Belly River Sunset

Panorama of the Belly River Valley at sunset

The Belly River is the name of the northeastern-most area of Glacier National Park. Here the plains meet the mountains, bringing two ecosystems together in an awesome display of rugged beauty. The Belly River gets its name from the word “Stomach” (or Mokowanis) in local Blackfeet language.

The Makowanis/Belly River is a major river that originates from the glaciers in what is actually two valleys, Ipasha and Ahern Glaciers in the more southern Elizabeth/Helen Lake valley and Chaney Glacier in the Mokowanis/Glenn/Cosley Lakes valley.  The Belly then runs northeastwards out of the park directly into Alberta, Canada. The confluence of these two valleys into the floodplain of the Belly River Valley once provided near perfect habitat for large herds of bison, with Blackfeet and other tribes using this flat area for their hunting grounds.

Today, the Belly River Valley no longer contains bison, but is still a remote and wild area mainly used by humans for backpacking. The authors can attest to the wild nature of this region, having once seen eight bears in one single day hiking from Helen Lake to Chief Mountain trailhead and having been charged by a moose at Cosley Lake. The region is also extremely rugged, containing many of Glacier’s highest peaks, with three of the seven highest points in the park within the Glenns Lake Valley (Mount Cleveland, Mount Merritt and Kaiser Point). The fishing is superb in every lake in the two valleys, with Lake Elizabeth being considered one of the best fishing lakes in the entire park.

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