What Season is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park? We Break It Down
Trying to figure out the best time to go to Glacier National Park? You’ve come to the right place. Since we live in Montana, we know the ins and outs of this popular national park and why it’s great at any time of year. But…
There’s a big ‘but’ for picking the best time to visit Glacier National Park, and that is if you’re planning a once in a lifetime trip to Glacier National Park, or you simply want to have access to as much of the park as possible. If so, then you’re going to want to carefully pick the month you go.
Glacier Park is Partially Closed in Winter
The reason you’re going to want to pick the right month to visit is because Glacier National Park is mostly closed down in the winter. You might be thinking, great I’ll just be sure to go in spring or summer then! But hold up, adventurer: Even in early and late summer, parts of the park can be closed to visitors if late snow removal or early snowfall has made the roads inaccessible.
(But don’t worry, if you only can make it to western Montana in the winter months and are set on experiencing the wonders of Glacier National Park, we have some tips for you below. First though, let’s talk about the high season: summer.)
Glacier National Park in Summer
While weather is unpredictable, if you stick to the summertime days before Labor Day, you’re likely to have good enough weather that you don’t have to worry about too much of the park being closed, which is what makes summer the best time to visit Glacier National Park for most people.
Mentality Tip: There’s always a chance parts of Glacier National Park might be closed due to weather, fires, wildlife protection, etc. After all, it’s the open wild — things happen. So go with an open mind and embrace the parts of the park you see and don’t dwell on what you can’t see.
While visiting Glacier National Park in July and August means you’ll most likely be privy to warm weather, sunshine, and a wide open park, there is a trade-off: crowds.
It’s hard to avoid crowds in Glacier if traveling there during the high season. It might be the best time to visit, but you’ll have to be patient and expect some traffic delays and crowds at prime viewing spots.
If warm weather appeals to you, but crowds don’t, embrace your inner mountainman or mountainwoman and plan on doing some of the longer, more off-the-beaten-path hikes, such as Pitamakan Loop. Just do your research beforehand and be prepared with layers, water, and bear spray).
What to Pack When Going to Glacier National Park in Summer
Even in summer, the temperature can dramatically change throughout the day and in different parts of the park. Elevation levels can greatly affect how warm or cold it is, too. Therefore, it’s smart to wear layers, like these:
- Rain and Wind-Resistant Jacket <— This is the one I have and I love that it packs up easily, is lightweight for warm weather, and loose enough to fit over my down coat in colder weather.
- Smart Wool Base Layer <— my favorite wool undershirt because it’s warm, but not itchy!
- Moisture-Wicking T-Shirt <— Stay dry and help regulate your body heat.
A comfortable hiking pack to put discarded layers into is also a must.
- This is a good, lightweight option for shorter hikes:
- This is the one I have that’s a better option for all-day hikes or multi-elevation excursions:
Spring in Glacier National Park
First off, at Glacier it’s still pretty much winter in April, when most of the rest of the country is shifting into spring. But not in the mountains! In Glacier National Park, the spring season typically starts in the beginning of May when more of the snow has melted and goes through mid-June.
The famous Going-to-the-Sun road isn’t open to vehicles in Spring and other parts of the park might also be closed; however, this can still be the best time to go to Glacier National Park for those who appreciate fewer crowds, burgeoning flora and fauna, and biking.
Spring shoulder season means fewer people — shoulder season is the term given to the times of year right outside of the high season for a destination; typically when kids are still in school or the weather isn’t quite ideal yet.
Fewer crowds mean Spring in Glacier National Park is a great time to go to the park to improve your chances of seeing wildlife. Since the trails and roads aren’t as clogged with people and cars, the animals get closer to trails and roads to forage for food.
Speaking of cars, the main roads in Glacier National Park don’t open to vehicles yet in the Springtime months, but you can ride a bicycle along many miles of those roads during spring season. If you love biking, this is an incredible way to see the park as you have the roads to yourself and can navigate the terrain at a more leisurely pace.
Autumn in Glacier National Park
On the other side of shoulder season is autumn in Glacier. Winter comes swiftly in the mountains of Montana and for that reason, most of the Going-to-the-Sun road usually closes to cars in early to mid October, well before most people think of winter arriving. But as mentioned previously, if snowfall or freezing temperatures happens earlier in the season, it can result in roads and other amenities in the park suddenly shutting down, so going to Glacier National Park in autumn can be a gamble.
However, if you don’t mind the chance of the major road through the park being closed, going to Glacier National Park in autumn can have a great reward of nice weather, access to most of the park, and — most importantly for those who prefer traveling in shoulder season — fewer crowds.
Ultimately, thinking of autumn as the best time to go to Glacier National Park is ideal for those who can be flexible in their travel plans, don’t mind inclement weather, and prefer fewer people over convenient access to amenities and facilities in the park — and want the wonderful reward of seeing some of the most beautiful fall foliage in the west.
Read More: The Best Places for Fall Colors in Montana
What to Pack for Shoulder Season Time of Year in Glacier National Park
If traveling in spring or fall, aka shoulder-season, follow the packing list above in the summer section for what to wear while exploring. In addition, you might also want to put some long underwear into your daypack as well as a down coat that can be easily squashed into its pocket, like this one:
Where to Stay in Glacier if Visiting During the Off-Season?
Unless you’re visiting during shoulder season in late spring or early fall, you’ll likely find that the lodges inside the park are still closed. (Or maybe they’re open during that time, but already booked up, which happens fast each year!)
In that case, you can’t stay in the park, but you can definitely stay near it. Here are a few of our top options:
TOP PICKS: LODGING NEAR GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
—> Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls: Run by the park service, but located outside the park so is open year-round. Click here for prices and images.
—> The Firebrand Hotel in downtown Whitefish: 20 minutes from Glacier’s west entrance and lets you stay somewhere with fun nightlife in the evenings and close to Whitefish Mountain for more exciting activities. Click here for prices and pictures.
—> Isaak Walton Inn in Essex: Located right in between the west and east entrances (about 30 minutes to each) and has a lodge with a log-cabin feel plus cool old train cars that have been converted into stand-alone accommodations! Click here for prices and pictures.
So Glacier National Park is a No-Go in Winter?
Nope, just the opposite! If you don’t mind the cold, the snow, and not being able to access large swaths of the park, winter in Glacier National Park can be a truly magical time.
We cover why in our Glacier National Park in Winter article. <— Click here to read!
That article covers all the top things you can do at Glacier National Park in the winter months. Plus, you’ll also learn what to pack when you go.
During what season do you most want to visit Glacier National Park? Visit us on Facebook and let us know!