Glacier National Park is noted for a variety of things, including towering mountains, the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road, and a plethora of blue lakes. These sights and experiences are enthralling and adrenaline-pumping, but there's one thrill that shouldn't be overlooked: scuba diving.
Yes, you read that correctly: you can scuba dive in Glacier National Park if you're certified and have your own equipment. Scuba reveals a fresh, rarely seen aspect of this popular U.S. National Park in Montana, from a shipwreck at the Gertrude steam paddle wheeler dive site in Upper Waterton Lake to Apgar Village, where antiques from the park's early days are beautifully lined the bottom.
In an email, Carolyn Bakker, general manager and travel specialist for Dive Montana, writes, "Glacier Park [offers] high-altitude natural lakes, and some of the best visibility in the state." "Glacier National Park is a fantastic place to visit. By diving it, you can see a side of it that no one else can."
Where Can You Go Scuba Diving in Glacier National Park?
Apgar Village on Lake McDonald, the park's largest lake, is Bakker's favourite Glacier National Park diving destination. The lake, which is 472-feet deep (143.8 metres) and covers a basin sculpted by ice age glaciers, is ideal for clear and scenic scuba diving. Lake McDonald's Apgar Village, according to the National Park Service, is one of the most conveniently accessible dive places; it's located immediately off the Apgar Visitor Center, which offers amenities like parking and snacks. Bakker's favourite glacier-dive phenomenon can also be found in Apgar.
"We call the Shovel Fork Forest out in front of Apgar Village," she continues. "Divers came across a debris field filled with pitch forks, shovels, axes, and other tools. The divers pressed the shovel handles into the lake's bottom to keep them upright, creating a 'forest.'"
The attractions in Lake McDonald don't end there. Bakker says, "The second location that I adore is called the 'underwater forest.'" "Trees that have fallen over make for an intriguing dive in this region. Because this is a natural lake, the reason they're there is a bit of a mystery."
According to the BBC, these full-grown trees were dragged into Lake McDonald by a landslide in the early 1900s. The hefty tree roots fell to the bottom, while the tree tops floated upright, producing a real underwater forest that seemed to be from another planet.
Other dive opportunities in Glacier National Park include Upper Waterton Lake, which is located on the Canadian side of the park. The remnants of the huge Gertrude, a 100-foot-long (30-meter) steam paddle-wheeler built in 1907, can be seen from this diving site. This place, according to the NPS, is easy to find and dive; it's just off the Waterton Park Townsite's picnic area. Divers can also visit the Fish Creek Bay Wreck, which is located on the southern edge of Lake McDonald, however this adventure requires boat access. It is, however, only 10 feet (3 metres) deep at its deepest point, so the journey may be worthwhile.
"I receive queries about diving there," she says, "but it's a bit tough for divers from out of state unless you have your own equipment." "Because it is a national park, local dive shops do not offer tours. [Dive shops] would be required to obtain a concession permission, which is rather costly."
Divers, on the other hand, do not require a tour leader. Visitors can dive on their own with proper equipment, and the national park does not require divers to obtain permits, even during COVID. The sole stipulation is that when divers are in the water, diver-down flags must be displayed. While the park is open all year, the months of April through November are the greatest for diving. At the surface, midsummer water temperatures are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius), while at 100 feet, they are around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) (30 meters).
Bakker advises that diving should be done with caution and only after thorough training. "High-altitude diving training would be required," she says. (The elevation of Lake McDonald is 3,153 feet [961 metres].) According to ScubaDiving.com, the pressure change is more significant at greater altitudes like these, especially within the first 30 feet (9 metres). "Because the water is also chilly," Bakker explains, "a dry suit would be the ideal exposure suit."
And aspiring divers should take her counsel seriously. Sadly, an 18-year-old lady died while diving at the Lake McDonald Lodge dock in November 2020. She was diving with a party of six other people. Another diver in her group, a 22-year-old man, required assistance due to shortness of breath. He was eventually airlifted to Seattle for treatment with hyperbaric oxygen (a treatment used for decompression sickness, a risk associated with scuba diving, according to the Mayo Clinic).