When Is The Best Time To Visit Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park is located in the mountainous region of northwest Montana, offering visitors views of spectacular mountain scenery, glaciers, and pristine lakes. The park is most well-known for its many intact glacial fields, which are steadily losing mass due to climate change. However, when is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?

All seasons have their own charm and attraction, so your question actually contains several smaller questions. Let’s talk about all four seasons one by one.

The best time to go to Glacier National Park

Spring

The spring season is one of the best seasons to visit Glacier National Park and hike through its trails. The snow is starting to melt and give way to lush green grass and wildflowers that decorate the mountains.

The weather is pleasantly warm — perfect for camping and biking. The park opens up for the season in May, allowing visitors to explore the previously unreachable trails. This season is also ideal for whitewater rafting. Check out the things to do in White Sands National Park.

Fall

The colors of fall are breathtaking at Glacier National Park. That’s because autumn is the time when deciduous trees change color and drop their leaves, exposing different hues of green, yellow, red, and orange all across the landscape.

The weather is usually mild and ideal for camping and hiking at this time of year, but there’s another great reason to visit in the fall. Kids go back to school, meaning the park is quiet so you can enjoy exploring the lower elevations. Also, lodgings and most attractions are closed in readiness for the cold season. Scenic Float Trips are a popular activity during this time. Fall is the perfect time to see local wildlife.

Winter

The winter season provides unique opportunities to see the park at its most majestic when all of its water bodies turn into frozen lakes, and pristine snow covers up everything, transforming the lush landscape into a winter wonderland. Because of the snow, many trails are closed for safety reasons; however, there are still opportunities to get outside and enjoy some hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

Summer

Everybody knows that summer is visiting season in Glacier National Park with warm weather and long days providing ample time to explore the park’s most popular attractions, including Going-to-the-Sun road. In addition, you will access ranger-led activities.

During this season, temperatures can reach highs of 80° F (26° C), but it can get much warmer at lower elevations. July to August is actually the best time to visit Glacier National Park. Since it is a busy season, prices will be higher. The good thing is that you can make bookings months before the trip date. Note that temperatures can reduce to the 40s during the nights, so carry some layers.

If you aren’t sure yet, the best way to decide when to visit is by looking at our yearly park events calendar. The park hosts many different annual events, including ranger-led hikes and free seminars for people interested in the local flora and fauna.

Interesting facts about Glacier National Park

  • Glacier receives over 3 million visitors annually.
  • The park has approximately 276 bird species and more than 70 animal species.
  • Has more than 700 hiking trails and over 762 lakes
  • Covers an area of 1583 square miles.

Things to do at Glacier National Park

1. Visit Lake McDonald

This glacier-fed lake is (obviously) the biggest attraction in the park, and it’s especially popular during the summer season. The lake is crystal clear with a cobalt blue color that reflects the mountains perfectly; every year, more than one million people flock to Lake McDonald for camping, boating, and fishing. From Lake McDonald, you can access two of the most popular trails at the park – Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail.

Related: How to prevent knee pain while hiking.

2. Going-to-the-Sun Road

The 50-mile (80km) Going-to-the-Sun road is the only road that traverses the park and provides visitors with unique views of its lakes, forests, and mountains. Many trails originate from the road allowing trekkers to hike through different parts of Glacier National Park.

The drive along this scenic road will take about two hours, depending on the number of stops you take and vehicle traffic. There are various parking lots where you can get out of the vehicle and take in the spectacular views.

3. Go to Many Glacier

Found on the east of the Continental Divide, the Many Glacier area is not accessible via Going-to-the-Sun Road. Visitors come here to see the wildlife, find trailheads, and seek accommodation. 13 miles from Many Glacier is Baab, with a general store and gas station. The community is 9 miles from The Entrance and St. Mary Village.

4. Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake is another popular attraction at the park. High cliffs surround the water body, and you will see several waterfalls. When hiking, you will pass through Avalanche Gorge and move to an uphill trail in a forest before reaching the lake. You can bring your kids along, but remember the trail has tree roots and rocks which may trip you.

5. Lake McDonald Lodge

Situated on the shores of Lake McDonald, this lodge offers visitors a range of activities – from boat cruises to horseback riding – as well as rooms with stunning views. The lodge is within walking distance from some of Glacier National Park’s most notable attractions, including Waterton Lakes National Park and the spectacular Going-to-the-Sun Road.

6. Many Glacier Hotel

This historic hotel is located at the foot of Swiftcurrent Lake, and it offers visitors stunning views of Mount Grinnell, Swiftcurrent Mountain, and the Continental Divide. Also, visitors can use the hotel’s boat tours, which operate every day. Swiftcurrent Inn and Many Glacier Campground are other accommodation options in the region.

7. The North Fork Road

The North Fork road is in the northwestern part of the park.  And you can only access it by a gravel road. Unlike Going-to-the-Sun Road, it usually has less traffic. You can drive on the North Fork Road to Lake Bowman. When you arrive at the lake, you can proceed to Lake Kintla, a couple of miles away.

8. Hiking

Hiking is a great way to explore Glacier National Park. There are hikes of all levels, meaning you can always find one that suits you. Here are some popular hikes at the park:

  • Hidden Lake Overlook – An Easy to moderate hike at an elevation gain of 460 feet and is 2.8 miles long. A dirt trail and boardwalk will take you to the overlook. If you’re lucky, you will spot bighorn sheep and mountain goats from the overlook.
  • Marys Falls – At 460 feet elevation, this 1.7-mile hike is an easy one. You can access it from a downhill trail from a Going-to-the-Sun Road parking lot. Once you arrive, you can proceed on another 1.6 miles to reach Virginia Falls.
  • Trail of the Cedars – Arguably the most popular trail at the park. The trail consists of gravel and a boardwalk. It is a mile long. The loop trail is flat and easy and provides great views of the Avalanche Gorge.
  • Grinnel Glacier – At 1600 feet elevation gain, this hike is difficult and is 10.6 miles long. You will see wildlife like moose and bear, alpines, a glacier, lakes, and waterfalls on the trail. Taking a boat across Josephine and Swiftcurrent lakes will remove 3.4 miles from the hike.
  • Highline Trail – A moderate 11.6-mile trail. You will begin the hike at Logan pass then walk downhill to reach the loop. A section of the trail is on the side of a cliff, offering awesome views of the park.
  • Avalanche Lake Trail – Moderate hike on 700 feet elevation gain. The 4.5-mile trail begins at the Trail of the Cedars. Since it gets a lot of traffic, hike early in the morning or late afternoon to enjoy the stunning views.
  • Iceberg Lake Trail – A difficult hike at 1200 feet elevation gain. It is 9.6 miles long and is another popular hiking trail at Glacier. You will see the Ptarmigan Falls as you head to the lake.

Related: Hiking vs running – the best for weight loss

9. Glacier Park Boat Company

Glacier Park Boat Company is a family-owned business started in 1938 that became the first tour operator in the park. With the handcrafted boats, visitors will go on guided tours of Many Glacier, Two Medicine, St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun, and Lake McDonald. You can use the boats to explore lakes and reach various trailheads.

10. Apgar Nature Center

You can start your exploration of the park by visiting Apgar center to learn about trail closures, bear sightings, and weather/road conditions. The Apgar Nature Center is in a small cabin built in the late 1920s and is surrounded by cedars. The Center has educational material and interactive activities for the kids.

11. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site formed through a partnership between Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada in 1932. The park has beautiful scenery and a wide range of wildlife. You can access restaurants, gift shops, and hotels from the nearby Waterton village. The village also offers boat and bike rentals to visitors.

12. Camping

Since it is in a remote area of the state, camping is one of the best ways to experience Glacier. Within the park are 13 campgrounds, with others near the entrance. Some popular campgrounds include:

  • Saint Mary Campground – Found on the eastern part of the park. A lot of campers visit during the peak season. You can book a spot in advance.
  • Apgar Campground – One of the largest campgrounds. Usually fills up during the summer, so make sure you’re among the first if you want to use this campground.

You can find other campgrounds in Bowman Lake, Many Glacier, Cut Blank, and Two Medicine areas. Also, the park has 60 backcountry campsites that you can only access with a permit.

13. Go to Two Medicine

Before the construction of Going-to-the-Sun Road in 1932, the Two Medicine area was the main attraction at Glacier. But this is not to say it’s not worth visiting these days. The point of attraction here is the Two Medicine Lake and its surroundings. Although not as popular, the campground in Two Medicine usually fills up during the peak season.

14. Bicycling

In spring, you can ride your bicycle on the Going-to-the-Sun Road when plows begin moving snow from the scenic road. At this time, the road isn’t usually open for vehicular traffic. You can ride the entire road till June 15th. Ensure you have safety gear such as helmets and highly visible clothing when bicycling and avoid areas where snow is being moved. Note that mountain biking is prohibited at Glacier.

15. Visit Wild Goose Island

If you are a photography enthusiast, Wild Goose Island is a must-visit. The small island is found in Saint Mary Lake. To access this spot, stop at the Wild Goose Island Lookout on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

16. Take Red Bus Tours

Guided tours are awesome, especially if you are visiting Glacier for the first time. Red Bus tours are an example of this. The guides understand the park and will tell you some interesting facts as you drive together. You could also hike with a guide.

Other popular guided activities include horseback riding, rafting trips, and scenic boat rides. You can book guided tours months in advance. This way, you can always get a spot even during the busiest seasons.

17. Logan Pass

This is the highest point in the park (at 6,646 feet) that you can access with a vehicle. It is located along the Going-to-the-Sun Road (about halfway into it). Reynolds and Clements Mountains are visible from here, and the surrounding area is full of wildflowers.

The icy mountains and the plants make a great background for photos. Remember, Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Trail, two popular trails, start at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center, you will learn about the Pass and everything around it. During the peak season, it’s difficult to find parking space, even if you come early. You can avoid this headache by booking a seat in the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle (it’s usually free).

Wildlife at Glacier National Park

If you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park, you’ll probably want to know what animals you can find in the national park and at nearby attractions.

Glacier National Park is most famous for its large population of mountain goats and bighorn sheep. The area also attracts grizzly and black bears, and it is possible to spot elk throughout the year.

Rafting tours, boat trips, and hiking trails are some of the best ways to see Glacier National Park’s wildlife. Many roadside attractions provide visitors with easy access to animals, including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk, for those who prefer slower-paced tours.

Extra Tips

Visitors should be aware that there is a chance of encountering bears, mountain lions, and wolves when they’re hiking in the area. Although it’s rare to come across any of these animals, visitors are advised not to leave their dogs outside unattended. You can reduce the risk of animal attacks by staying at least 100 yards away from all predators. Here’s a post on how to prevent bear attacks while hiking.

Some of the most popular wildlife viewing tours include boat tours, bus or train rides from Kalispell, and hiking trails. If you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park during the summer months, make sure you pack plenty of sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.

Hopefully, this piece has helped you pick the best time to visit Glacier National Park. Each season has great things to offer, so it’s up to you to decide on the best. Enjoy your next trip to Glacier!

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