A Guide To Visiting Glacier National Park In Winter

Will Beck
Last Updated: February 9th, 2024

Glacier National Park is nature at its most spectacular at any time of year, from its glacier-clad mountain peaks to its pristine lakes, wild nature from grizzly bears and bighorn sheep to majestic elks, and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road traversing the park. 

But for those truly seeking a respite from the park’s crowds, Glacier National Park in winter is an appealing alternative. 

Nestled in Montana’s snowy mountains, Glacier National Park offers a million acres of jaw-dropping beauty!

With rugged mountains, picturesque meadows, and more than 700 lakes, Glacier Park has been a go-to spot for those possessed by the spirit of adventure ever since its establishment in 1910.

I visited Glacier for a marvelous week of hiking and exploration during the summer but was intrigued to learn what it would be like to visit during the quiet winter months, what activities could be enjoyed, and what would be open for more intrepid travelers venturing to the park at that time of year.

For winter sports lovers, Glacier offers a gorgeous setting for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. The snow lays a blanket of white over the landscape and provides a tranquil environment to get out in nature and get away from it all.

A trip to Glacier National Park in winter is truly a unique experience and well worth making an effort for.

glacier national park winter

Things to Know Before You Go

Before you pack your bags and book a flight or rent a car for a trip to Colorado, there are a few key things you need to know about Glacier National Park in winter. 

Everything in this section is about preparing you for your trip so you don’t find yourself caught out unprepared for a destination that can be as formidable as it is breathtaking!

Despite the snowy beauty, a winter visit to Glacier will require special planning as the cold and snowy conditions can be unforgiving for the unprepared, there are closures of park facilities throughout the winter months to take into consideration. 

Best Time to visit Glacier National Park in Winter

how cold does it get in Montana

Most people head to Glacier National Park in summer for hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities that are best done in the warm light of the sun. 

In winter, however, there is a whole different range of activities to enjoy: skiing, snowshoeing, and guided winter tours.

There are, broadly speaking, three different periods at Glacier National Park in Winter. December to January is when the snow comes down. 

This is the time for winter sports like cross-country skiing, and the best time to experience that winter wonderland feeling.

February brings with it a more stable snowpack and some better visibility for park wildlife, so you’re more likely to see critters out and about in the snow. 

Finally, Early March is when most of the snow is over and the temperatures become milder. There’s still a chance of snow, but it’s more comfortable if you want to avoid the bitter cold. 

Getting to Glacier National Park in Winter

You can get to Glacier National Park a few ways in winter. Most visitors travel by car, but you have to prepare for road closures and be ready to drive icy roads. 

This can be dangerous, so be sure to check weather forecasts and road closures ahead of your voyage and look into fitting your car with winter tires for better traction. Some stretches may require snow chains! 

You can also fly into Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana. You can rent a car at the airport and drive the rest of the way to the park. 

Finally, Amtrak’s Empire Builder line can take you as far as Whitefish, a town near Glacier National Park’s west entrance. You can arrange buses or suttles from there to and from the park during winter. 

What to Expect in Terms of Weather and Conditions

There’s a joke that the seasons in Glacier are June, July, August, and Winter.  While that may be stretching it a bit, summer can indeed be brief, snows can arrive early, and winters can be long.  Average temperatures during the traditional winter months range from highs of 27-32 degrees and lows of 14-17 degrees.  Snows can arrive in September and last until May or June.

Climate conditions vary from one side of the park to the other since it straddles the Continental Divide, and the level of snowfall can be dramatically different. Weather conditions can change quickly with wind and snowstorms causing the temperature to drop dramatically in a few hours.

December to February is the real heart of winter. Expect freezing temperatures and a lot of snow. 

Daytime temperatures can range from 20-30F, while nighttime temperatures plummet well below freezing. Snowstorms are common. Road closures may apply, so be aware of weather forecasts and any other official announcements.

March is when things tend to ease up. Daytime temperatures range from 30-40F, so it’s a more moderate climate to get out and about in. 

Snowfall is still possible, however, so keep abreast of the weather forecasts and any other announcements. 

Month Average High (°F) Average Low (°F) Snowfall (inches) Sunshine (hours/day)
December 30 16 11 4.5
January 28 14 12 4.7
February 32 16 10 5.1
March 39 23 8 6.2
April 47 31 7 7.6

What to Pack

Be prepared for the cold weather and have the right gear for any outdoor activity you may be planning.  Here’s a checklist of what to bring to ensure you’re set for whatever winter weather you face on the ground in Glacier.


  • Waterproof winter parka: to keep melted snow and any sleet off your clothes
  • Insulated thermal underwear and shirts: because it will be very cold
  • Insulated socks
  • Warm hat
  • Insulated, waterproof gloves: you may also want to wear a pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves underneath

Winter Gear

glacier national park skiing

  • Snow pants: essential for any trip out in the snow.
  • Face shield: to protect against the icy wind.
  • Snow boots
  • Polarized sunglasses: The sun reflects brightly off the snow!

Safety and Navigation

  • Map and Compass: a detailed map of the park area you are in and a compass will ensure you always know where you are.
  • GPS device: always a good idea to provide additional navigation assistance. 
  • Trail guidebook: park officials have put a lot of work into creating a sourcebook of park information. Use it. 
  • Emergency whistle: for signaling in case of emergency
  • Park information brochures: Important for any extra information that may come in handy. 

Food and Hydration

  • Water: Ensure you take sufficient water. Use insulated bottles to keep it from freezing. 
  • Warm beverages: a thermos of hot coffee or soup can be a great addition to help keep you warm.
  • High-energy snacks: take energy-dense snacks like granola bars and dried fruits to give you a boost in energy throughout the day. 
  • Sandwiches or wraps: prepare sandwiches or another decent meal if you plan to be out most of the day. 
  • Electrolyte replenishment: Consider taking electrolyte replenishment drinks or supplements, especially if you’re engaged in strenuous exercise at higher elevations. 


  • Waterproof daypack: to carry water, snacks, bags to carry out trash, toilet paper, sunscreen, lip protection, flashlight, maps, first aid kit
  • Crampons: traction cleats for walking on snow and ice
  • Dry bags: to protect gear
  • Walking sticks or trekking poles

Park Facilities in Winter

glacier national park

The entry fee to visit Glacier in winter is less than in other seasons.  The cost per auto is $25, or $15 per individual.  The winter rate is in effect from November 1st through April 30th and provides for a 7-day permit for a private vehicle.

That being said, what sort of park facilities are open in winter for you to experience when you visit in the snow?


Most of Going-to-the-Sun Road shuts down during the winter owing to snow buildup and icy road conditions along its highest elevation stretches through Logan Pass

For most of the winter, the only drivable roads are the 11 miles of Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar Village and Lake McDonald Lodge, the Apgar Village roads, and the mile and a half from the Park’s east entrance to St. Mary Campground.

Visitor Centers

Of the three Park visitor centers, only Apgar on the west side is open during the winter but is available only on weekends. However, restrooms and drinking water are available at the Apgar Visitor Center year-round.  St. Mary and Logan Pass Centers are closed during the winter season.


Only St. Mary and Apgar campgrounds remain open during winter for those who have the gear for cold-weather camping.  Sites at St. Mary Campground near the East Entrance are free in winter and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no water or toilets in the winter.

Apgar Campground is also open in winter, mostly for RV or auto camping.  Loop B in the campground has some tent sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is a vaulted toilet, but no water.


Glacier National Park offers lodging options, including historic lodges and chalets. 

These accommodations, such as the Lake McDonald Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel, provide a cozy retreat with proximity to key attractions.

Winter activities

The whole point of visiting Glacier National Park in Winter is to get up to all the winter activities. 

Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snow-hiking, and wildlife and landscape photography are perfect examples of the great activities you can enjoy in inter.

Shuttle Services

Shuttle services can run on clear roads in winter, but are often replaced with snowmobile taxis when the snow is too thick. 

Be sure to check timetables or make the appropriate bookings so you don’t get stranded. 

Where to Stay and Eat in Glacier National Park in Winter

While the availability of lodgings in summer can be very limited and competitive, winter is a less busy time of year!

Be aware that some lodgings will be closed for the winter period, so be sure to check which ones are open when before you commit.

Sign for the West Glacier Camp store, where tourists purchase camping gear and sporting goods for their trip to Glacier National Park

Winter Camping

Outdoor camping in winter is for the hardy to be sure and is only available with very limited services available if any. Stock up on supplies and food outside the park at towns like Columbia Falls.  Backcountry camping is the most rustic option and only for experienced cold-weather campers and will require a backcountry permit (free in winter).  You can get this in person up to 24 hours in advance of your trip at the Apgar Backcountry Permit Center.

Hotels in Glacier National Park

None of the Glacier Park hotels are open during the winter months, so those seeking more warmth and creature comforts will need to venture beyond the park for lodging.  The closest options outside Glacier’s boundaries are along Montana Rt. 2, the southern perimeter of the park. 

There are a fair few lodges you can choose from, and all of them are warm and comfortable bases to start and finish your days in the park. 

Isaak Walton Inn: stay in historic train car accommodations with fine dining, located between Glacier’s two entrances, roughly a 30-minute drive from either entrance. Isaak Walton Inn is named after the famous English author and poet and was built in 1939 as a lodge for those crossing the country by rail.

Izaak Walton Inn boasts a historic aesthetic, several remodeled train cars, and service buildings to stay in, and can arrange and facilitate a number of exciting winter activities like snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, or snowmobile rental.

Izaak Walton Inn has a lot of variety for places to stay, from railcars and cabooses to lodge rooms and family cabins. There’s plenty of choice to suit your tastes. 

Whitefish Lake Lodge in Whitefish: lake and mountain views 40 minutes from the West Entrance of Glacier. Similarly diverse, you can stay in the lodge’s hotel rooms, lakefront cabins, luxury homes, and the thrillingly named Viking Lodge.

Named after Viking Falls and Viking Creek, the Viking Lodge is a luxury hotel-style accommodation with all the modern conveniences.

Other lodging options, like the main lodge and the lakefront condos, offer similarly comfortable spaces and appliances to ensure you have everything you need. 

Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls: This is a National Parks Service lodge, but it’s outside the park, it’s open year-round, and is located 20 minutes from the West Entrance. Parks Service lodges inside Glacier National Park are closed in winter, so this is your best bet for the same thing over those winter months. 

Cedar Creek Lodge is a beautiful classic-style winter lodge only 20 minutes from Glacier National Park and offers a discount for longer stays. This is perfect for taking advantage of those cheaper winter lodging prices and adding a discount on top. 

Cedar Creek Lodge offers shuttle tours of the area and complete dining services, so there’s plenty to do right from your hotel.

Winter Activities

For those prepared for the cold, there is beautiful scenery, a lack of crowds, and lots of outdoor activities to take advantage of.



One of the most enjoyable winter activities is snowshoeing. With a pair of snowshoes, you can navigate the wintry landscape and not sink into the surrounding snow! There are ranger-led, two-hour snowshoe tours along McDonald Creek originating from the Apgar Visitor Center on weekends between January and March.

Since many of the roads are closed during the winter, this opens up great opportunities for snowshoeing on parts of the Going to the Sun Road near Lake McDonald Lodge. The Apgar Village has a variety of trails available. For a short 3-mile excursion, explore the Lower McDonald Creek Trail.

Snowshoeing is a great activity for those who want to get out and about and see the breathtaking landscapes under the guidance of a skilled and experienced park ranger. 

It is quite strenuous, however, so be sure you take snacks and drinks so you have the energy to trudge far and wide. 

Cross-Country Skiing

cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is a great winter workout, all the while passing extraordinary winter landscapes and mountain vistas within the park.

Once many of the roads close for the winter, they also become attractive cross-country ski trails!  Skiing the Going-to-the-Sun Road is itself the most popular trail in the park.  Other popular areas for skiing are found in the Lake McDonald and Apgar sections.  Some of the best options for cross-country ski trails include:

There is a range of places where you can rent cross-country skiing gear, and the more beginner-friendly courses will be better suited to those who need to rent. 

Because cross-country skiing can be quite a strenuous pastime, it is often done only by experienced skiers who own their own gear.

That being said, be sure to investigate the availability of beginner courses to see if you can’t get out and experience this incredible sport for yourself! 



There are trails that will be open during the winter but be prepared for snow-covered paths that may be icy.  In addition to snow boots, you may want to apply crampons to the bottom of your footwear to get a better grip on the ground surface.

Several recommended hikes start from around Apgar, including the Apgar Lookout, Fish Creek to Apgar, and Lake McDonald West Shore hikes, all of which are mostly level and well-suited for enjoying the winter weather.

Be sure you prepare your navigation and safety equipment before heading out. Snow can roll in at any time, so check the weather forecasts before you begin. 

Wildlife Viewing

wildlife viewing

Although bears will normally be hibernating during the winter months, don’t neglect to bring bear spray on your outdoor adventures just in case!  But there will still be plenty of active wildlife to potentially see, including bighorn sheep, elk, deer, snowshoe hares, moose, chipmunks, beaver, and more.

Scenic Drives

go for a scenic drive

The section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road between the West Entrance and the Lake McDonald Lodge remains open year-round winds along the scenic and picturesque shore of Lake McDonald for about 10 miles and provides great winter scenery!

This trip is better suited for March, as snow can block roads from December to February. In any case, be sure your car has winter tires or even snow chains to keep it on the road. 


The beauty of the mountains and lakes is only enhanced by the snow on the peaks and covering the trees.  This can mean getting some great photographs during your winter vacation!

But be prepared to pack the extra equipment you need for cold-weather photography.  Bring a battery pack to charge your camera, and extra camera batteries since the cold can cause the battery charge to ebb much more quickly.

With the lack of crowds, you can take some amazing pictures of Glacier’s gorgeous scenery. Be sure to visit Lake McDonald to get beautiful shots of the mountains reflected on the water’s surface.

Dog Sledding

experience dog sledding in montana

Although this activity occurs outside of the Park’s boundaries, this is such a fun winter activity that I couldn’t leave it out.  Dog Sled Adventures in Montana offers tours by dog sled, mushing across the wintry landscape behind a team of eager dogs.

They are located just outside the western flank of the park and have 130 huskies trained to pull the sleds through the awesome Montana scenery. Tours last about an hour and a half and depart three times daily, from December through March. The tour cost is $150 for adults, and $75 for children 11 and under.

Winter Sports Tours

winter sports tours

Sometimes it’s better to err on the side of caution and join in on a group activity to maximize your enjoyment of the winter wonderland of Glacier but under the supervision of local pros who are knowledgeable of the local conditions and what winter weather precautions to take.

Glacier Adventure Guides runs a variety of tours, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter camping trips.


Visiting Glacier in winter is a magical way to see the park and the Going-to-the-Sun Road under less crowded conditions when you can have large swaths of the park to yourself. The snow creates a hushed environment that lets you commune with nature and let the stress go as you get out into the winter wonderland on your snowshoes or cross-country skis or camp under the stars on a frosty winter night.

About The Author

Will Beck

Will is a true digital nomad, taking his work on the road at every opportunity. His first love is coffee, with travel a close 2nd. He loves nothing more than hitting the road in his self-build campervan and visiting off-the-beaten-path places, away from popular tourist destinations.

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