Glacier National Park in the United States and Waterton Lakes National Park just across the border in Canada have more in common than their rugged mountain landscapes, crystal-clear lakes, and abundant wildlife populations.
For one thing, the parks together are the world’s first International Peace Park, known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (WGIPP). Formed in 1932 by the governments of the U.S. and Canada to commemorate goodwill between the two nations, the parks “use peace and goodwill to work toward shared management”: Protecting the water, plants, and animals that are found in the WGIPP,” the Government of Canada explained.
“You will find the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, an oasis of solitude and tranquility, and a powerful setting for personal reflection on peace,” the Government of Canada continued.
The two parks collectively also form the world’s first International Dark Sky Park that spans both sides of an international border.
“An IDA International Dark Sky Park is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment,” the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) explained.
“Waterton and Glacier are home to very dark night skies, given their relative isolation and the rugged mountain terrain characterizing most of their territory,” according to the IDA. “In recent years, the management of both parks have come to recognize dark skies as a conservation priority and have allocated resources to their interpretation and study.”
If you love stargazing and road trips, you need to add visiting Glacier and Waterton National Parks to your bucket list. Keep reading to learn why.
Stargazing At Glacier
Glacier National Park, which the National Park Service calls the “Crown of the Continent,” is known for its rugged mountains, spectacular lakes, and more than 700 miles of trails.
The park, which is located just outside West Glacier, Montana, is in the northwest corner of Montana along the Rocky Mountains. The nearest airports are in Kalispell and Great Falls, Montana, about a 3-hour drive from Missoula, Montana.
Interestingly, the National Park Service collaborates with the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the International Dark Sky Association, the NPS Night Sky Program, and the Big Sky Astronomy Club to offer park-wide night-time viewing events. Together, they offer attendees opportunities to see “the night sky in all its glory using sophisticated telescopes, in a location with a minimal number of artificial lights,” according to the National Park Service.
Nightly astronomy programs are generally held at the Apgar Visitor Center Plaza and the Dusty Star Observatory, which is located in the St. Mary Visitor Center parking lot. These programs typically include looking at constellations and astronomical objects using telescopes as well as presentations explaining the importance of dark skies.
You can learn more about stargazing at Glacier National Park on the park’s Ranger-led Activities page.
Stargazing At Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park is also known for its rugged wilderness and mountain landscapes, as well as the 490-foot-deep Lake Waterton. By the way, the southern part of the lake is in Glacier National Park.
The park, located in the southwest corner of Alberta, is bordered by the United States to the south and British Columbia to the west. The closest international airport to the park is in Calgary, about a 3-hour drive north of the park.
Key places for stargazing at Waterton include Cameron Bay, any of the pullouts along Red Rock Parkway, and the Bison Paddock overlook. That spot, on Highway 6 just before you leave the park, “offers the chance to see the prairie sky in all its glory,” according to the Government of Canada.
While there, stargazers can see the moon and its craters and mountains, many of the planets in our solar system, and numerous constellations. You can also see “The Milky Way, our home galaxy, that stretches across the sky like a vast river of stars and can be easily seen with the naked eye,” the government continued.
Know So You Can Go
The best time to visit both parks for stargazing is in the summer. That’s when both parks are fully operational, roads are open, and programs are delivered.
You can learn more about traveling to Glacier National Park on the park’s Directions, Transportation, & Road Conditions webpage.
You can also find information about things to do at Glacier as well as where you can eat and sleep while visiting the park on its Plan Your Visit webpage.
If you’re thinking about visiting Waterton Lakes National Park, you can learn about how to travel to Waterton Lakes, as well as find information about making camping reservations or finding other types of accommodations, as well as see sample planning tips and pre-arrival checklists on the park’s Plan Your Visit page.
Finally, now that you’re thinking about looking at the night sky, be sure to also read all of our stargazing content, as well as: