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Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park | When to Go

Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park | When to Go

his million-acre national park has so much to offer visitors of all ages and ability levels. From stunning views of glaciers and epic vistas to raging waterfalls and rocky cliffs that open up to tranquil glacial lakes, you’ll leave knowing you’ve witnessed one of the most beautiful places on the planet. 

Check out some of the reasons you should go and see the best time to visit Glacier National Park next. 

Why You Should Visit Glacier National Park

  • Incredible scenery, glaciers, and glacial lakes
  • Hike 700+ miles of trails from easy to strenuous
  • Diverse range of wildlife to spot and photograph
  • Ranger-led activities + guided hiking, boat, and wildlife tours
  • Rafting, zip lining, skiing, snowboarding, and more

Glacier National Park deserves a spot on your travel bucket list. This national park in Montana has some of the most incredible views with diverse landscapes and stunning scenery.

There are 26 named glaciers in the park and countless unnamed, smaller glaciers. Only North Cascades National Park has more glaciers in the contiguous United States!

Explore the Scenery and Take in the Views

Hiker viewing Grinnell Lake during the best time to visit Glacier National Park

Stefan Wille/Shutterstock

From the banded mountains to endless glacial formations (hanging valleys, glacial stairways, cascading waterfalls, tranquil turquoise lakes, and rocky crevasses, to name a few), you’ll be in love with the views and vast landscapes the moment you approach GNP. 

Photographers (amateur and professional) flock to this park because there’s so much scenery waiting to be captured.

A quick search online will show you a sample of some of the incredible photographs others have captured while exploring the park – even amateur photographers will come away with jaw-dropping photos because the views are that amazing.

You’ll even have a chance to see the dancing Northern Lights here in the fall through the spring! Even if you’re the type that always forgets to take photos, the awe-inspiring natural features and beauty here will leave you with lifelong memories.

Hike and bike the 700+ miles of trails (easy to strenuous) to get in touch with nature. There are trails easy enough for kids and mobility-challenged folks to enjoy, making it one of the best parks to visit as a family. 

Diverse Wildlife Encounters

Mountain goat over hidden lake during the best time to visit Glacier National Park

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

But while the views are one of the main draws for the millions who visit Glacier National Park each year, this place has so much more to offer than picturesque scenery. The diverse and unique wildlife that populates this vast, 1-million acre park is amazing.

Since the park was founded and protected back in 1910, there’s over a century of unimpeded wildlife prowling the grounds. Bring a good pair of binoculars to see some of the most dangerous wildlife without getting too close! 

You’ll have the chance to spot bears, elk, bighorn sheep, lynx, mountain goats and mountain lions, wolverines, and countless species of birds, insects, and amphibians within its bounds.

Beavers, bats, and tiny pikas are also common in the park. If you’re a nature lover who appreciates wildlife, this is the place to visit and see some of the most diverse species in the U.S.

World-Class Fishing

Dad and son fishing off a wooden dock during the least busy time to visit Glacier National Park

Ramon Cliff/Shutterstock

If you’re an angler with dreams of catching a record trout, northern pike, whitefish, or burbot, you’ve got to fish the many waters of GNP. You don’t need a fishing license to drop a line here (with very few exceptions, like fishing Flathead River from park bridges).
 

Lake fishing is open year-round, ice fishing is a great option for the colder months, and fishing other areas is open from mid-May to the end of November.

Tons of Activities and Adventures

Drive or bike the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road that connects the east and west sides of the park for spectacular views and easy access through the middle of this vast national park.

It’s a skinny road that winds along steep rocky ledges, so driving it isn’t for the faint of heart! The road typically opens around July of each year (depending on the snow melt). 

Try rafting (no extreme rapids) for a fun day on the water – just bring towels and a change of clothes, because you’ll get wet and the water is COLD!

Check out Whitefish Mountain Resort in any season for some fun. In the summer, there’s mountain biking trails, a rope course, zip lining, a giant incline slide, and gondola rides. In the winter, it’s a ski resort with lots of chilly fun for skiers and snowboarders.  

To bring your heart rate down a bit, hang out on the “beaches” of the many lakes in the park – especially Lake McDonald, where you’ll be able to relax on the sandy shore. Stop by the old-timey Polebridge Mercantile (built in 1914) for a tasty pastry when you start feeling peckish! 

Take advantage of the many ranger-led activities and guided hikes and tours within the park to learn while you experience it first-hand. From informative nature walks and wildlife tours to boat tours that show you a new perspective, it’s great to see the park with an expert guide by your side.

A quick stop at one of the visitor centers will provide you with maps, info on tours and trails, and guides to enjoying the park overall. It’s clear that there’s a ton of stuff to see, explore, and do here – but what’s the best time to visit Glacier National Park?

We’ll cover that next. See the overall best time to visit Glacier National Park, the cheapest time to go, the least busy time of year to visit without crowds, and the worst time to go below.

Overall Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Gorgeous emerald green lake pictured during the best time to visit Glacier National Park

Moreno01/Shutterstock

  • June-August is the best time to visit
  • Most park roads are open and summer is in full swing
  • The park is busiest at this time of year

The overall best time to visit Glacier National Park is summer, from June to August. The weather is warmest (though the water is always icy cold), most or all park roads are open and clear of snow and ice, plants and wildlife are thriving, and visitors are pouring in to see GNP at its peak.

You’ll enjoy the warmest weather in July and August with highs in the low 80s and lows in the 40s. During the summer, the park’s well-known Going-to-the-Sun Road opens up to connect the east and west sides of the park.

This makes it easy to travel through the park with scenic views surrounding you along the way. Families love the summer activities like camping, rafting, fishing, relaxing on the beaches of the glacial lakes, and hanging out at the mountain resorts in the area. 

There’s only one downside to the visiting Glacier National Park at the best time – you definitely won’t be alone.

Everyone flocks to the park in summer because it really is the ideal time to go. Plan to set out early each morning (seriously – prior to 7am if you want to get a parking spot at some of the most popular trailheads) and you’ll be fine. 

Cheapest Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Guy hiking during the cheapest time to visit Glacier National Park, the winter

Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

  • November-April is the cheapest time to visit
  • Cheaper winter pricing is in effect
  • Roads, trails, shuttles, and lodging may be closed

Winter and spring are undeniably the best time to visit Glacier National Park on a budget – anytime between November through April. If you visit during these colder months, you’ll pay a reduced entry fee when entering the park and save money without having to pay vehicle registration fees. 

In summer, it usually costs $35 for a 7-day pass to enter the park per vehicle. You’ll also have to register your vehicle ($2 fee) to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road that connects both sides of the park.

But by visiting in winter and spring, you get to avoid the vehicle registration fee because the connecting road is closed. You’ll also pay a reduced entry fee of $25 instead of $35. 

For adventurous campers who don’t mind the chill, camping is free at GNP in winter – more money saved on your trip! Lodging within the park is closed, but there’s plenty of lodging and hotel options just outside the park.

These hotels drop their rates in winter since fewer visitors make their way here this time of year.  Visit in April in time for National Park Week, when entry is free to every national park in the United States!

You’ll save about $25 by visiting during National Park Week, making your trip even cheaper. The weather gets cold during the winter and spring in GNP.

November’s highs in the upper 30s (lows in the mid-20s) to April’s highs in the mid-50s (lows in the 30s) are chilly at best and frigid at worst.

January is typically the coldest month of the year here, and in the dead of winter, the park’s convenient shuttle services, visitor centers, and many trails are closed for the season. The cheaper winter/spring months are best if you’re planning to ski or snowboard at the resorts in the park.

But for hiking and general exploration, pay a little more to visit during the late spring/early summer for better weather and to access more trails, the shuttle service, in-park lodging, and more. 

Least Busy Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Logan Pass pictured during the Least Busy Time to Visit Glacier National Park

kan_khampanya/Shutterstock

  • May and September-October are the least busy months
  • Enjoy smaller crowds and cooler weather
  • Some park conveniences are shut down for the season

If you want to sidestep the biggest crowds and enjoy the park at a slower pace, go during May or September through October.

May is the start of the peak summer season, but it’s much less crowded than June, July, and August. September marks the end of the peak season, giving way to milder temperatures and less-crowded trails and roadways.

If you visit in fall, you’ll be treated to a stunning display of color in the changing foliage! May’s temperatures in GNP typically reach highs in the mid-60s with lows in the upper 30s.

If you wait and go in the early fall, it starts off warm in September (highs in the low 70s) and drops down to the chilly mid-50s with overnight lows in the 30s by October.

After Labor Day in early September, many of the park’s convenient services shut down for the season. That includes in-park lodges, restaurants, stores, and shops.

The famed Going-to-the-Sun Road usually closes down in mid-October. Higher-altitude trails and passes may be closed in May and September-October, depending on the weather that year.

You may still see snow and ice (some making roads and trails impassable) all the way through July in some areas of the park, so this isn’t uncommon. If you’re visiting in September or October, keep an eye to the skies at night for a chance to see the Northern Lights.

They are most visible in the park from September through April, so you’ll have a good chance of seeing the beautiful aurora borealis at this time of year! 

Worst Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Pink mountain sunset pictured during the worst time to visit Glacier National Park

davidmarxphoto/Shutterstock

  • December-March is the most challenging time to visit
  • Coldest weather of the year with highs from 29ºF-42ºF  
  • Lots of closures (roads, trails, lodging, shuttles, etc.)

Figuring out the best time to visit Glacier National Park means also knowing the worst time to go. That honor goes to the months of December through March, the coldest months of the year and the overall most challenging time to visit.

The dead of winter is not without its charms for certain visitors, but it’s definitely more of a hassle to go at this time of year. Temperatures won’t get above freezing here from December until February, when highs begin to reach into the mid-30s.

That’s great news for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing enthusiasts, but not so much for hikers, bikers, and campers.

December and January also hold the title of the rainiest/snowiest months of the year in Glacier National Park, making planning outdoor activities a little more difficult.

 Many roads and trails are closed for the entire winter season, including most of the Going-to-the-Sun Road that connects the east and west sides of the park. Most in-park lodging is closed (except for the ski resorts).

The free shuttle service doesn’t run during the winter and you’ll find that the restaurants and shops in the park are closed. It’s not the best time of year to go, but December through March can be a good time to visit GNP if you’re planning on snow sports. 

More Things to Consider

Cool tunnel road pictured during the best time to visit Glacier National Park, with a smoky horizon obscuring most mountains

Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Making the most of your trip to Glacier National Park starts with knowing the best time to visit, but what else should you keep in mind for your stay? Here are a few helpful travel tips to help you have the best experience at GNP:

  • Use the shuttle service. GNP runs a free shuttle service along the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the spring and summer months. It’s the quickest, most convenient way to get to the many sites and landmarks around the park. The shuttles fill up fast since this is the busy season for the park, so you may have to wait for the next shuttle if all seats are filled. Shuttles run every 15-30 minutes from around 8am-7pm, are wheelchair accessible, and have bike racks. No pets, open alcohol containers, or smoking is allowed on shuttles.
  • Hike the trails less traveled. The top 10 trailheads in the park (including the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier, and Avalanche Lake) are the busiest trails, especially in summertime. Hike less-traveled trails for a more serene hike and better photography opportunities. Set out early – around sunrise – to hit the busier trails before the peak crowds arrive. 
  • Check seasonal road closures before you go. Roads and trails in the park close seasonally as snow and ice makes passage difficult or dangerous. Before you go, check the GNP website or Facebook page to see the current road closures, plow status, and trail status for some of the more popular trails. By learning about closures in advance, you can find alternate routes or plan to explore the outer areas of the park instead. 
  • You may need to register your vehicle when you arrive. The Glacier National Park Vehicle Reservation System requires visitors to register their car from the end of May through mid-September. You’ll only need to register and pay the $2 fee if you’re driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor or North Fork Vehicle Registration Areas from late May to mid-September. 
  • Get familiar with entry fees. Don’t get caught off-guard with unexpected fees when you’re planning your trip! You’ll pay anywhere from $15 (single person, one-time entry in winter) to $35 (7-day group entry in summer) to enter and enjoy Glacier National Park. You can buy your pass online to simplify the process once you get there! Learn more about GNP fees and passes here.
  • Put safety first, always. Frigid waters at Glacier National Park can quickly lead to hypothermia, even in summer. The swift-moving streams and rivers pose a threat if you’re hiking close to the water’s edge. Dangerous wildlife (especially bears), steep cliffs, and bitterly cold, icy conditions in the winter months are more reasons to keep your wits about you while visiting or camping and always put safety first. 

So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park?

Kayaks on Moraine Lake during the best time to visit Glacier National Park

Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide – but nothing quite like the million acres of the Glacier National Park. Here’s a quick recap of the best times to visit to sum it all up!

Overall Best Time to Visit

The overall best time to visit Glacier National Park is from June to August. This is the peak busy season for the park because the weather is warm and everything’s open. You might see small amounts of snow.

But for the most part, the snow and ice have melted to leave all the roads and trails open in the park. Camping, rafting, fishing, and hiking are best during the summer months when it only gets cold at night.

Cheapest Time to Visit

The cheapest time to visit is from November to April each year. This covers the winter and some of spring at GNP. Entry fees are $10 cheaper (at $25/car).

There’s no vehicle registration fee at this time, camping is free if you’re adventurous enough to brave the cold temps, and you can enter the park for free if you go during National Parks Week in April!

Least Busy Time to Visit

The least busy time to visit is during May and September through October. These “shoulder seasons” see fewer crowds than the peak months of June, July, and August.

You’ll still deal with some crowds, but it’s calm compared to the height of summer. You’ll also benefit with mild weather and temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the low 70s.

Worst Time to Visit

The worst time to visit Glacier National Park is during the months of December through March. While these are some of the cheapest months to go, a lot of the convenient services, roads, and trails in the park are closed for the winter.

From limited lodging (except for ski resorts) and the closed Going-to-the-Sun Road to a shut-down shuttle service and closed visitor centers, it’s more challenging to plan a fun stay here during the dead of winter and early spring. 

Final Thoughts

If you can swing a summer trip, especially in July or August (the warmest, driest months), it really is the best time to visit Glacier National Park.

From incredible views of blue glacial lakes with snowy peaks in the background to thrilling activities that let you experience GNP first-hand, this is a bucket list trip you don’t want to skip. 

Want to learn about some of the other beautiful national parks in the U.S.? Once you experience Glacier, you’ll be ready to plan your next national park trip ASAP! Check out these guides next: