Filed Under St. Mary

Rising Wolf “Little Chief"

Wooden boats first ferried visitors to these mountains across Lake McDonald in the 1890s. Creation of Glacier National Park in 1910 and the Great Northern Railway’s tourism infrastructure brought many more visitors and the need for transport and sight-seeing boats. Flathead Lake boat-builder J. W. Swanson began building and operating boats in the park starting with Ethel on Lake McDonald in 1911. Swanson subsequently built nine boats for use on the park’s glacial lakes. His exceptional skills intertwine with the park’s maritime history. In 1920, Swanson opened his own boat concession on Two Medicine Lake and at Many Glacier, building wooden passenger boats for these lakes. In 1926, he built twin 45-foot, 50-passenger vessels, the Rising Wolf for Two Medicine Lake and Little Chief for the Glacier Park Hotel Company on St. Mary Lake. Both the Rising Wolf and Little Chief carry heavy fir keels with oak frames, and cedar planking shaped to the curve of the hulls. (Little Chief, renamed Sinopah, now operates on Two Medicine Lake.) Swanson sold his boat concession and boats to Arthur J. Burch and Carl Anderson in 1938. Rising Wolf, named for the massive mountain that flanks the north shore of Two Medicine Lake, carried tourists until 1975; its use was then limited. The vessel received a meticulous 3,000-hour restoration by the Burch family in 1991. The fully restored Rising Wolf, rechristened Little Chief for its new home on St. Mary Lake, continues to enchant visitors with the same feeling and views as it did during its first excursions in 1926.


Rising Wolf
Rising Wolf Rising Wolf. Side view of the boat, facing south on St. Mary's Lake in Glacier National Park. Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Tyler Johnson Date: Apr.- July 2015
Rising Wolf
Rising Wolf Rising Wolf. Boat landing at Two Medicine Lake, Sinopah Mountain, and the bow of "Rising Wolf" launch. Two men stand on the dock next to the boat. Source: Montana History Portal Creator: George Alexander Grant Date: July 1932
Little Chief
Little Chief Little Chief. Side view of the boat, orientation difficult to determine in this photograph. Source: Montana State Historic Preservation Office Creator: Tyrel Johnson Date: 2016


St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana | Private


The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Rising Wolf “Little Chief",” Historic Montana, accessed July 12, 2024,