GLACIER NATIONAL PARK is part of the Selkirk and Columbia mountains, but on the ground little sets it apart from the magnificence of the Rockies national parks to the east. To a great extent it’s the domain of ice, rain and snow; the weather is so atrocious that locals like to quip that it rains or snows four days out of every three, and you can probably expect a soaking three days out of five. Despite this, the park is a big draw for climbers and, to a slightly lesser extent, hikers. As the name suggests, glaciers – 430 of them – dominate, with fourteen percent of the park permanently blanketed with ice or snow. Scientists have identified scores of new glaciers forming on the sites of previously melted ice sheets in the park – a highly uncommon phenomenon. The main ice sheet, the still-growing Illecillewaet Neve, is easily seen from the Trans-Canada Hwy or from the park visitor centre.
The park’s highest point, Mount Dawson, is 3399m tall – and historically it and its neighbours have presented as much of a barrier as their Rocky Mountain cousins. Aboriginal peoples and then railwaymen shunned the rugged region for centuries until the discovery of Rogers Pass (1321m) in 1881 by Major A.B. Rogers, chief engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Despite the railway’s best efforts, its pounding by repeated avalanches eventually forced the company to bore a tunnel under the pass, but the 1962 completion of the Trans-Canada Hwy along the pass once again made the area accessible. This time huge snowsheds were built, backed by the world’s largest avalanche-control system. Experts monitor the slopes year-round, and at dangerous times they call in the army, who blast howitzers into the mountains to dislodge potential slips.Read More
Hiking in Glacier National Park
Hiking in Glacier National Park
Some of the park’s twenty trails (140km of walking in all) push close to glaciers for casual views of the ice – though only two spots are now safe at the toe of the Illecillewaet – and the backcountry is noticeably less busy than in the Rockies parks.
Short trails off Highway 1
The easiest short strolls off the Trans-Canada are: the Abandoned Rails Trail (1.2km one way; 30min; suitable for wheelchairs), along old rail-beds to abandoned snowsheds between the Rogers Pass visitor centre and the Summit Monument; the Loop Trail (1.6km) from the viewpoint just east of the Loop Brook campground, full of viewpoints and features relating to the building of the railway; the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk (400m), a stroll through old-growth stands of western hemlock trees, some more than 350 years old (wheelchair-friendly; trailhead 5km from the park’s western boundary).
The hub for most of Glacier’s day-hikes is the Illecillewaet campground near the confluence of the Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet river, which can be appreciated on the easy Meeting of the Waters Trail (30min). Otherwise six manageable day-hikes leave the campground to provide superb views of glaciers, particularly the Great Glacier, Avalanche Crest and Abbott’s Ridge trails.
The longest Glacier backcountry option is the Beaver Valley Trail (30km-plus), which peels off from the highway at the Mount Shaughnessy picnic area on the eastern edge (also a favourite mountain-bike route). This can be combined with a trail up Copperstain Mountain (2595m) to form a loop of around 40km through forests and meadows and bleak alpine tundra – two backcountry campgrounds are available en route; contact the visitor centre for a permit (see Glacier National Park).