The National Historic Vessel Little Chief has plied the wind-blown waters of Glacier National Park since 1926, and is joined by four other historic wooden tour boats operating on Glacier’s deep-blue lakes. Make your excursion a true exploration by joining a naturalist for a 2-mi (3-km) hike to St. Mary Falls from the head of St. Mary Lake.
Step onto historic, classic boats and glide across beautiful alpine lakes nestled among Glacier's peaks. See a spectacular side of Glacier National Park not visible from the road, while Glacier Park Boat Company staff share their knowledge and love of this incredibly special place.
Boats played a significant part in the development of Glacier. As far back as the turn of the twentieth century, ferry service on Lake McDonald connected camps at the head of the lake with the train at West Glacier and other services at Apgar.
Great Northern Railway spared no expense when developing "America's Little Switzerland." Their idea of "Seeing America First" was one that they plunged into with an eye toward the classic luxury that travelers from the East were accustomed to in the early 1900's. Their tours included every sort of transportation available in that day. People rode out from the East on the Great Northern train, rode horseback throughout the Park, stayed at the spectacular chalets and lodges, and took tours on the wooden boats. To this day, the boat tours remain an integral part of the Park experience.
J. W. Swanson was a renowned builder of wooden boats in the nearby Flathead Valley. He prided himself on his fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. Swanson built many beautiful wooden craft for his own boat tourism company as well as the Great Northern Railway. Mr. Arthur J. Burch, a banker in Kalispell, purchased the boat contract services from Mr. Swanson in 1938. The Burch Family has been operating these services for 80 years under the Glacier Park Boat Company name.
The Little Chief and the Sinopah are sisters launched in 1926. They are both 45 feet long and will carry 49 passengers. Little Chief is currently in service on St. Mary Lake while the Sinopah plies the waters of Two Medicine Lake. The DeSmet was built in 1930 and launched on Lake McDonald where she still runs today. She is 57 feet long, carries 70 passengers, and has never left Lake McDonald.
In 1945, Swanson joined Art Burch in Kalispell to build the 45-foot Morning Eagle which operates on Lake Josephine in the Many Glacier area of the Park. Rounding out the fleet of wooden boats is the Chief Two Guns, a 45-foot, 49 passenger vessell on Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier. Chief Two Guns was built in 1961 by Glacier Park Boat Builders. These two boats work in tandem, taking visitors across both lakes with a short hike between boats. Adventurous passengers will depart from the end of Lake Josephine and hike to either Grinnell Lake or Grinnell Glacier.
All of the boats spend the winter in boat houses built specifically for them on their respective lakes. In most cases, the boats are winched into their boathouses on the same wooden cradle on the same narrow rail tracks that "Cap" Swanson and Art Burch used 3 generations ago.
Photographic stops, Optional guided hikes with later return, All weather seating and easy boarding, Boat tours are offered at 4 locations: Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, Rising Sun on St. Mary Lake, and Two Medicine. Morning, afternoon, and evening departures are available. Check your destination location for a detailed description and departure schedule.