Ice-blue glacial lakes and deep forests nestle beneath jagged, rocky peaks in Glacier National Park, one of the most beautiful spots in the United States. There’s plenty to do in Glacier any time of the year, from hiking the Highline Loop in the summer to cross-country skiing at Two Medicine Lake in the winter. However, it’s crucial to plan for the ever-changing weather. Northern Montana’s dramatic seasonal shifts, combined with Glacier’s high elevation and mountain weather, can have a sizable impact on the availability of activities and open sections of the park. After settling into your vacation rental near Glacier National Park, venture out to explore Montana’s finest. Use this guide to figure out what to pack and what to do during each season, so you can enjoy Glacier’s spectacular scenery to the fullest.
Visiting Glacier National Park in the Summer
Summer is Glacier’s busiest season, and for good reason. Temperatures usually stay in the 70s, creating perfect hiking weather and brilliant green foliage. On most days, lightweight pants and short-sleeved shirts are enough to keep you comfortable. If you’re planning to hike at high altitudes or be outdoors in the evening, warmer layers and a light jacket are musts for the cooler temperatures. The lovely weather comes with high traffic levels, but you can beat the crowds by starting out early.
Hiking and scenic touring are the most popular summer activities. Xanterra runs popular Red Bus Tours in vintage buses from the 1930s. From your seat, you can focus on the scenery as the driver navigates the steep mountain roads. For a moderately easy day hike, try the Hidden Lake Overlook or the Avalanche Lake trail, which are usually open by June. If you’re a serious hiker, don’t miss the spectacular and challenging Highline Loop or the Swiftcurrent Pass, which are best done in late July or August. As you plan, keep in mind that Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is often closed by snow until late June or early July. During the early part of the summer, enjoy the weather with a kayak or fishing trip on the local lakes and rivers; boat rentals are available through Glacier Park Boat Rentals.
Visiting Glacier National Park in the Fall
Glacier is at its most beautiful in the fall, when the changing leaves give the lake shores and mountainsides a breathtaking burst of color. In addition to Going-to-the-Sun Road, Two Medicine Valley and Highway 2 on the southern end of the park are fantastic places to see the autumn leaves. The weather is usually pleasant and in the 60s until late September; at that point, temperatures start to drop, with many days staying in the 40s and 50s. Thunderstorms and snowstorms are likely during this period, so it’s important to prepare for the unpredictable weather with warm layers and a rain shell.
By the end of September, Glacier is quiet. Most restaurants and stores in the park, including the popular Swiss Lounge in Many Glacier Hotel, have closed. This is an excellent time to visit if you’re looking to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which closes the third week of October. Most low-elevation trails are passable in the fall, and the occasional rainstorm makes for high-flow waterfalls at Avalanche Lake. Restaurants in the nearby town of West Glacier, including Glacier Highland Restaurant, are open through the fall.
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Visiting Glacier National Park in the Winter
For solitude-seekers, winter is a beautiful time to visit Glacier. Snow blankets the park, turning the wilderness into a sparkling wonderland that’s particularly stunning on blue-sky days. By December, temperatures rarely rise above 32 degrees, and most roads are closed. The National Park Service maintains a few routes: the road to Apgar Village, an 11-mile section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and a short stretch near the eastern park entrance. These routes provide access to the park’s fantastic snowshoe and cross-country ski trails. Try the route to McGee Meadow from the Apgar area, or if you’re on the east side, ski along Two Medicine Road for excellent lake views. For safety, pack a warm winter jacket, hats, gloves, boots, and ski pants, and check road and avalanche conditions before driving or skiing.
On winter weekends, the Apgar Visitor Center is open, and park rangers offer guided snowshoe walks in the area. The nearby Belton Chalet restaurant also caters to weekend visitors. If you’re staying in one of the vacation rentals near the park, keep in mind that most local restaurants also close during the winter; stock your kitchen, or make the drive into Columbia.
Visiting Glacier National Park in the Spring
Spring often extends through June in Glacier. In the lower elevations of the park, the temperatures hover between the 40s and 60s, with many days dropping below freezing. At the end of April, wildflowers start to bloom, and the waterfalls run freely. By late May, most lodges and restaurants in the park and surrounding communities are open for business. Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria in Lake McDonald Lodge makes a great place for a post-hike meal; be sure to warm up by the enormous walk-in stone fireplace in the lodge’s lobby.
This time of year also brings fantastic biking opportunities. Going-to-the-Sun Road is largely closed to cars, but the pavement opens to bikers and hikers after the snowplow crew passes through. Look out for the hiker/biker signs to stay in safe areas during the day; when the plows stop for the day, you can explore as far as you like. Crowd levels are low, so you can enjoy the remarkable views from Big Bend in near solitude. Pack plenty of warm layers for a spring trip, and remember a hat and gloves for cold days.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Glacier National Park?
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is in the summer; specifically, July and August. Precipitation levels are low, temperatures are warm enough for hiking, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road is fully open. Crowd levels are at their highest, but Glacier covers such a large area that you don’t feel overrun. If you’re planning high-elevation hikes, August is a great choice. For a great balance of sunny weather and lower crowd levels, try a trip in June.
Summer also offers convenience. The restaurants and stores in the park are open for meals and snacks between day hikes. West Glacier and St. Mary also come to life during this period, making it easy to stock your vacation rental’s kitchen, fill up the gas tank, and grab dinner after a day in the park.
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