Where is Glacier National Park?
Located in Montana’s northwestern region is a very famous National park in the United States, named the Glacier National Park. It sits right adjacent to the Canada-United States border. It’s a huge park that covers an area of 4,000 square kilometers. It’s huge by any standards and ideally is a natural forest and nature zone just because of its size. This massive nature reserve houses some of the more than 1000 species of the very best flora and fauna, a few hundred species of wildlife, 130 officially named lakes, and two mountain ranges. This should give you some perspective of its mindboggling size and is also referred to as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem”. Unbelievable as it may seem, the reserve also has numerous ecosystems.
A glacier is a moving mass and is naturally made when there is more snow in winter than can ideally melt in summers. The layers upon layers of snow create pressure on the bottom-most layer of snow and turn it into ice. The bottom-most ice layer is flexible and allows the glacier to move. As the glacier moves, it picks up the debris of rocks and gravel on its way and carries them along with it. Now imagine a glacier with its weight of hundreds of tonnes of a layer of debris at the bottom.
When this entire piece moves, no matter how fast or slow, it sculpts the landscape over which it moves. When this repeatedly happens for thousands of years, you get the beautiful landscape that is Glacier National Park. There are 50 plus glaciers in the park. Because of these large glaciers that produced its landscape, the region became known as the Glacier National Park.
Displaying nature at its finest, Glacier National Park is a popular tourist destination.
When is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?
The best time to visit Glacier National Park would depend on the kind of activity you are planning to do. This beautiful park is host to a variety of adventure and activities like biking, fishing, hiking, rafting, and more. So the best time to visit the park would be as per the activity. In general, the best time of the year to experience its beauty.
Nature reserves will always remain beautiful all through the year. It’s basically the same park but even the season has a different effect on it and its activities, so let’s start by understanding the season’s first.
Fall Season – September to October
As is expected with the fall season, the weather is pleasant, the skies are sunny and clear, and the views are amazing. Fall weather is mostly moderate, with sunny warm days complimented by pleasantly cool nights. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about anything, and the best part is that even the trails are quiet this time. The first week itself is the most glorious time to visit and enjoy the views. Nature is in its joyous mood, with the animals and birds being more active and enjoying the weather because they know winter will be approaching soon. Even nature is in full form, and you will enjoy the views of trees and their foliage change colors eventually. It’s great to enjoy these views on a hike.
It’s a short 2 months, and when October arrives, you might see the first snowfall, which is when certain closures happen within the park. Expect the tree colors to change by the middle of October, when you will see a million shades of Yellow and Gold everywhere. But you will have to come prepared for this season as after Labour Day. You will find that all the shops, lodges, restaurants, and establishments will be closed. So you will have to come prepared to camp in the wild and arrange your own food and take care of yourself. Alternately, you can find some accommodation, but they will be outside the park limits.
Winter season – November to April
Glacier National Park is away from all pollution sources and even cities and is a huge size reserve. Winters are typically longer and last from November to April. Temperatures will fall below the freezing point on a regular basis. The snow coupled with freezing temperatures will lead to closures of the hiking trails and also roads. The last of the parks accommodation, food, restaurants, etc., would have been long closed before October and remain closed until spring season arrives.
Now, this may seem like a dull season, but no. This is actually the best time to camp in the wild and enjoy nature for a couple of reasons. First, because of winters, the campsites are available free of any charges. Also, even the prices of accommodation drop significantly, and so do the entrance fees at nearby gateway communities. The park is a paradise for winter lovers like snow hikers, skiing, and mountain climbers, for whom the low rates are a blessing. However, as there are very few tourists, the ones staying will have to fend for themselves. Be careful of the blizzards and avalanches, which are quite regular in this area.
Spring Season – May to June
The spring season brings with it a respite from the 6 months of cold, harsh winters, and new you will see nature in full bloom everywhere. The weather will start to warm up every passing week, and nature enthusiasts will begin to come back for hiking, trekking, cycling, and other activities. Many roads, trails, and establishments (restaurants, accommodation, etc.) will still remain closed in this season, but it does not deter those waiting for spring to arrive. Just like winters, the accommodation rates are still low while the weather is warm, thus enabling nature lovers to take full advantage of the daytime temperatures. Nights will still be relatively cold until summers arrive.
Summer season – July to August
Summer months are the peak tourist season and the peak season for all wildlife and nature as they are in their full form. The entire park is bursting with energy and full of life. The prices of accommodation will soar and so will the number of tourists visiting the park. The accommodation can be limited in supply, and so it’s best if you plan well ahead of time and book the accommodation a few months or few seasons prior to your visit.
The same needs to be done for booking shuttles and all kinds of tours/ activities. Most guided tours will be full well before summers, so prepare you to plan and book the ones you want to enjoy beforehand. There are quite a few activities for even kids. The day temperatures are warm, whereas the nights will be chilling. The weather is superb with clear skies, sunny weather, and cool winds.
Since information on seasons is clear, let us understand the best time of the year for activities.
Best time of the year for Rafting, Kayaking or Paddling
You have to ensure that there is a sufficient water level wherever you do it for any kind of water. And for this, you will have to wait until June, after which you can enjoy these sports. The Flathead river passes through the park and is an opportunity for a lot of fun in the splashy white water trips. This activity runs all summer long. The river water will be at its maximum height during May and June when most of the snow and ice have melted and feeds from the mountain springs’ runoffs. The big water is a good fun experience and runs Class || and Class ||| rapids, which is quite safe and family-friendly too.
Best time for hiking
Hiking is a very popular activity in the park, and you will see many hikers during the time it is open. However, the best time to hike is during summers and fall seasons when the daytime temperatures are warm and support hiking. The overall weather will be dry and calm, and most of the trails are open. Hiking is possible in the Spring season, but the trails will be muddy and slippery due to the melting snow. Hiking trails open up in higher elevations as the temperature increases in spring and summers, while there may still be some remnants of snow in higher trails.
Best time for Camping
Camping can be done all year round and is a paid activity where you will be charged certain fees. Camping is fun in the park and can be done all year round, but the best time would be in the fall season when tourist numbers reduce, and so do the fees. Also, it will be less crowded and won’t require any prior reservations.
Best time for fishing
Fishing is an all-year activity where you can go whitefish and trout fishing at any point in time. You can go lake fishing in any of the accessible 130+ large and small lakes in addition to the streams and rivers in the summers. If you are a hard-core angler or do it just for fun, the park has enough places and abundant fishes to try your luck.
Best time for Wildlife viewing
Wildlife is best viewed in summers and fall. Spring and summers are the time the wildlife starts moving around a lot. But during the fall season, you will see a lot of activity as the mammals start getting ready for the oncoming cold, harsh winters. You will be able to easily spot wildlife easily as they are practically all over the place hunting for food and grazing. This is because they need large energy reserves to last the long winters. It’s best recommended to keep a safe distance from them when you spot them and let them go about their activity peacefully. You can also use binoculars to spot them remotely, keeping you safe and letting you enjoy them almost up close. You will easily spot some moose and bears on hikes and trails, especially to Iceberg Lake.
The Best Time to Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
This is a 50 mile (80 km) mountain road that traverses the Glacier National Park and spans the park’s width. It is one of the most scenic roads in this part of the world, with the highest elevation of almost 2000 meters at one point on the road. This road is open from early June to mid-October only. This is because this is the most difficult road to plow. With up to 80 feet of snow in some places, slow plowing can be as slow as just 150 meters per day sometimes.
It’s a two-lane road that follows the winding mountains and is the park’s biggest attraction. This is a must-do activity when you visit the park, and first-timers are usually advised to this if they only have a day. You can make a break journey, stopping at all the important points, Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, Jackson Glacier Overlook, etc. Do keep in mind that the road will be closed in winters and spring and open up only in June because of the extensive snow.
Glacier National Park can be visited at any time of the year. Seasons may affect the weather but not its beauty. The individual preference will decide the best season to visit and so also the activity that one plans to do when there. Regardless of when you plan your trip, do check weather conditions and forecasts before you leave. The park’s weather is fickle and can change quite suddenly. When trying adventure, it’s always good to be on the safer side. Overall, it’s an extremely beautiful place, and it’s as close to raw nature that one can get. We like in urban jungles and often need a break in such a paradise to connect back with nature. I hope this information has helped you and you will enjoy your visit to the park.