For some, the answer to this question seems simple. Glacier National Park is one of the United States’ most famous public lands, attracting over 3 million visitors a year. Even if they have never been, most Americans are aware of its existence. Unlike Yellowstone, which lies in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, all of Glacier National Park lies within the state of Montana, bordering Canada.
But that doesn’t mean its location is completely without confusion because there are actually two Glacier National Parks. Though the one in Montana is the only one in the United States, British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada, has a national park with the exact same name.
Put simply, Glacier National Park is in Montana. But Glacier National Park is also in British Columbia.
Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
President Taft established Montana’s Glacier National Park in 1910. As more settlers were coming to Montana, particularly after the completion of the Great Northern Railway, the risk of irreparable harm to these unique lands increased as more people were visiting and settling in the area.
This region was originally the territorial lands of the Blackfeet, who ceded the land to the United States government under duress. Once the land was open for settlers, they first came seeking pelts, then ore, and as years went on, land. During this period, small towns erupted all over Montana.
Though it was only a minority of settlers that saw value in protecting these lands from commercial use, their campaign was eventually successful. The few mines that had been operating in the region were never extremely profitable and most settlers had chosen to live in the foothills on either side of the continental divide.
Because the area wasn’t particularly commercially viable, it was much easier for George Bird Grinnell and a small group of conservationists to get the region named first as a National Forest, and later as a fully-fledged National Park. This designation protects the area from most forms of commercial exploits to this day.
Glacier National Park, British Columbia, Canada
While the United States’ Glacier National Park may be more famous, the identically named park in Canada actually predates it. Canada’s Glacier National Park was established in 1886 over a 521 square mile portion of the Selkirk Mountains. Located in British Columbia, it has a similar glacially carved topography as its namesake park in the USA.
The completion of a railroad heavily influenced the creation of Canada’s Glacier National Park. The Canadian Pacific Railway, completed in 1885, made many areas of Western Canada far more accessible to laypeople. Realizing the touristic potential for such a unique, glaciated landscape, the Prime Minister gave it national protection status after returning from a vacation there.
Despite it bearing the same name, Canada’s Glacier National Park is not the one immediately adjacent to Montana’s. Canada does, however, have a national park that effectively extends Montana’s Glacier National Park across the border called Waterton Lakes National Park.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada
Immediately across the border from Montana’s Glacier National Park is Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. These 195 square miles of protected lands are managed by Parks Canada and was the nation’s fourth national park after Banff, Glacier, and Yoho.
Because Waterton is twinned with Montana’s Glacier National Park, it’s often assumed that they both bear the same name, thus adding to the confusion. Though they don’t bear the same name, together they form the world’s first International Peace Park, originally gaining that designation in 1932. However, Waterton Lakes and Canada’s Glacier National Park, though they have somewhat similar landscapes, are completely distinct.
So, is Glacier National Park in Montana?
Yes! Montana’s Glacier National Park is one of the most famous and heavily visited in the United States National Parks system. However, if someone tells you that it’s actually in Canada, they would also be correct. Canada has their own Glacier National Park in British Columbia.