Glacier National Park’s Garden of Heaven

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Section of current NPS map

The Garden of Heaven was a name suggested for a valley between Glacier National Park’s Morning Eagle Falls and Lake Josephine by naturalist Morton J. Elrod in 1924.

Elrod, who wrote the park’s NPS-approved hiking handbook called Elrod’s Guide and Book of Information of Glacier National Park described the Garden of Heaven as follows:

“The open narrow valley along Cataract creek for perhaps two miles below Morning Eagle Falls, beginning where the trail comes out into the open, is a very beautiful flower garden in July and August. At the foot of the towering Garden Wall, flanked on all sides but one by protective mountains, the writer has called it and wishes others might call it, ‘The Garden of Heaven.’ By wandering away from the trail and examining the mossy banks of the meandering streams, the fully beauty of the wonderful garden will be understood.”

Elrod’s guide was published in 1924 and revised in 1930. Unfortunately, the name for this valley on the trail to Piegan Pass didn’t make it into park naturalist George C. Ruhle’s Guide to Glacier National Park when it replaced the Elrod guide as the official park trail handbook in 1949.

Instrumental in forming the park’s ranger naturalist program, Elrod and Ruhle worked together. So, it’s probable that Ruhle was well aware of Elrod’s name for the valley. In fact, much of the information in the Ruhle guidebook–which went through three editions–closely approximated Elrod’s facts and descriptions.

I have found no other park reference to the Garden of Heaven other than in Jack Holterman’s encyclopedic 1985 Place Names of Glacier/Waterton National Parks, on which I worked as an editorial assistant at the Glacier Natural History Association. I have never found the name on a map or mentioned in any other park trail guide.

Elrod’s description is apt. The trail above Lake Josephine between Mt. Gould and Mt. Allen is a wonderful spot. The falls itself is a little over five miles from Many Glacier Hotel. Hikers can “cheat” on the walk by taking the Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine launches.

The rare, long out-of-print park guidebook by a prolific writer and photographer is the origin for the title of my 2010 novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey. (Some readers have thought that took the title from the 14th-century poet Hafiz’s poem by that name.)

If anyone ever finds a postcard, guidebook, or trail map that refers to the park valley by this old name, I would appreciate hearing about it.

–Malcolm

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