Although the most popular time to come to Glacier National Park is the summer because of its mild temperatures, there are many great reasons to visit the park throughout the year.
In this article, we’ll review some of the top activities in Glacier during each of the four seasons.
Things to do in summer
Visit a glacier
It’s tough to visit Glacier National Park without visiting at least one or two of its glaciers. While many of the glaciers are in rather remote areas of the park, there are three that are accessible: Grinnell Glacier, Salamander Glacier, and Jackson Glacier.
Grinnell Glacier requires a significant hike. Either take the Grinnell Glacier Trail or take the Highline Trail and reach the glacier from a spur. Salamander doesn’t require a hike. It can be seen from afar in the Many Glacier area.
To get a closer look, take either of the above trails. Jackson glacier is viewable from a pull-out off of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Look for Jackson Glacier Overlook a few miles east of Logan Pass.
Take a boat tour
In addition to the many glaciers and mountain peaks in Glacier National Park, there are also about 700 lakes. The best way to visit the park’s lakes is via a boat tour. While you won’t have time to visit all 700, you can hit a highlight or two, which includes Swiftcurrent Lake and Josephine Lake.
Other great options include Two Medicine Lake, Lake McDonald, and Saint Mary Lake. You can take a guided boat tour or rent kayaks and explore on your own.
Take a hike
With more than 700 miles of hiking trails winding through the park, you can’t really experience Glacier without hiking a few trails. Given the long cold winters that make hiking treacherous through much of the year, hiking at Glacier is best done in them in summer when highs reach into the 70s.
The top hiking trails in the park include Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier, Iceberg Lake, and Hidden Lake Overlook. Just don’t forget a stout set of hiking boots, layers, and rain gear as it will get chilly at higher elevations even in July.
Read More : What Should I Bring for A Day Hike?
Things to do in fall
Observe the locals
Fall is an excellent time to go looking for wildlife in the park. The animals are making preparations for the coming winter, so they are very active. It’s a good time to see bears, bighorn sheep, bobcats, cougars, moose, coyotes, and elk. Early morning and evening when the sun is going down are the best times to catch wildlife in action.
Many Glacier is one of the best places to spot bears due to its open slopes. If you do spot a bear or moose, remember to stay a safe distance of at least 100 yards away.
Enjoy the fall foliage
Fall comes early in Glacier National Park, so you need to plan ahead if you want to view the park with its incredible fall foliage on display. Leaves begin to change in mid-September and continue their transition through mid-October.
The park’s larch trees, which are coniferous, are particularly beautiful with their bright gold color. One of the best ways to view these fall colors is by driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Keep in mind that some facilities in the park begin to close by the start of October, so plan ahead.
Go for a bike ride
As the summer crowds and traffic thins out with the arrival of fall, it’s a great time to explore the park on two wheels. Going-to-the-Sun Road and Camas Road are excellent routes for seeing the park by bike. You can also check out the Gateway to Glacier Bike Trail.
Bring your own bike or rent one at one of the many outfitters in the area. Just remember to plan ahead as the weather can be unpredictable in the park in the fall. It’s a good idea to have rain gear with you just in case.
Things to do in winter
Go cross country skiing or snowshoeing
Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are excellent ways to see the park in the wintertime in a peaceful atmosphere devoid of crowds. With most of the park’s roads closed and unplowed, they serve as some of the best routes for skiing, while some of the park’s trails offer excellent snowshoeing opportunities.
The park offers ranger-guided snowshoeing experiences around Apgar Visitors Center.
Just come prepared, as winter weather can be extreme. Check weather forecasts before venturing out, including avalanche reports, and bring plenty of waterproof winter gear, including gloves, hats, and a winter coat.
Popular routes for cross country skiing and snowshoeing include Lower McDonald Creek, Rocky Point ad Apgar Lookout.
Go winter camping
There is no lodging available in the park in winter. If you plan to stay in Glacier, you’ll need to supply your own accommodations in the form of an RV or a good four-season tent. Auto camping is available in Apgar Picnic Area and St. Mary Campground in the winter.
You can also obtain a free permit for backcountry camping. As winter camping in Glacier is an adventurous endeavor, it’s essential that you come prepared with the proper equipment, including a four-season sleeping bag and proper clothing.
Enjoy the silence
With the park covered in snow and so few visitors, it’s an opportunity to enjoy peaceful solitude in the park. Take along a camera and get spectacular pictures of Glacier’s terrain covered in a thick layer of snow.
The headquarters at West Glacier sees an average of 157 inches of snow each year. Take short hikes in the snow or visit the shores of Lake McDonald. Look for tracks in the snow to view wildlife, which is easier during the wintertime.
Things to do in spring
Go whitewater rafting
If you’re feeling adventurous, consider going whitewater rafting. The warmer weather and melting snow mean higher water, bigger rapids, and faster water for whitewater rafting. In addition to being more exciting, you can also cover more ground in the fast-moving water, allowing you to see more of the park.
There are a few rafting companies around the park that offer rafting services in the spring, including Glacier Raft Company, Glacier Park rafting, and Montana Raft. Just make sure to book early as reservations full up quickly.
Spring isn’t as hot as the summer nor is there nearly as many visitors crowding the park. As a result, wildlife is more active in the park’s lower elevations, making them easier to spot.
Bears emerging from their inter sleep can be found foraging for food. Moose, which typically stays far from humans, can be spotted at lower elevations in the springtime as can female bighorn sheep ready to give birth. Beavers are busy repairing damage from the spring thaw while grouse will be on full display as they seek to attract mates.
Be sure to bring along a set of binoculars, allowing you to view wildlife while staying at a safe distance.
Go for a trail ride
Horseback riding is one of the long-standing traditions in the park, dating back more than 100 years when tourists used this activity as a means of exploring the park. As warmer weather arrives and the snow melts away, the park’s trails begin to open up, making it a good time to explore the trails on the back of a horse.
The Apgar corral and Lake McDonald coral open up for business by June 1. Several outfitters work out of these locations, offering guided rides around the park.
Things to do with kids
Go car camping
An excellent way to experience the park and have your kids commune with nature is through car camping. Camp in a tent and roast marshmallows over an open fire.
There are several campgrounds in the park, including Many Glacier Campground, Avalanche Campground, and Saint Mary Campground. There are a few things you’ll want to bring along to make the experience an enjoyable one, including camp chairs, headlamps, and lanterns for navigating the campsite at night, and sleeping bags for low nighttime temperatures.
If camping in the summer, make sure to make reservations early as these campgrounds fill up fast.
Go huckleberry picking
One fun activity to do with the kids is picking huckleberries. Per park policy, you are allowed to pick up to one quart of huckleberries per person. There are also edible strawberries, raspberries, and other kinds of berries in the park that are edible.
Keep in mind that there are also some that are not, so make sure you and your kids know exactly what you are picking. Huckleberries are ripe and ready for picking in mid-summer and even into September. Since huckleberries are also a popular treat for bears, keep your eyes open for animals while picking.
With more than 700 miles of trails in Glacier, hiking is an excellent way to experience this national park. While many of the trails are too difficult for shorter legs, there are plenty of trails suitable for younger children.
Top family-friendly trails in the park include Rocky Point, Hidden Meadow, and Virginia Falls. For small children, you can also rent a child carrier from a local outfitter.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.