Glacier National Park History

Glacier National Park history is a fascinating story. Learn the history of Glacier National Park, Montana and find out how Glacier National Park formed through pictures and videos.

Glacier National Park history begins many millions of years ago, creating the awesome mountains, alpine lakes, and natural beauty that marks out this area today.

The history of Glacier National Park is rooted in glaciers. Many think that Glacier National Park was named for the glaciers inside the park—but the truth is, Glacier Park was named for the glaciers that created it and are no longer there.

The History of Glacier National Park, Montana

Created by the giant forces of nature, huge mountains were thrust upwards then forcefully carved by the massive weight of glacial erosion. The steep sided valleys, ridges and lakes are still a work in progress by Mother Nature today. This fantastic site is Glacier National Park, Montana.

How was Glacier National Park Formed?

Glacier National Park history is a long and fascinating story. Thinking about its history sure puts my short life clearly into perspective!

Okay, if you’re interested in knowing exactly how was Glacier National Park formed, you’re gonna have to swallow some science… ready?

This area of Montana was formed some 170 million years ago when stresses on the continental plates pushed a rock wedge eastwards for more than 50 miles (80km). Now known as the Lewis Overthrust, this natural action forced softer Cretaceous rocks on top of much older rocks and over time erosion went to work.

Wind, rain, and massive glacial movement during the last Ice Age carved a magnificent landscape, which is now our inheritance. And that’s the scientific history of Glacier National Park.

Fascinating, right?

When hiking past Chief Mountain on the east side of Glacier National Park, I am always impressed by this giant rock, left standing where all else has been turned into dust. It’s just one lone, isolated, rugged rock towering 4,500 feet (1,372m) above the Great Plain.

Native Americans

The first inhabitants of Glacier arrived around 10,000 years ago. Ancestors of the Shoshone, Flathead, Salish and Cheyenne Native American Indians have left traces of their presence in archeological evidence which has been uncovered.

In more recent Glacier National Park history, the Blackfeet Indians spread west from the Great Plain during the 18th century. Protected from the harsh winter winds that blow across the plains, they not only found shelter, but also other food and game meat.

Chief Mountain and the region to the southeast at Two Medicine were so impressive and soul-stirring that the Blackfeet Indians considered the ground sacred. I know what they mean.

In 1855 the Lame Bull Treaty established the Blackfeet Reservation to the east of Glacier National Park, Montana’s borders. In 1895 the area of Chief Mountain and 800,000 acres surrounding it were sold to the US Government by Chief White Calf of the Blackfeet for $1.5 million. The Blackfeet Indians retained the hunting rights on the land.

Today, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation still borders the eastern area of Glacier National Park, while the Flathead Indian Reservation is to the south and west.

American Exploration

Exploration of what is now Glacier National Park began in the 1850s with small parties discovering and charting the area of what later became this national treasure.

George Bird Grinnel was an important player in the history of Glacier National Park and worked for over 20 years in the area from the 1880s. He famously described Glacier as the “Crown of the Continent” and he worked tirelessly to protect its treasures.

In 1891 the Great Northern Railway cut its way across America from St Paul to Seattle. It was a major influence in the shaping of Glacier National Park history. The railroad runs along the southern edge of Glacier National Park.

American tourists were first able to view this natural wonder thanks to the Great Northern Railway. The train would run straight to Many Glacier Lodge, from which Americans got a firsthand view of Glacier National Park’s history, wildlife, mountains, and alpine lakes.

Glacier National Park was designated a Forest Preserve in 1897. It was upgraded to National Park status in 1910, but did not offer the Blackfeet Indians any continuing guarantees of land use.

Modern Times

Development of chalets and hotels around Glacier’s large lakes was another milestone in Glacier National Park history and helped tourists begin to explore America’s Switzerland on horseback.

Glacier Park Lodge and Lewis Glacier Hotel, which later became Lake McDonald Lodge, were built by the Great Northern Railway and the surviving buildings are today on the National Register of Historic Places.

With the advent of motorcars, the 53 mile (85km) long, delightfully named “Going-to-the-Sun Road” further accessed the national park in 1932.

The year 2010 marks the Centenary of Glacier National Park.

Now that you know the history of Glacier National Park, it’s time to visit and celebrate the Centenary of its formation!

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