When Is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park for an Epic Outdoor Vacation?

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St Mary’s Lake is the second largest lake at Glacier National Park.
St Mary’s Lake is the second largest lake at Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

Glacier National Park, amidst the Rocky Mountains in northwest Montana, is a dream for hikers and lovers of waterfalls and wildflowers. Located in an area known as the Crown of the Continent, this US national park showcases sparkling glaciers, turquoise lakes, alpine valleys, jagged mountain slopes and wildlife such as grizzly bears and mountain goats. Spectacular scenery and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities draw visitors to explore across the Continental Divide, from the twisty-turny Going-to-the-Sun Road to the glistening Lake McDonald.

Glacier National Park is open year-round, offering snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter months and rafting in the summer.

So, when is the best time for you to visit this gorgeous national park?

Writer Keri Baugh has visited with her family in both summer and winter. She says Glacier National Park is ideally visited in late June through September, to enjoy all the hikes and everything the park has to offer. “Going-to-the-Sun Road may not be fully open until late June (this year it was covered in snow until then),” Keri warns.

If you put off your trip until late September, you’ll find the park ablaze with fall colors. Those who go in spring will be treated to wildflowers and gushing waterfalls.

So…when is the best time of year to visit Glacier National Park in Montana? Here’s what to consider when planning your trip.

two campers in front of Bowman Lake in late summer, a great time to visit Glacier National Park
You can have the park to yourself if you go a bit off the beaten path. Photo credit: Nick Kopf

When is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park?

July and August are the best times to visit Glacier National Park. Why? Several reasons:

  • The Going-to-the-Sun Road and park lodges will be open.
  • There’s a free shuttle that travels along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is a great option to consider, if you’re hesitant about driving the narrow, winding road. As the driver, first time visitor Nick Kopf had to focus on the road and not the incredible views.
  • More direct flights are offered to Glacier Park International Airport in nearby Kalispell, Montana during the summer months.
  • Daytime temperatures hover around the low 80s, although nighttime temps can sink to the 40s. The east side of this 1 million-acre park can be cooler and windier due to the higher elevation, while the west side can be wetter.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Dress in layers and carry a rain jacket, even in the summer. The weather at Glacier is predictably unpredictable.

Reflection of clouds in one of the lakes in Glacier National Park
The views! Keep your eyes open and your phone ready to capture the moments. Photo credit: Nick Kopf

How Long Should I Plan to Visit?

Most visitors spend three days trekking the hiking trails and traversing the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Arrive at popular parking lots such as Logan Pass and Avalanche Creek as early as possible (before sunrise) in peak season during the summer months.

Who Should Visit During Summer?

  • Families wishing to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, an engineering marvel.
  • Hikers seeking to explore most areas of the park, on both sides of the Continental Divide
  • Outdoor adventurers wanting to raft and fish the rivers
  • Visitors searching for more direct flight options
  • Those wanting to see or stay at the backcountry chalets
  • People who don’t mind crowds during their national park visits
Fall Colors at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park
Fall Colors at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Glacier National Park Service

Should I Visit Glacier National Park in the Fall?

Late August and early September, when most of the winter’s snow cover has melted even at the higher elevations, is the best time to see the glaciers.

Fall also is a wonderful season for hikers who appreciate quiet trailheads in lower elevations and leaf peepers seeking fall foliage. Western larch and aspen trees brighten the multi-color landscape with their golden autumnal glow.

After Labor Day, the park shifts to fall operations, with limited services. The weather is moderate in September and October, the park is less crowded and wildlife tends to be more active.

Grizzly bears are preparing for hibernation. With luck, and some distance, you might spot one.

By October 1st, park lodges and most concessions close for the season, so pack your food for the day, fill up the gas tank and plan to drive.

Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish is open year-round. Campsites tend to be open through September or October. Snowfall might start in October.

Weather dictates how far into October Going-to-the-Sun Road remains open.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Be prepared for all types of weather during a fall visit. Sun, rain and snow are all possible during this time of year.

Who Should Visit During Fall?

  • Hikers who enjoy quieter trails
  • Leaf peepers looking for fall colors
  • Those seeking cooler temperatures and willing to stay at campgrounds
  • Rafters ready to enjoy scenic floats
  • Fishermen, women and children
  • Visitors who are more flexible and self-sufficient, realizing roads and services could close without warning if there is an early snowfall
Snowshoeing at Glacier National Park in winter months
Snowshoeing at Glacier National Park in winter months. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

Should I Visit Glacier National Park in the Winter?

If you like to ski and snowshoe and appreciate primitive camping, winter is a great time to visit Glacier National Park.

Most businesses and roads are closed this time of year, so the park is filled with quiet days and snow-blanketed scenery. White-tailed deer can be spotted scampering around the park, which is a magical sight in falling snow.

Going-to-the-Sun Road can be open from the west entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge, weather permitting.

Loop B of Apgar Campground is available for primitive camping, first come first serve.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Winter camping is only recommended for those hardy campers who are prepared for the conditions. Winter temperatures can range from 30 degrees into the teens, with temps dropping dramatically in a few hours.

Who Should Visit Glacier National Park in the Winter?

  • Snow lovers
  • Winter sport enthusiasts looking for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
  • Hardy primitive campers or those willing to stay outside the park and drive in for day visits
A mountain goat on Highlight Trail in Glacier National Park.
A mountain goat on Highlight Trail in Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

Should I Visit Glacier National Park in the Spring?

Glacier National Park starts to awaken from its long winter in May.

Spring is a great season for bikers, wildflowers, waterfalls and whitewater rafting. You’re likely to encounter mountain goats around the park most times of year, but your best chance of seeing them — and maybe even a newborn or two — is in spring, when fresh green grass is sprouting.

The park is much less busy in May and early June, before most kids get out of school.

While all hiking trails and roads may not be open (plowing can still take place in late June to early July), those wishing to hike and bike the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road can do so before it opens to vehicles for the season. West Glacier Village and Apgar Village Lodge typically open in late May.

Whitewater rafting is best in spring, when run-off creates rushing waters.

There’s even a chance you’ll catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in the spring season. The dark, inky skies around Lake McDonald are a great place to watch them. The reflection of the lights across the water can be mesmerizing.

Who Should Visit During Spring?

  • Bikers wishing to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road before it’s open to motorized vehicle traffic
  • Whitewater rafting enthusiasts
  • Those looking to encounter fewer crowds
  • Northern Lights seekers
  • Hikers who appreciate waterfalls and wildflowers
  • Animal lovers looking to see mountain goats
Hiking the Highline Loop Trail to Logan Pass is a popular activity in Glacier National Park.
Hiking the Highline Loop Trail to Logan Pass is a popular activity in Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

What are the Best Things to Do at Glacier National Park?

  • Drive the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, 50 miles of twists and turns over mountains, to Logan Pass
  • Logan Pass, the highest point in the park, rewards with sweeping views and popular trailheads
  • Hike the Highline Loop Trail for exceptional alpine scenery and wildlife spotting
Hiking the Trail of Cedars in Glacier National Park.
Hiking the Trail of Cedars in Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Keri Baugh
  • Trek the Trail of the Cedars, a shorter hike with a boardwalk through verdant cedar forest
  • Visit Many Glacier, one of the more remote areas of the park. The historic Many Glacier Hotel is the largest in Glacier National Park.
  • Hike to Grinnell Glacier, one of the most photographed destinations in the park (best for avid hikers, as it is longer and more strenuous)
  • Backpacking opportunities abound for visitors looking to challenge themselves
  • Overnight at St. Mary Village. You can choose from tiny homes to upscale accommodations. Be enchanted by the beautiful mountain backdrop meeting the wide open plains.
  • Camp at Apgar Village. It’s one of the most popular campgrounds in Glacier National Park, so book early.
  • Raft or fish the Flathead River
  • Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are options for winter fun
  • Take the DeSmet boat tour along the glassy waters of Lake McDonald. “It’s narrated by a park ranger, fulfills Junior Ranger program requirements and is a relaxing way to see Glacier National Park from the water,” says writer Catherine Parker.
  • Check out Columbia Falls, a gateway town 15 minutes from the park’s west entrance. There you’ll find a summer farmers market, golf course, local shops, restaurants and a brewery.
  • Take a vintage Red Bus Tour, an iconic and popular way to explore the park.