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Great Lodges

Great Lodges of the National Parks

Glacier Lodges: Lake McDonald

Lodge | Setting | Trivia


The first extensive survey of the Lake McDonald region was conducted by the Ahern expedition of August 1890, which was searching for a route over the Continental Divide.

Lt. George Ahern (1859-1940) led the military-civilian group. Other members of the expedition included Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry, a naturalist from the University of Wisconsin, two Indian guides, and two prospectors. Their route included Lake McDonald, Camas Creek, the North Fork, and the Flathead Valley. It is thought that the group then met up with another troop of Buffalo Soldiers at Demersville (near modern-day Kalispell.)

Several members of the expedition featured largely in the early history of the Park. A number of natural features were named after Ahern, including a creek, glacier, peak, and Ahern Pass, regarded as one of the most dangerous passes in Glacier National Park.

Natural History
Approaching from the west, Ahern and his cohorts would surely have been concerned about the thin-edged spine of rocky cliffs now known as the Garden Wall. This dramatic segment of the Continental Divide separates the McDonald and Swiftcurrent valleys.

Between Lake McDonald and the Garden Wall, the party would have encountered another lower wall (the Glacier Wall), and beyond that, a small plateau. This gently sloped area is actually part of the broad shoulders of a mountain. It must have provided a striking contrast to the men, given that they had just struggled up from the lake through dense brush, surrounded by near-vertical cliffs and crags.

Other non-Native wanderers had certainly seen the massive peak prior to the Ahern expedition, but one of the party's members, prospector Louis "Dutchie" Meyer, is credited with naming the mountain Heaven's Peak.

People & Protection
One of the prospectors that accompanied the Ahern expedition was Joe Cosley. Later he would become one of the Park's first Rangers, and one of its most notorious figures.
A skilled hunter and trapper, Cosley was hired as a Ranger shortly after the Park was created in 1910. By the summer of 1912, he was invited to leave the Park's service. Apparently he spent too much time carousing in Canada, and worse, he was suspected of poaching.

Sometime in the '20s, after serving as a sharpshooter in WWI, Cosley returned to the Park. In 1929, he was arrested by Ranger Joe Heimes, and officially charged with poaching in the Belly River region of the Park. Heimes escorted Cosley to trial at Belton, where he was fined $100. But Cosley made a run for it, and escaped into Canada. In 1943, Joe Cosley's body was found in a remote Alberta cabin.

Park Transportation
There are three significant elements in the transportation history of Glacier National Park: the Great Northern Railway, the "jammer" buses, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Running up steep mountain grades and over the Continental Divide, the Going-to-the-Sun Road roughly bisects the Park on an east-west axis. The road required amazing engineering, and great perseverance. The final section of the road, over Logan Pass, took 11 years to build.

When the road opened in 1933, it completely changed the way that visitors experienced the Park. Suddenly, people could drive to areas that had once been accessible only after days of travel on foot or horseback.

Today's visitors still marvel at this wonder of civil engineering. Considered one of the most scenic roads in North America, the road is a National Historic Landmark.