Glacier National Park, near Revelstoke, British Columbia, covers an area of 1,349 km² (521 sq mi).
The park is open year-round; valley trails open in May, while upper-elevation trails are snowed-in into early July. Day-use areas open in June, and campgrounds open in late June. The ski season is November to April.
The park contains high peaks, large, active glaciers, and one of Canada's largest cave systems. Its dense forests support populations of large mammals, birds, and alpine species. The region is noted for its heavy snowfall. The park has an extensive network of trails, three campgrounds, and four backcountry huts and cabins. Due to the major transportation routes that bisect it, Glacier National Park sees a lot of visitors.
Contact the park office ☏or email RevGlacier.Reception@pc.gc.ca
The park was established in 1886.
The park's history is closely tied to two primary Canadian transportation routes, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), completed in 1885, and the Trans-Canada Highway, completed in 1963. The pass in the centre of the park eluded explorers until 1881. The railway brought with it tourism, the establishment of Glacier National Park and the construction of a popular alpine hotel. The heavy winter snows and steep, avalanche-prone valleys of the park have been a major obstacle to transportation, necessitating much railway engineering and avalanche control measures.
Getting across the avalanche-prone Rogers Pass has proved an obstacle for road and rail. It was vulnerable link in the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1885 to 1916, when traffic was diverted via a 8 km (5 mi) rail tunnel. The pass was incorporated into the Trans-Canada Highway, where a marker commemorates the Trans-Canada's 1962 official opening.
The park covers the northern part of the Selkirk Mountains, a sub-range of the Columbia Mountains. It contains numerous glaciers and large, swift waterways.
The Columbia Mountains rise from the plateaus of the Central Interior and extend eastward to the Rocky Mountain Trench. Geologically distinct from the nearby Rockies, the range is divided into four sub-ranges: the Cariboos, Monashees, Selkirks, and the Purcells. Glacier encompasses a portion of the northern Selkirks and a narrow strip of the northern Purcells. The topography of the park varies between rounded mountains and ridges in the east, north, and west, and sharp, steep-sided peaks in the central and southern regions.
The park has 131 glaciers larger than 50,000 m² (0.019 sq mi), covering 133 km² (51 sq mi) of the park. Throughout its history, North America has seen cycles of glaciation, where ice sheets advanced and retreated across the terrain. The last glacial period ended about 12,000 years ago, before which all but the highest peaks of the park were covered in ice. The movements of these rivers of ice formed the steep-sided, U-shaped valleys of the park. They also rounded the lesser peaks; ranges in the west of the park show this effect. The glaciers in the park are on whole shrinking and retreating; they are also some of the most studied glaciers in North America.
The glaciers of the park have been dramatically reduced in size in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. An inventory noted a reduction of 19.4 km² (7.5 sq mi) of glacial surface area from 2000 to 2011.
All watercourses in the park are part of the Columbia River drainage basin. Park rivers are swift-running and glacially-fed, and have helped carve out the steep valleys and canyons. They carry much silt and rocky debris with them, and often have a milky white appearance. In the summer months, these rivers have noticeable diurnal cycles; they run high in the afternoons as the snow and ice melt is at its peak, then drop considerably with lower nighttime temperatures.
The major rivers are the Illecillewaet, the Beaver, and the headwaters of the Incomappleux and Duncan Rivers. Large creeks and brooks include Mountain, Cougar (which runs underground through the Nakimu Caves), and Battle.
Glacier National Park covers a range of habitats, from lush temperate rainforest in the western valleys, to inhospitable ice- and rock-covered alpine areas, to drier fir and pine forests on the eastern boundary. Four of British Columbia's biogeoclimatic zones are found within the park: Interior cedar/hemlock, Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir, Interior Douglas-fir in the eastern extremities, and alpine tundra at high elevations. Parks Canada characterizes these zones as "rainforest, snow forest, and no forest". Animal life in the park ranges from large mammals like caribou and grizzly bear to bird species such as Steller's jay and the golden eagle.
The valleys on the western side of the park support dense wet forests, with a thick understory. The widest valleys, such as the Illecillewaet, contain a rare wetlands environment, featuring skunk cabbage and water hemlock. Outside of the wetlands, the lower valleys are covered by Western Red cedar, western white pine, western hemlock, Interior douglas fir, and white birch. Ground species include devil's club, blueberries, liverwort, and fern species.
At middle elevations, the subalpine zone appears. This forest has Engelmann spruce, mountain hemlock, and subalpine fir. The understory is thick here with rhododendron and berry species, as well as deep beds of moss and lichens. At higher elevations, this forest opens up to meadows and slide chutes, which are covered in a lush growth of grasses, herbaceous shrubs, and alpine wildflowers. Parks botanists and others have identified 546 species of flowering plants in the park. Late July to mid-September see an impressive display of alpine blooms.
The alpine meadows continue into the harsh alpine tundra zone, where poor soil, heavy snowfall, cold temperatures, and a very short growing season discourage all but the hardiest sedge grasses, heathers, and lichens.
Glacier's rich forests support a large wildlife population, which Parks staff monitor regularly. There are 53 mammal species found within the park. Bears dominate the snow zone; the berry-rich avalanche slides provide an important food source for both black and grizzly species. They spend the winters in deep dens hibernating. Other predators include the timber wolf, coyote, red fox, wolverine, cougar, and lynx.
Mountain goats are the most common ungulates in Glacier National Park. Caribou migrate through certain park valleys, while elk, mule and white-tailed deer can be found throughout. The deep snows of winter drive most ungulates out of the park into the lower elevations of the nearby Rocky Mountain Trench and Columbia valleys. Moose are seen in the park on rare occasions. Several species of squirrels are found in the lower forests, and alpine mammals include pika, hoary marmots, and martens.
Glacier has 235 observed bird species, but the majority are migratory and only seen in the summer months. The 30 species who are year-round residents include woodpeckers, golden eagles, owls, ravens, Steller's jays, and golden-crowned kinglets. Unpredictable explosions of pine siskins, sometimes reaching hundreds of thousands in number, will appear and stay year round, but be gone the next year. American dippers feed in the many waterfalls and cascades of the park.
The park lies in the Interior Wetbelt region of British Columbia which makes for large amounts of precipitation. Mean annual precipitation is 1278 mm (50 in) at lower elevations and 1995 mm (79 in) in the subalpine zone. Rogers Pass can see up to an incredible 17 m of snow each year.
Glacier National Park is accessible by car or bus.
Fees and permits
Daily/annual (until June 30)/annual fees (2018):
- Adult $7.80/$29.40/$39.20
- Senior $6.80/$25.75/$34.30
- Youth and children under 18 free
- Family/group $15.70/$73.50/$78.50
Fishing per permit
- Daily $9.80
- Annual $34.30
Parks Canada Passes
The Discovery Pass provides unlimited admission for a full year at over 80 Parks Canada places that charge a daily entrance fee. It provides faster entry and is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. Prices for 2020 (taxes included):
- Family/group (up to 7 people in a vehicle): $136.40
- Children and youth (0-17): free
- Adult (18-64): $67.70
- Senior (65+): $57.90
The Cultural Access Pass: people who have received their Canadian citizenship in the past year can qualify for free entry to some sites.
- 1 Rogers Pass (Rogers Pass National Historic Site). Located at the summit of the park at 1382 m (4,534 ft). The pass' namesake, Major A.B. Rogers was tasked by the Canadian Pacific Railway to find a route through the Selkirk Mountains to bypass the railway's Big Bend alignment. After finding the pass (with the help of native guides) Rogers was presented with a cheque for $5000, a handsome prize for the times. After Rogers framed the check rather than cashing it, the CPR drew him a new one (and insisted he cash it). Rogers Pass National Historic Site is 72 km east of Revelstoke, and 80 km west of Golden.
- 2 Rogers Pass Discovery Centre (Rogers Pass summit along the Trans-Canada Hwy). May 2-Jun 12, Sep 5-Nov 13: 9AM-5PM; Jun 13-Sep 4: 8AM-7PM; Nov 14-Apr 30: 7AM-4PM. The Parks Canada administration and Rogers Pass Discovery Centre are located at Rogers Pass. The interpretive program for Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks is based at the centre. It includes a theatre, an exhibit hall with railway models, natural history displays and wildlife specimens, and a bookstore.
- There are 140 km (87 mi) of established hiking trails in the park.
A variety of accommodation is available in Golden, 80 km east of Rogers Pass in the heart of the park, and Revelstoke, 72 km west.
There are three campgrounds in the park. Illecillewaet is the largest, with two smaller campgrounds located at Loop Brook and Sir Donald.
Fees per night (2018):
- Illecillewaet - Unserviced with toilets only $21.50
- Loop Brook - Unserviced with toilets only $21.50
- Mount Sir Donald - Primitive $15.70
- Beaver Valley Campground - Primitive $15.70
There are five designated backcountry camping areas. Parks and the Alpine Club of Canada maintain four alpine huts and cabins for backcountry users. The Wheeler Hut is the oldest and largest, and is located near the Illecillewaet camping area. The Asulkan hut sits at 2,100 metres (6,900 ft) on the Asulkan Pass, the Sapphire Col hut is a basic shelter near The Dome, and the Glacier Circle cabin in the Beaver River valley is a base for travelling in the southern areas of the park. None of the camping facilities in the park are maintained during winter months.
Backcountry use and camping permit (2018):
- Overnight, per person $9.80
- Season, per person $68.70
Because of the huge amounts of snow, there is a near constant avalanche danger during winter months, including along the Trans-Canada Highway. There is online avalanche safety information available. Parks Canada often closes areas of Glacier National Park in winter so that soldiers may trigger controlled avalanches using 105mm howitzers or explosives.
- Head east to visit Yoho National Park, Banff National Park, and further on to Calgary.
- Head west to visit Revelstoke, the Shuswap, and Kamloops.
|Routes through Glacier National Park|
|Kamloops ← Revelstoke ←||W E||→ Golden → Banff|