Glacier National Park boasts over a million acres of America’s most awe-inspiring wilderness—and an impressive popularity. The park is among the most Instagrammed places in the U.S. and the most pinned locations on Pinterest in the world. So what exactly makes the place so photogenic? It could be the turquoise lakes, the mountains, or maybe the unprecedented collection of wildlife. Here are a few reasons why people continue to visit this jewel in Montana.
1. GLACIER IS A PART OF THE WORLD’S FIRST INTERNATIONAL PEACE PARK.
Glacier National Park and Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park was 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 the two sides working with each other to preserve this wilderness. Every year since, Rotarians have performed an annual symbolic ritual [PDF] where they shake hands at the border and "pledge not to take up arms against each other."
2. THE ARRAY OF 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 its entire original animal species since Europeans discovered the area. The only mammals that no longer roam this part of Montana are woodland caribou and bison.
3. IT’S 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, 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’S IDENTITY.
Mountain goats are among the park’s most famous creatures. 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 Glacier.
5. EARLY ARCHITECTURE DISPLAYS EUROPEAN FLAIR.
After the area's official designation as a national park in 1910, an increasing number of tourists made the trek. 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 UP TO THREE SEPARATE 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. BOAT TOURS HAVE A HISTORIC FEELING.
Wooden boat tours have been a feature of Glacier 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 through Two Medicine Lake, as well as Little Chief, a 49-passenger boat found at Saint Mary Lake.
8. VINTAGE RED JAMMERS TRANSPORT GUESTS IN STYLE.
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 bus tours in the historic Red Jammer buses. Though they were removed from the roads in 1999 due to safety concerns, the refurbished fleet of Reds returned in 2002.
9. THE PARK'S GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD IS A MODERN MARVEL.
Traveling east to west, Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50 mile-long 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. IT IS A LAND OF 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 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 in their passports.