Together with Water Lakes National Park (in Alberta), Montana’s Glacier National Park is one-half of the “Crown of the Continent.” If you love spending time in the mountains and want to tick this park off your bucket list, then you also need to know the things to do in Glacier National Park.
After all, Montana high-country is notorious for both its snow and its freezing temps. A visit in the wrong season will leave you standing in the visitor park wondering if there’s anyone around at all. The best time to visit Glacier National Park is in summer, but the park is open 365 days a year. Here’s what you need to know to plan your trip, plan the best things to do in Glacier National Park in Montana.
Best Time To Visit Glacier National Park: Summer
The best time to visit Glacier National Park is hands-down the warm summer months between mid-June and the end of August. Traveling the park during this period means you not only enjoy the nice weather but you also get to see more of the park.
By the time summer rolls around, much of the snow at low elevations is gone. This means that both the roads and the hiking trails are open and fully accessible. Even the popular drives, like the Going-to-the-Sun Road, can close temporarily as late as June. Snow persists at the high elevations during the summer, particularly on the east side of the park. But it is far less likely to get in the way of your visit if you hold off until July.
Though summer is the peak season, however, it means that there are more accommodation and restaurant choices available. Most of these businesses shutter for the season around Labor Day, which requires you to be far more self-sufficient.
The only down part is that the prices for accommodations might be higher than other seasons. And with the growing popularity of Glacier National Park combined with the rural location means you should start looking for accommodation up to a year before you plan to travel.
The park’s rangers are also busy running the summer activities at the visitor and nature centers as well as the lodges.
Weather in Glacier National Park during Summer
July and August can bring temperatures that reach as high as the mid-80 degree Fahrenheit, but it’s not uncommon for air temperatures to plummet down to the 50s and 40s once the sun goes down.
If you intend to hike at elevation, keep in mind that the combination of wind and altitude means your temperatures will be as much as 15 degrees cooler than the valleys. Wear layers and carry an emergency blanket just in case. If you intend to hike or camp, be sure you’re prepared for freezing temps even in the summer and bring plenty of water.
Here are the things you can do in Glacier National Park during the summer.
Go hike the scenic trails
There’s no trip complete without a hike within the park that simply can’t be beat. Though there are countless hiking opportunities and trails that will take you past waterfalls, wide-open meadows, snowcapped mountains and with the potential to spot some wildlife along the way.
Don’t be deceived by the challenging hikes in Glacier National Park. Though some of the hiking trails might seems quite intimidating particularly for its high elevation and challenging conditions, there are still plenty of hiking trails that are beginner-friendly and scenic at the same time. If you’re considering to hike a different trail, here are some of the samples of most popular hikes in Glacier National Park.
Trail of the Cedars
This trial is great to start with, considering its conditions. As one of the most popular hiking trail, hikers can expect a clearly marked, shaded and flat trail. Needless to say, it’s possibly one of the easiest hiking trail in the park with a short distance. Plus, the broad walk makes it wheeled-chair friendly too. It pays off at the end of the hike with gorgeous, rushing torrent turquoise water making several cascades through a gorge.
One of the most strenuous trails stretches almost 11 miles on a round-trip, Highline trail, however, follows the Continental Divide and features breath-taking scenery. The trail is narrow but secured hand cables are installed along the ridges. Hence, your hike is comfortable even during the rugged condition. The scenic glacier valleys and alpine meadows is fulfilling even Highline trail is undoubtedly a challenging hike.
Hidden Lake Nature Trail
Lasting 2.7 miles on a round-trip, this trail is for those who seek a trail that is challenging but relaxing at the same time. Even during summer, there’s nice breeze along the way due to the unblock open-space. When the snow melts, the alpine meadows aka ‘Hanging Gardens’ turns into a carpet of wildflowers during the summer. Though mountain goats is common sights, do note that grizzly bears are occasionally seen in the area.
*Make sure you check the hiking trail status report prior to your visit. Safety is always the priority.
Sign up a scenic boat tour
Apart from hiking, one of the best things to do in Glacier National Park is to admire the scenery. And Another great way to do it is by taking a scenic boat tour. Though hikers are able to hop on these boats as a shuttle with the use of GNP trail pass, there is plenty of scenic boat tour available.
To fully appreciate the scenery, hop on a long hour cruise along Lake McDonald that leaves from the boat dock. If you prefer a combination of cruise with a few hikes between lakes, sign up for the ‘Swiftcurrent & Josephine Lakes tour.’
Explore the water recreation activities in GNP
The snowmelt brings punch to the waterways. Hence, the glistering waters around Glacier National Park during summer. Here you can opt to hit the North and Middle Fork of Flathead River for adrenaline whitewater rafting.
Otherwise, make your way down to Lake McDonald or St. Mary Lake for relaxing boating and paddling. Though hikers are allowed to bring their own boats, there are still some restrictions that one has to follow. Rent a boat or a canoe, go kayaking or go fishing in the calm lake with majestic backdrop encompassing the surroundings. Though the marine life is not ideal in any of the lakes in Glacier National Park, you’ll bring home quite a variety of fishes, especially for trouts.
Drive along the Going-To-The-Sun Road
As one of the highlights of GNP, Going-to-the-sun-road runs 50 miles from the Western Park entrance of West Glacier to the eastern entrance of St. Mary. While some would opt for a red-bus tour, self-driving along the road is ideal for those who wish to spend a minimal amount of time here yet still be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery around Glacier National Park.
Along the way, you’ll find yourself weaving through the Rockies amid hills peppered with mountain goats, scenic turnouts, snowy mountain tops and jaw-dropping steep drop of waterfalls. For those who want to get off the beaten path, get-off of Going-the-sun-road by traversing through the remote North Fork and Goat Haunt regions. The wilderness solitude will have you stunned silence.
*Check the road status report here.
Go camping in the countryside
Glacier national park is known for its serenity and the best way to enjoy it is by camping in the countryside. Believe it or not, camping in this park is so much different than hiking the trails. Mostly because you’ll truly able to slow down your pace to enjoy the wilderness. The sounds of nature and scent from biological sources will surely lift the burden off your shoulders.
Not to mention, it’s an excellent chance to escape the bustling city. The best part, there are plenty of camping spots around the area that suits your preferences.
However, one thing to take note is that most campsites here are on a first-come-first-served basis. That means you need to get here early enough to secure a campsite, especially during the summer. The campsites that offer reservation typically cost around $10-23 USD per night during the summer season and the campsites are as following;
- Fish Creek Reservations
- St. Mary Reservations
- Apgar Group Site Reservations
- Many Glacier
Check out the official Glacier National Park camping site for more campsites and also to make your reservations.
Enjoy Stargazing in the wilderness
Apart from the majestic backdrops, the night here in Glacier national park is nothing you can ever imagine. While the natural beauty in daylight is undeniably beautiful, the night time somewhat presents another vivid side of the park.
Hence, spending a night here is not complete without the proper admiration of the vast labyrinth of planets, galaxies, and constellations. As a renowned destination for stargazers who seek an unrivaled perspective, Glacier National Park proves to be more than just scenic backdrops.
Not to mention, Glacier national park has some of the darkest skies in the world. That means with the simplest telescope or even without one, hikers can see the milky ways and a blanket of twinkling stars with minimal effort. If you’re lucky, the meandering northern-lights might passes through your sights. Though there are several locations designated to stargaze, hikers can choose to cycle or to drive up the Going-to-the-sun Road after the sun goes down to catch these spectacular phenomena.
If plans to visit Glacier National Park, there’s no better time than the summer season. The weather is perfect, and you get to roam around more. However, if you’ve already missed the summer, don’t worry. There are still plenty of things to do in Glacier National Park, even during the chilly winter. Just heed these tips to make sure you’re well-prepared when heading to the park.
Click here for more info about the other seasons and weather to visit Glacier National Park.