The Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park for Wildlife Spotting Without the Crowds
Glacier National Park may be one of the nation’s most-visited national parks, but thanks to its spacious 1,583 square miles of wilderness — home to over 762 lakes and 700 hiking trails — it’s maintained a sense of solitude. The preserved piece of land is a haven for 71 animal species, 276 documented bird species, and the three million human visitors it draws each year.
It doesn’t matter if you visit for a week or a single day, or if you prefer to hike or explore by car — there’s plenty to do and see (even virtually). And that’s true whether you visit in July or January. While the park is open year-round, there are certain benefits to visiting during particular seasons. To help you plan your trip, we’ve compiled a little guide on the best (and worst) time to visit Glacier National Park.
The Best Time to Avoid the Crowds
While over three million people visited Glacier National Park in 2019, most choose to come in the summer, when the weather is warm and the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road is open. However, if you want to avoid the crowds (and enjoy a reduced entrance fee), plan your visit during one of the park’s off-seasons.
You can catch the fall colors in October (weather permitting), but keep in mind that mid-October is also when sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road start to close. In the winter, visitors can cross-country ski or snowshoe on the closed sections of the road. And in the spring, you can experience what may be the park’s quietest season. In lower elevation areas, Glacier National Park’s hiking trails will start to reopen as things thaw. According to the park’s website, the “trails on the edges of the park tend to be snow-free quicker than toward the Continental Divide or middle of the park.”
The Best Time for Wildlife Spotting
Glacier National Park has been a refuge for wildlife since it was established in 1910. Its varied terrain and protected status is home to many animals, including moose, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, mountain goats, wolves, bears, and mountain lions. The best time to see most of these creatures is in the fall season, when the park quiets down and the animals make their winter preparations.
While seeing a wild animal is at the top of the list for many park visitors, you’ll want to do it safely. Stay at least 300 feet from bears, 75 feet from all other wildlife, and be mindful when camping in the park.
The Best Time for Photography
It goes without saying that there are plenty of picture-perfect photo ops in Glacier National Park. For fields of wildflowers with mountain backdrops, visit between late June and mid-August when you’ll find yellow lilies, purple fleabane, and pink monkeyflower blooms, to name a few. In general, Logan Pass is the place to start your wildflower search.
For waterfall photography, you’ll want to visit in the spring, when the snow above is melting and the water is flowing.
Throughout the year, you can also capture wildlife (fall is ideal), the night sky (including the Northern Lights), glaciers, and endless sunsets and sunrises.
The Best Time to Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
The 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is arguably the park’s biggest attraction, connecting the east and west sides and cutting through the middle. If you only have one day to explore, make this your priority. You can stop off at some of the park’s biggest draws — Jackson Glacier Overlook, Logan Pass, Lake McDonald — while covering some serious ground.
Going-to-the-Sun Road takes you across the Continental Divide and over Logan Pass, which peaks at 6,646 feet. Because of its elevation, certain parts of the route get a lot of snow and are closed during the winter and spring. To experience the entire route (which you should), plan your trip for July through October, when the road is typically fully open. For wildflowers, July and August may be your best bet.
The Best Time for Warm Weather
Due to the park’s northern mountainous terrain, weather is always unpredictable. It can go from sun to rain (and back again) in mere minutes. If you have your heart set on experiencing the park on a sunny day with warm, hike-friendly weather, try to visit between early July and late October, when nearly everything is accessible and the weather is mild.
No matter when you visit, make sure to bring layers, including a rain jacket and hat, in case the weather shifts midday.
The Worst Time to Visit Glacier National Park
Even though the summer is noticeably more busy, certain activities like driving the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road are impossible in the winter and spring. In general, you’ll want to steer clear of visiting during the winter season when there are fewer wildlife sightings and more limited accessibility (unless you’re open to exploring on skis).
The Cheapest Time to Visit Glacier National Park
During the winter (November through April), passes to Glacier National Park drop in price. While a seven-day private vehicle pass typically costs $35, it drops to $25 during the winter months. And the per person entrance fee goes from $20 to $15.