One of the most popular and fascinating protected pieces of land in the world, Glacier National Park draws millions of tourists a year.
The landscape is legendary, largely due to its eerily beautiful year-round, deep blue glaciers, pristine alpine lakes, and endless deciduous and conifer forests.
Many are curious as to the best time of year to visit, as the weather in the park is notoriously unpredictable. In the summer, crowds can choke roads to nearly a standstill while the winter snows can close them completely.
There are pros and cons to visiting during every season, but with a little more information you’re sure to find the time that’s right for you.
Best Time To Visit Glacier National Park For…
- Best Time to Book Hotels – While the snow and frigid temperatures deter a lot of tourists, winter is actually the best time to book a hotel. This is the time of year when vacancies are the highest and prices are the lowest, and if you’re feeling adventurous, campgrounds within the park are free.
- Best Time for Sightseeing – Although most folks will tell you that the best time to visit is in the summer, those really in the know – like the park’s own rangers – will tell you to visit in the fall. With the summer crowds gone, Glacier feels much more like the pristine wilderness that it’s supposed to be, and the weather will not have yet turned bitterly cold.
- Best Time for Festivals & Events – In the summer you’ll find the widest variety of festivals, events, and tours both in and just outside the park. Outdoor festivals are especially popular in the summer due to the weather, and you’ll find ones celebrating food, drink, sports, and holidays.
Glacier National Park Travel Seasons
Summer is by far the busiest time of the year in Glacier National Park. The warm weather and clear roads attract thousands of tourists, and even though the park is over 1,500 square miles large, it can at times feel positively crowded. But if you’re willing to head a bit off the beaten path into the backcountry, you could very well be rewarded with stunning, clear views and maybe even a bit of solitude.
The winter is the slowest time of year. While it can be bitterly cold in the park during this time, it’s also arguably Glacier’s most beautiful season. The park can be difficult to navigate in the winter with road and trail closures, so don’t expect to be able to access all of it with a vehicle.
Only two small portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road remain open in the winter: from the west entrance leading to Lake McDonald and from the east entrance to St. Mary’s campground. From there, you can head out on foot, on Nordic skis, or snowshoes.
If you’ve never snowshoed before but would like to try your hand, the rangers at the Apgar Visitor Center lead guided tours on weekends. If you don’t have your own, you can rent snowshoes there.
But if winter’s charms aren’t enough to get you to brave the cold, you can always come during shoulder season: either the spring or fall. Each has its plusses and minuses, but both can suit even beginner outdoors people.
The spring is more rainy so you would have to come prepared with adequate rain gear, but this is when the wildflowers bloom in Glacier’s alpine valleys. While the fall is somewhat dryer, it can also be windier, particularly in the eastern part of the park. But if you catch it during the right week, you will find Glacier’s forests decked out in vibrant shades of red and gold.
Glacier National Park Weather by Month
Average High: 30º | Average Low: 17º
January in Glacier is usually snowy, windy, and cold. While some portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road are open this time of year, if you want to thoroughly navigate the park, the bulk of it will have to be on foot, skis, or snowshoes. You’ll need to have legitimate outdoor gear that’s rated for winter if you’d like to explore the park in January.
Average High: 32º | Average Low: 14º
Though December is the coldest month on average, February is when temperatures can swing wildly. Some days can be well above freezing – sometimes as high as the 40s – while other days the temperature can plummet far below zero. Altitude can exacerbate this: higher altitudes in the park can be as much as 15º cooler. Warm waterproof boots are almost essential to keep you comfortable while trudging through the snow.
Average High: 39º | Average Low: 20º
Though it doesn’t feel particularly springy, March in Glacier National Park gets a lot more rain than other months in the winter. While higher elevations are more likely to see snow, it can get pretty wet down below. While still cold enough to warrant winter outdoor apparel, there are usually several days in March when the temperature is above freezing.
Average High: 47º | Average Low: 26º
April is the rainiest month in Glacier National Park, but you’ll be just in time to see the beginning of spring. This is the time of year when the glacial melt accelerates, making rivers and creeks turgid and swollen. The rainfall awakens sleeping flora turning the foothills green and encouraging wildflowers to bloom. You will almost definitely encounter a bit of rain, so be sure to come prepared with waterproof clothing.
Average High: 55º | Average Low: 34º
May in Glacier National Park is when spring begins to reach higher elevations. As the snowpack melts, it’s replaced with lush, green plant life and trees surrounded by blooming flowers. Though not quite as rainy as April, May is still wet enough to deter tourists, so you could find that you have this gorgeous landscape to yourself. Depending on the weather and maintenance schedule, the Going-to-the-Sun Road could open at the end of the month.
Average High: 61º | Average Low: 39º
With long days and significantly warmer temperatures, June is the first month of the summer high season in Glacier National Park. If it hasn’t already, the Going-to-the-Sun Road opens at the beginning of the month, and visitors use it to flood the interior of the park. Though it’s much warmer this time of year, Glacier is always a bit cool, especially at Logan Pass. Be sure to pack plenty of layers so you can adapt to the shifting weather.
Average High: 70º | Average Low:45º
July is the busiest month of the year in Glacier National Park, and together with August forms the warmest, driest time in the park. Any time of year can get cold in Glacier and July is no exception: at night, the park can get legitimately cold, and even during the day temperatures can dip into the 50s. Best to be prepared with several options of hiking clothing.
Average High: 70º | Average Low: 45º
Though the days grow a bit shorter, August in Glacier National Park is as clear and warm as July. Though tickets and reservations help to control the traffic along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, keep in mind that parking lots at trailheads can fill up early. Wildlife can be particularly active this time of year, so be sure to bring your bear spray.
Average High: 60º | Average Low: 38º
While September still feels like summer in other parts of Montana, in Glacier National Park it feels more like fall. Though the temperatures are chillier, it’s still warm enough to do some exploring while the Going-to-the-Sun Road is still open. You’ll need to be prepared with clothing that suits both fall and winter temperatures, especially if you’re headed over Logan Pass.
Average High: 46º | Average Low: 30º
October brings the first few snow flurries to Glacier National Park, especially at higher elevations. Though it’s unlikely to see serious snow accumulation this time of year, it’s common for the temperature to dip below freezing, so be sure to pack plenty of warm, waterproof gear. Have an alternate plan in mind for getting to and from either side of the park, as the Going-to-the-Sun Road sometimes closes as early as the end of the month.
Average High: 33º | Average Low: 21º
If it hasn’t yet, the Going-to-the-Sun Road will close at some point in November, as this is the month where winter truly comes to Glacier National Park. Traveling to the park at this time, though beautiful when covered in a blanket of white, it can be tricky driving there in the inclement weather. You’ll need a full complement of winter clothing to be comfortable in November: a hat, gloves, scarf, and a winter parka would be wise.
Average High: 27º | Average Low: 14º
The coldest, snowiest month of the year, December in Glacier National Park is sparkling white and nearly deserted. If you’re prepared to brave the cold, a visit to Glacier in December means zero crowds, a truly unique, snow-covered landscape, and the opportunity to see this part of the world the way few people do.
Be sure to pack plenty of warm, layer-able clothes, and toss a pair of tire chains in your trunk just in case you need them.
Annual Glacier National Park Events and Festivals
With a grant from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the Native America Speaks program has been presenting speakers, performances, and panels since 1982. The goal of the program is to educate people about the culture of the Blackfeet, Confederated Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribal members through their own words.
After attending one or more of these events, hopefully, you will have a greater understanding of their unique connection to what is now called Glacier National Park, but they know as their ancestral lands.
Native America Speaks events are held at different locations around the park, in St. Mary, and Blackfeet nation from mid-June through late September.
This summer series of guided hikes and outings are hosted by the rangers working at Glacier National Park. They created the program to help visitors to the park have a more fulfilling experience by adding educational context to well-worn hikes within the park.
A very popular hike within the program spans two countries; the International Peace Park hike heads from the United States’ Glacier into Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, and back. Bonus: most of these scheduled hikes are completely free.
Free Entrance Days to Glacier National Park
In the summer, there are two days when entrance fees to Glacier are waived. The first is the Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act (August 4) and the latter is on the National Park Service’s Birthday (August 25.)
Just near the western entrance of Glacier, the town of Whitefish has an annual food and drink festival in TK. Several local restaurants, bars, breweries, and chefs participate, all culminating in an elaborate gala.
These infamously impossible to cultivate berries are nonetheless a favorite of both humans and grizzly bears in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the fact that they have to be harvested in the wild they are still exceedingly popular, and this festival honors the traditions of the harvest in Western Montana with lots of vendors selling all things huckleberry. This fest kicks off in mid-August in Whitefish.
4th of July
Montanans are famously enthusiastic about celebrating Independence Day, and near the western entrance of Glacier, the towns of Kalispell and Whitefish are no exception. You can expect parades, music, and fireworks.
If you’re looking for an elegant way to celebrate Halloween, you can head to the White Raven Winery in Columbia Falls. They host a masquerade ball on Halloween Eve, replete with their annual batch house-made sangria punch.
Free Entrance Days to Glacier National Park
In the fall, there is one day when entrance fees to Glacier National Park are waived. It falls on National Public Lands Day (September 25.)
Every year in the middle of October, Kalispell hosts their annual Jazz Stampede, a live jazz festival that seeks to educate the Pacific Northwest about the value and history of Jazz music. Shows are held at different venues around town for four days, and though you can buy tickets for individual performances, steep discounts are awarded to those who buy a pass for the entire festival.
Free Entrance Days to Glacier National Park
In the winter, there are two days when entrance fees to Glacier are waived. The first is on Veterans Day (November 11) and the latter is on Martin Luther King Day (third Monday of January.)
On Christmas Eve, the Whitefish Mountain Resort hosts its annual Torchlight Parade. After nightfall, this torch-lit parade passes through the main village area accompanied by hot chocolate, Schnapps, and a visit from Santa.
The Blacktail Mountain Ski Area hosts a Winterfest every year at the end of January or early February. Most of the events are free to attend and include a community breakfast, a pig roast, and ski, snowboard, and snowmobile races.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Opens
While portions of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road – the highway that crosses Glacier National Park – are open year-round, the road opens in its entirety for the season annually at the end of spring. While there’s no set date for this to occur, it generally happens at the end of May or the beginning of June.
Free Entrance Days to Glacier National Park
In the fall, there is one day when entrance fees to Glacier National Park are waived. It falls on the first day of National Park Week (the Saturday before the third week in April.)
Celebrating the Montanan traditions of whitewater rafting and kayaking, the Bigfork Whitewater Festival is a competition held every Memorial Day weekend on the Swan River right where it meets Bigfork Bay. The most challenging races are staged on the “Wild Mile”: the very turbulent last mile of the Swan. This festival has been held every year since 1976.