An Intro to (Canada’s) Glacier National Park

Our detour in Golden lasted longer than I anticipated, and we didn’t get on the road until 5pm. Lucky for us, we gained an extra hour along the way. En route to Revelstoke, I wanted to do a couple of things in Glacier National Park which sits between Mt. Revelstoke NP and Yoho NP along the Trans-Canada Highway. There aren’t many short, roadside stops, but I thought we could do the few available to whet our appetite for a return trip. However, since we spent the morning hiking in Yoho, I had to trim my list down to three relatively brief stops: Bear Creek Falls, Rogers Pass, and Hemlock Grove.

This section of the Trans-Canada Highway mirrors much of the Canadian Pacific’s transcontinental railway route, and the drive is stunning. Before we even reached the park boundary, we were mesmerized by views overlooking mountains in Banff NP as the road climbed steadily. Unfortunately for us, much of the Trans-Canada was undergoing construction through and slightly beyond Rogers Pass. All of the few pullouts were closed, and turns across traffic were more difficult. Partly due to this mess, we missed the turn for Bear Creek Falls and, without a safe way to turn around, skipped it.

Despite the lack of pullouts and glaring orange construction signs, the scenery from the road was mind-boggling. The route is hugged by towering peaks and glacial giants. It was easy to see what difficulties the railroad workers faced attempting to conquer this volatile stretch of land. Slides and avalanches were common, burying workers and track each winter. The construction of snowsheds in the most prone areas helped, but ultimately, Canadian Pacific abandoned Rogers Pass in 1916 when the Connaught Tunnel was completed allowing the railway to pass through Mount Macdonald. Even today, the Trans-Canada Highway through Rogers Pass is unpredictable and a lot of money is spent maintaining snowsheds and performing avalanche control.

When we arrived at Rogers Pass, we pulled off the highway to go through the newly-renovated visitor center built in the likeness of a railway snowshed. A beautiful structure in an incredible setting, we learned more about the construction of the railroad and the challenge of building a route through the Selkirk Mountains.

You can see from the model how treacherous this route is

Since we missed Bear Creek Falls, I wanted to pull off somewhere to get a larger glimpse into Glacier than the highway allowed. We ended up turning into the Loop Brook campground and parking at the trailhead at the end. The campground was fairly empty and seemed peaceful; it made me regret skipping through the park so quickly. We didn’t have time to do the short hike, but got out to stretch our legs a bit. The stone trestles straddling the creek are some of the oldest surviving man-made structures in western Canada. They are remnants of an elaborate figure-8 system of track which allowed the railroad to climb toward the pass at a more manageable pace.

Our final stop in Glacier, near the end of the park, was the Hemlock Grove. A short, quarter mile boardwalk allowed us to walk through a small section of old-growth western red cedar and hemlock trees. We were alone for the majority of our walk and had ample time to pause and ponder the enormity of the trees. The oldest trees in the grove were at least 350 years old!

Leaving the Hemlock Grove behind, we got back on the highway and continued toward Revelstoke. But the short introduction to Glacier worked; I’m already planning hikes for our return.

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