The Best Times To Visit Glacier National Park, Montana
Visiting Glacier National Park anytime of the year is worth it. With over 700 miles of trails, the beauty of this majestic corner of Montana attracts over 3 million visitors a year.
Glacier Park is incredibly diverse in its terrain, weather and ecosytems from one area to the next. Which areas are open to visitors changes greatly from season to season. Your experience will be highly dependent on when you choose to visit Glacier Park and where you want to go.
Natural factors such as avalanches and snowpack typically keep the Going-To-The-Sun Road closed through mid June. In late August, there is a higher chance of wildfires or smoke being a factor during your visit.
So how do you know when is the best time to visit Glacier? How do you beat the crowds and find the ideal time for your favorite activities in Glacier? We’ll lay out the key factors for you to consider so you can find the sweet spot and plan your perfect adventure to the Crown of The Continent.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park?
The first week of July through early September is the best time to visit for most people. The roads and stores are open, the waterfalls are pumping with crystal clear water and the weather in Glacier (insert link) is fine. Of course, this is also the most crowded time of the year to visit so you’ll need to expect more traffic and encounter more hikers on popular trails. Also, make sure you’ve reserved your ticketed entry so you can access the park during this peak window.
For those that want to escape the crowds, visiting in late September is absolutely the best. Some of the typical restaurants and attractions may be closed, but the park is still completely accessible, the crowds are cut in half and the fall colors are starting to come alive.
For those that want to maximize top activities and things to do in Glacier, July is the best month for whitewater rafting, fishing and hiking in lush, green surroundings.
Deciding when to visit Glacier is ultimately dependent on what you’re hoping to see and the activities you hope to do while you are here.
What to Know About Glacier Weather, Closures and Other Seasonal Factors
Perhaps the most important factor for timing your trip is the XYZ weather in Glacier (link?). The best weather is from late June through the first week of September when you’ll find temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s with relatively little rainfall. In particular, we love June and July because the surroundings are still green and lush from the spring rains. In April and May you can expect cool temperatures and rains that make for incredible waterfalls and rushing rivers. Mid-September and October bring crisp temperatures that will typically be in the 60’s and 50’s during the day and may drop below freezing at night. Make sure to always check conditions before your visit as the temperatures and weather patterns are constantly changing.
Roads & Openings
Another important consideration is when the Going-To-The-Sun Road opens. This drive over the continental divide is iconic and dependent on the depth of the snowpack. While there is not a set date each year, the road typically opens during the last two weeks of June. Get updates on the progress of the road opening and other key information on closures. But, even when the road is not open and Logan Pass is inaccessible, you can still access Lake Mcdonald in West Glacier, East Glacier and St. Mary on the east side of the Park that will make your visit worthwhile.
On the east side, Many Glacier typically opens in late May or early June. East Glacier is a quaint town along the famous Great Northern Railway system, tucked at the edge of Glacier and the rolling plains of Montana. It provides great access into the southeastern area of Glacier Park and is open year round. With that said, the historic Glacier Park Lodge and many other amenities will be closing up by mid to late September, so bring your own supplies when coming in the off-season. The popular Two Medicine, just a short drive from East Glacier, provides better access into the park and usually opens in late May and closes in late October.
When heading up to Polebridge and the Northwest entrance to the Park, timing becomes even more important. Attempting this drive on the 35 mile (mostly dirt) road in the winter is not for the faint of heart. Even in the summer, the road is bumpy and recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles only or those with good clearance. You’ll typically find the best road conditions May and June before the summer traffic has worsened potholes and the rains keep the dust down. It is still accessible later, but prepare yourself for bumps, dust and a slower pace.
Glacier Entry Ticket
The newest seasonal factor is the ticketed entry system for Glacier Park which began the summer of 2021. A ticketed entry is required to go into the Park from West Glacier and also required for entry into Polebridge for 2022. They can be reserved two months in advance and also two days in advance, but getting tickets through the online lottery can be pretty difficult if not nearly impossible when booking just days in advance. After Labor Day weekend a ticket is not needed, but presuming your visit falls in the summer months, plan ahead and get your tickets as soon as possible.
The Best Times for Popular Glacier National Park Activities
Knowing what activities in Glacier National Park that you want to do can greatly influence when you choose to visit.
Hiking In Glacier - Glacier is perhaps the greatest area for hiking in the entire lower 48 states. With over 700 miles of trails and unlimited opportunities to climb inspiring peaks, it is worth spending time exploring this Park on foot. The prime time for hikers is July through September. Most snows have melted, wildlife abounds and the weather is ideal. Check out our Favorite Hikes In Glacier for some ideas on where to begin.
Biking In Glacier - The spring is the ideal time for bikers looking to enjoy Going To The Sun Road with no car traffic. Bike along upper McDonald Creek and catch views of Heavens Peak as you make your way up Going-To-The-Sun before the fun ride back down. Check out places to rent bikes and e-bikes if you didn’t bring your own.
Water Activities - Kayaking, Rafting, SUPs and Fishing In Glacier - July through September is ideal for water sports in Glacier. The air and water temps have warmed and the long days make evening floats amazing. Kayak Lake Mcdonald or SUP along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. July through September is also ideal for anglers looking to catch famous Montana trout in nearby streams.
Snowshoeing & Skiing In Glacier National Park - The winter months have more limited access, but there is still plenty to do. Access Lake Mcdonald for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and backcountry skiing on the surrounding peaks of Glacier. There is also excellent cross country trails along the southern edge of the park near Marias Pass. Check out our favorite tours to have a local guide you to these gems.
Best Time for Photos - Anytime of year in Glacier can provide amazing photo opportunities, but our personal favorite is late September and early October. Not only do the minimal crowds make those nature shots even more natural, the colors of the changing Larches are breathtaking. The fall colors create iconic yellow and green hillsides for more dynamic photos. The air is almost always clear of any late summer smoke, which is an important added bonus.
How to Time a Trip to Glacier National Park to Beat the Crowds
The best way to beat the crowds in Glacier is simply come in mid-September or later. It gets chilly so bring extra layers. But, the hiking is amazing and the ability to access trailheads that might be completely full in summer months makes it totally worth the late-season visit. If you can’t make the Fall, get to Glacier in May before school ends and you can enjoy many beautiful lower elevation hikes without the crowds. Winter is always mellow and crowd-free, but don’t expect to find many stores or restaurants open within the park.
The Advantages of Visiting Glacier National Park in Summer
Glacier National Park in the Summer is, well….heaven on earth. This is the best weather window, the trails are all cleared of snow (usually by early July) and there are tons of great things to do that you can’t find any other time of the year. For example, white-water rafting on the middle fork of the Flathead is ideal June through the first weeks of August before river flows get too low. Fishing is great in the summer and you can even fish without a license when inside of the Park!
There is a palpable buzz during the summer and local festivities abound. Bars and restaurants that are shuttered in the off-season brim with people, food and drink. Locals and tourists alike will find their way to summer concerts or other fun festivals as well.
Additionally, nearby attractions of Whitefish and Flathead Lake provide many more places to visit beyond Glacier during the summer time. Enjoy ziplines and other activities on Whitefish Mountain, boating on Flathead Lake or get on an off-road vehicle to explore the mountains nearby. In Glacier and the surrounding area you can also enjoy picking wild huckleberries in late June and July.
The Advantages of Visiting Glacier National Park in Fall
We can’t reiterate enough how wonderful Glacier is in the Fall. The crowds shrink noticeably by mid September, yet the incredible views, hiking and wildlife remain the same or even better than the summer. Many shops and restaurants will wait until the last week of September to close down so you can still enjoy many amenities and creature comforts. Try the Huckleberry pie!
We also like the Fall in Glacier because of the changing colors. Larch needles turn to a fiery yellow and deciduous trees turn red and gold. In particular, Going-To-The-Sun road the last week of September and first week of October is a treat. This is a great time to snap your family photos or capture frame-worthy nature landscapes.
The Advantages of Visiting Glacier National Park in Winter
Encounter Glacier National Park in its most quiet and serene state. Avoid the crowds and enjoy the mountain views, which look even more dramatic when covered with snow. West Glacier is the primary point of entry into Glacier during the Winter. Here, you’ll find crowd-free access to Lake Mcdonald all winter long. For the adventurous, strap on cross-country skis or snowshoes to tour around the upper end of Lake McDonald. You can even go as far up as the famous Avalanche Lake trail. Driving in the winter is restricted beyond the Lake McDonald Lodge, so park at the lodge and enjoy the winter wonderland beyond. To get the most out of Glacier Park in the winter, check out a couple of our favorite winter activities.
The Advantages of Visiting Glacier National Park in Spring
For those that don’t mind a bit of inclement weather, the Spring in Glacier can be an underrated prize. Our favorite feature is probably the rushing waterfalls, many of which have slowed to a trickle or are non-existent in August are a sight to behold in April through early June. Second, whitewater rafting can be at its prime in the spring months of May and June. If you choose to head to the Northwestern entrance near Polebridge, you’ll find road conditions are usually at the prime condition (still be prepared for bumps) before the dust and potholes of summer can become a bit overwhelming.
The other big attraction in the spring is biking in Glacier. Because the Going-To-The-Sun Road is closed through mid to late June, the road up to Logan Pass is only open to hikers and bikers. You can catch incredible views along McDonald Creek, stop at the Trail of the Cedars and climb up to “the loop”. You can even ride as high as Logan Pass once the snow has been cleared, but before it is open to automobiles. While biking is still open later in the summer months, it has restricted hours and the narrow shoulder is less than ideal for sharing the road with cars.
Hopefully, this guide will help you plan when you’ll visit Glacier National Park. Our local team is eager to share more tips or connect you to the top things to do in the area. Please reach out with any questions and enjoy this majestic place!
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