Expert Guide: When is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park?

Of America’s National Parks, Glacier sits atop the list of incredible natural beauty. Located in northern Montana, the Crown Jewel of the Continent offers just about everything to those who visit. It’s beautiful, expansive, diverse, and magical.

So the next questions are: when are you coming, and when is the best time to visit Glacier National Park?

Belo, you’ll find everything you need to know about making a trip to the epic national park and having the time of your life!

Why you can trust me: I’ve visited Glacier National Park three times in my life, totaling nearly two weeks, spent time in each of the main areas, and hiked 75 miles throughout the park.

The Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Let’s jump right in. Summer is the best time to visit Glacier National Park. There’s no debate on that. With long summer days that stretch past 10 p.m., beautiful temperatures hovering in the 70s, and accessible trails post-snow melt, this is an undeniably amazing place.

While many think of summer as possibly starting in May, that’s not true for Glacier. Summer starts mid to late June but really doesn’t begin until the Going-To-The-Sun Road opens up. This is partly because it means the entire park is accessible without driving the long way on Highway 2 to reach Two Medicine and Many Glacier.

two big horned sheep look out
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Sunset/Sunrise Times

From early May through August, daylight lasts about 14 hours per day, with less coming as August wraps up. From June through July, sunrise and sunset times are around 5:40 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., with some light in the sky until 11 p.m.

Summer Vehicle Permits Required

With tourism reaching all-time highs, Glacier National Park has instituted a vehicle reservation system during summer.

From May 24 to September 8, you must make a reservation to visit the Going-to-the-Sun Road and North Fork area from 6 am. to 3 pm. every day of the week. Then, from July 1 to September 8, you need a reservation to visit Many Glacier.

You cannot enter during these hours if you do not have a permit, but there’s a loophole. You can visit the park if you get in before 6 a.m. or after 3 p.m. During the summer months, with sunset past 9:30, you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of time in the park, even if you get there later.

Lastly, there’s another loophole here. If you wish to visit Logan Pass (the top of the Going-to-the-Sun Road), you can get there without a reservation if you enter from the east side at St. Mary’s.

Want to take a tour or do an activity near Glacier?
Check out these fun options!

When does Going-To-The-Sun Road Open?

That’s a tricky question. It all depends on how much snow the area receives and how quickly they can plow it. At some points on the road, over 20 feet of snow accumulates, which takes a lot of time to clear out. For the most part, the road usually opens in early to mid-July.

a turquois lake with mountains behind it on the grinnell glacier trail in glacier national park
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Summer Wildfires

While summer is the best time to visit Glacier National Park, climate change has its impacts. Summer wildfires in Montana, Idaho, and Canada are having a sizeable effect on how you can recreate in this area.

June and July are usually fine, but come August and September, dry conditions create a timber box where fires can run rampant.

Bear Spray is Wise

It’s not legally mandated, but it’s very smart to carry bear spray on you at all times while hiking and recreating in Glacier National Park and Montana. The area has a healthy grizzly bear population, and bear spray is one of the best deterrents in case one charges. (Guns are not allowed in the national parks, and studies show that bear spray is actually the most effective repellent.)

One thing to note is you cannot fly with bear spray. So, when you get to Montana, you can buy or rent it here.

How many days are needed in Glacier National Park?

You’ll want to spend at least five days in Glacier, if not up to seven or more. (If you do nine – four weekend days and five weekdays – you can explore Waterton Lakes or go up to Banff, Canada, too.)

Here’s a mock itinerary outline to help plan your trip:

Day 1-2 West Glacier/North Fork

Day 3-4 Logan Pass/Going to the Sun Road

  • Highline Trail
  • Hidden Lake Overlook
  • Granite Park Chalet
  • Swiftcurrent Pass
  • Grinnell Glacier Overlook

Day 5-6 East Side: Many Glacier/Two Medicine

  • Grinnell Glacier Hike
  • Iceberg Lake
  • Cracker lake
  • Two Medicine Lake
  • Twin Falls
  • Running Eagle Falls
A grizzly bear looks at the camera
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

10 Things To Do in Glacier National Park

Here are ten really cool things to do (and yes, there’s plenty more to do as well!). These are all available during the best time to visit Glacier National Park.

Enjoy the Wildlife

Who doesn’t like animals? Glacier, just like Yellowstone and the Grand Teton, offers some of the wildest and most natural environments for animals. You’ll have a great chance to see grizzly bears, big-horned sheep, mountain goats, deer, and more! So, if you’re a photographer, keep that camera close so you don’t miss a shot.

Hike the Highline Trail

It is one of the most iconic trails in all of Glacier National Park. The 15-mile out-and-back trail covers some of the most pristine landscapes in Glacier and will dazzle you at every turn. It has 2,600 feet of gain, most of it on the way back – though you could get picked up on one end to only make it an eight-mile hike.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road

If it’s not the most iconic road in the United States, it is in the top five. The road starts at Lake McDonald and winds its way up to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. It’s truly a sight to behold and one that attracts visitors from across the globe.

You can also access it from the eastern side at St. Mary’s, though the views are slightly less impressive on this end. (But only slightly.)

Try Bear Claws at Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery

Polebridge is in the North Fork area, north of Lake McDonald. This used to be a less visited area, but now it’s just as popular, with stunning views nearly all the way to the Canadian border. Before turning north to the good stuff, the Polebridge Bakery has some incredible treats to enjoy.

Grab a bear claw, and you’ll be in heaven!

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

See Bowman Lake

Now that you have your treats, keep driving up to Bowman Lake. This area was a surprise when I visited in 2020. I had no idea this region of Glacier was so pristine and stunning. I should have known better!

It offers phenomenal backpacking and hiking without the crowds that Logan Pass sees. But beware, grizzlies do frequent this area, so hike in pairs or more and keep the bear spray handy.

Hike to Grinnell Glacier

It’s probably my favorite hike in Glacier National Park! The Grinnell Glacier trail is moderate and always crowded, but the views are insane. Whenever I’ve had the chance to hike it, I have, as I can’t pass up the turquoise lakes on the way to the glacier.

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Watch Sunset at Lake McDonald

Looking for a casual night after hiking or exploring all day? Head to the western side of Lake McDonald, pop down some chairs, and enjoy the sunset. The peaks in the distance will light up and put on quite the show!

Trek out to Avalanche Lake

Another great hike is on the west side of the park. This one is popular and perfect for an evening trek to watch the sunset on the towering rock walls around the lake. However, it also has frequent bear activity and could be closed by the rangers for hiker safety.

Keep the bear spray on you and check for closure notices before heading in.

Need Hiking Gear?
Shop REI for everything you’ll need!

Swim with icebergs at Iceberg Lake

When in Rome, right?

Jumping into Iceberg Lake, where icebergs were floating nearby, was one of the coldest plunges of my life. I could physically feel the air sucked out of my lungs as I submerged my head. But dang, was it a memorable time, and after hiking for five miles, it felt good on my body.

Make sure to bring a bathing suit, or else you’ll be hiking back wet, and that’s not fun.

a hiker winces from the cold of iceberg lake in montana
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Stay overnight at Sperry Chalet

Book an overnight stay at Sperry Chalet if you’re looking for an experience that will set you apart. It sits at the end of a seven-mile hike high on a cliff edge. But once there, you have chef-cooked meals and a bed. We did the hike but didn’t stay. However you want to do it, the place is worth it, and the views are impressive!

Glacier National Park Photography Montana Sperry Chalet hike
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Hike out to Hidden Lake Lookout

Unfortunately, the second half of this trail is closed for much of the summer due to bear activity down at the lake. But to the overlook, it should be open (but again, bears like this area, so keep your eyes open) and offers phenomenal views.

It starts at Logan Pass Visitor Center, where you’re almost guaranteed to see wildlife as you hike.

sunset views over hidden lake in glacier national park
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Other Seasons to Visit Glacier National Park

There’s no wrong time to visit Glacier National Park. These seasons don’t offer the full-fledged awesomeness that summer does. Either the days are shorter, hiking trails aren’t available, or the Going-to-the-Sun Road isn’t even open.

Still, you can find lots to do during these seasons to enjoy Montana’s magic.

Spring in Glacier National Park

This is a really great time to visit the park. Now, it doesn’t have to be a March trip. I still consider late May and June to be spring in the Crown Jewel of the Continent. For a period of time, they allow bikes on the Going-to-the-Sun Road without cars, making for one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had!

It’s a challenging ride—about 30 miles and 3000 feet of elevation gain—but seeing the views at a slower pace without other cars in the way is amazing!

a lone mountain goal sits in the sun in glacier national park. The summer is the best time to visit Glacier National Park to see the animals.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Fall in Glacier National Park

Fall in Glacier can be superb. This is when the crowds die down, yet the experience can be just as rewarding. Plus, you won’t have to contend with the vehicle reservations. This can create a calmer trip for you and your family.

This is definitely one of the best time to visit Glacier National Park and you’ll be able to explore in the middle of changing conditions.

Is September a good time to visit Glacier National Park

If you’re looking at a non-summer option, September is far and away the best time to visit Glacier National Park. You’ll still have pretty good weather; depending on when you plan the trip, you might have fall colors, too!

Plus, most wildlife will still be around as bears haven’t entered hibernation yet.

Overall, this is a great time to go; keep an eye on the weather, as things can change quickly.

The best time to visit Glacier National Park is during the summer when the flowers boom and snow melts.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Winter in Glacier National Park

This is the least visited time when the weather has closed much of the park, and temperatures are hovering well below freezing. Still, it’s a beautiful time of the year with snow covering everything. Additionally, if you enjoy skiing/snowboarding, you can combine this with hitting the slopes in Whitefish.

This is also a great time to see the northern lights. You’d need a strong storm and clear skies, but magic awaits if it all lines up!

Where to stay in and around Glacier

West Glacier

This is the closest area to the west side of the park. If you’re trying to minimize your drive time, choose this area. However, with proximity comes cost.

Drive time to Lake McDonald: 15 minutes


Whitefish is a stunning area with a gorgeous lake and is known for being more upscale and expensive. It’s a cool area you’ll love exploring when not in the park.

Drive time to Lake McDonald: 45 minutes

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch


Also, on the west side of Glacier National Park, Kalispell is more affordable, though it is a bit further away than Whitefish. However, affordability is relative when it comes to visiting Glacier. Even cheaper hotels are in the $175 range.

It also offers lots to do that does not involve getting into the park.

Drive time to Lake McDonald: 60 minutes

Many Glacier

This is inside of the park and is my favorite area of Glacier. There are a couple of hotel options, plus camping. Unfortunately, almost all of these are booked as soon as they go on sale.


Babb is just outside of Many Glacier on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. There’s not much to choose from in this neck of the woods.

St. Mary’s

Compared to Babb, this has incredible options. If you want a good middle area on the east side of Glacier National Park, St. Mary’s is your place. You’ll have access to Logan Pass, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier, all within an hour’s drive.

East Glacier/Browning

These two places are connected by Highway 2 and are only 15 minutes away. Both have solid options, though nothing too fancy. When I visited in 2017, I stayed at the Brownies Hostel. For a 25-year-old traveling frugally, it was an amazing option!

Summer is the best time to visit Glacier National Park to see the blooming flowers.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

FAQ: Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

What is the best month to go to Glacier National Park?

If wildfires are not taken into consideration, July and August are easily the best months to visit Glacier. With wildflowers blooming, lots of daylight, and perfect weather, it’s arguably the most beautiful place in all of America.

What is the busiest time in Glacier National Park?

It’s also summertime—go figure, haha. But I would add that the 4th of July and Labor Day weekends are probably the two most crowded and frenetic weeks Glacier sees each year. I recommend staying away during these timeframes. Unfortunately, the best time to visit Glacier National Park is usually the busiest.

When is the best time to see wildlife in Glacier?

If you want the best chance to see animals, get up early before most of the crowds start visiting the park. While there’s no one spot to see them, visiting places near water provides a good chance to spot them.

Additionally, the Iceberg Lake hike and Hidden Lake Overlook are known for having grizzlies in the area.

Can one enter Glacier National Park before 6 am?

Yes, if you enter Glacier before 6 am during the summer, you can bypass the vehicle reservation requirement to access the park. But if you do not get in before six, you’ll have to wait until after 3 pm to get into the park.

The permits do not affect Two Medicine Lake, the east side of St. Mary’s Lake, or Apgar Visitor Center and Apgar Village.

What is the best month to see the Northern Lights in Glacier National Park?

Any time from October through April is decent for viewing the Northern Lights. You’ll need a pretty good storm to see the lights down in Montana. That being said, it does seem to happen each year, and they’re stunning when you do!

If you do plan to chase the Aurora Borealis, the optimal times are after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m. (the best time is around midnight).

stunning images of the aurora with snow and trees in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Final Thoughts on the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Visiting Glacier National Park is an unforgettable experience that immerses visitors in the beauty and wonder of one of America’s most stunning natural landscapes.

From towering mountains to pristine lakes and diverse wildlife, the park offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. From hiking along its famous trails, taking a scenic drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, or simply soaking in the breathtaking views, Glacier National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to connect with nature and witness the awe-inspiring power of glaciers firsthand.

With its unique combination of beauty and diversity, this national park stands out as a gem within the country’s vast protected land system.

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside