Glacier Park Boat Company dates back to 1938, when Mr. Arthur J. Burch, a banker in Kalispell purchased the contract to provide tour boat services in Glacier National Park from Captain Billy Swanson. Captain Swanson was a boat builder in the Flathead Valley who worked closely with the Great Northern Railroad in building the first boats to provide transportation and tours on the lakes in Glacier National Park. 

This historic tour boat company, which stemmed from Captain Billy Swanson and the Great Northern Railroad, has remained in the Burch family for more than 70 years. Glacier Park Boat Company, while going through a series of evolutions, has now been passed on to the third generation of the Burch family to keep alive the great traditions of visitor services in historic tour boats in Glacier National Park.


The Boats

The boats are part of the family, too. As you can imagine, these classic wooden boats take endless hours of work to maintain their original splendor. Most of this work has to be done in spring and fall in boathouses on Glacier National Park’s lakes. While the scenery is great, spring weather in Montana is often unpredictable, many lakes are over 5000 feet in elevation and the boathouses are unheated. The amount of pride and determination it has taken for the Burch family to keep our fleet afloat is insurmountable.

Captain Swanson built the tour boat Sinopah, which was placed on Two Medicine Lake and has remained there ever since. The Sinopah is a 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with Certificate of Inspection. 

In 1925, The Great Northern Railroad hired Captain Swanson to build the tour boat the Little Chief. Her original name was Rising Wolf and she was placed in Two Medicine Lake. In 1932 she transferred to Saint Mary Lake, and her namesake became the Little Chief. She is named after a monumental mountain rising from the shores of Saint Mary Lake. A year later in 1933, she moved back to Two Medicine Lake under the name Rising Wolf. Finally in 1970, she made the voyage back to Saint Mary Lake under the name Little Chief where she has remained ever since. This vessel is a 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.

In 1929, Captain Swanson built the tour boat DeSmet for the Great Northern Railroad. She was constructed to carry passengers on Lake McDonald and this lake has remained her home ever since. The DeSmet was named after Father Pierre DeSmet, a prominent Jesuit missionary in the area. This vessel is a 57-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 80 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.

In the 1930s, Mr. Swanson built the tour boat Altyn for the Great Northern Railroad. She was placed on Josephine Lake in the Many Glacier Valley but was unfortunately destroyed by an avalanche in the winter of 1959.

In 1945, Arthur J. Burch (founder of Glacier Park Boat Company, Inc.) built the tour boat Morning Eagle for Glacier Park Boat Company, Inc. She was first named Big Chief and was placed on Swiftcurrent Lake. In 1960, her name changed to the Morning Eagle and she was transferred to Lake Josephine where she has remained ever since. This vessel is a 45-foot carvel planked launch with cedar on an oak frame, authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection. Putting the Morning Eagle on Lake Josephine was not an easy task, and likely not one that will happen again. There is a shallow rocky stream that connects SwiftcurrentLake with Lake Josephine. In the spring of 1975, six college students took six days to hand-winch the Morning Eagle against the current, up the one-half mile stream. It has been stated many times that moving a boat this large between the two lakes would likely not be possible again. Since the Morning Eagle launch on Lake Josephine, it has never been removed. All maintenance is done on site.

In 1960, Arthur J. Burch built the tour boat Chief Two Guns for Glacier Park Boat Company. She was placed on Swiftcurrent Lake where she has remained ever since. This vessel is a 45-foot marine plywood hull launch with batten seam construction authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.

In 1984, Art M. Burch (son of the founder of Glacier Park Boat Company, Inc.) built the tour boat Joy II for Glacier Park Boat Company, Inc. She was first named the Vessel International II and operated out of Waterton, Canada, in support of the Prince of Wales Hotel. In 1986, her name changed to Joy II and she was transported across the border to St. Mary Lake, where she has remained ever since. This vessel is a 41-foot marine fiberglass hull launch authorized by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry 49 passengers with current Certificate of Inspection.

It is of historic note that most of the boat houses built for these tour boats were designed and constructed with the specific boat in mind. Each fall, these boats are lifted on a cradle and track system and moved into the boat house. The doors are then closed tightly for protection from the winter months. Every spring we come back and do it all over again in the spirit of those boat men and women who got it all started.