fact, professional guides are available to take visitors on backcountry excursions and ski tours every day. Advanced skiers can ski off the alpine plateau towards the Selkirks, Beaver River Valley and Glacier National Park. There are a variety of alpine hiking trails to explore during the summer and spring, as well as a seemingly infinite amount of pristine, skiable terrain during winter months.
Golden sits along the Trans-Canada highway in the Columbia River Valley and is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges and sits near six of Canada’s most beloved national parks – including Glacier National Park. Needless to say, if you’re looking for outdoor adventure – Golden is a great place to start. In the summer, Golden is a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and climbers, while in the winter the town sits at the doorstep of epic skiing, skating, snowboarding, and ice climbing. Boasting a variety of premium accommodations and restaurants, thrill-seekers will appreciate Golden’s laid back ambiance after a long day in the mountains.