The best time to visit northwest Montana’s Glacier National Park is during the summer months of July and August when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is fully open and the weather is the most pleasant.
Summer, however, is also when the park is the most packed, with park lodges and campsites often at capacity, so if you’re willing to risk possible road closures at higher elevations due to the snow, then visit during the shoulder seasons when the crowds have scattered. In the winter, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are popular in the park and you’ll feel like you have the mountains all to yourself.
Weather in Glacier National Park
The Continental Divide splits Glacier National Park into two very different climate regions: the Arctic Continental and the Pacific Maritime. The weather in the park can be unpredictable and, at times, severe. As such, it's essential to come prepared and pay close attention to current day-by-day weather conditions. Bring a rain jacket in the summer months and a thick coat in the winter. Dressing in layers is always a good idea no matter what time of year you visit.
Typically, during July and August, the weather is warm and sunny during the day, with an average temperature in the mid-80s Fahrenheit (29 degrees C), and a bit chilly at night, with temps dropping to the high-40s Fahrenheit (9 degrees C).
In the winter, temperatures can dip well below freezing, so thick layers are a must. Average daily highs during the wintertime are 30 degrees F (-1 degrees C), and in the mid-teens Fahrenheit (-9 degrees C) at night. The west side of the park also experiences different weather patterns then the east side, with the wind being a major factor. At higher elevations, such as at Logan Pass, the weather is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler.
Popular Events and Festivals
The areas just outside of the park are home to many fun events and festivals throughout the year like the Northwest Montana Fair & Rodeo. While Glacier National Park tends to be full of visitors in the summer months, these gateway towns are just right in terms of crowds.
From the Under the Big Sky Festival and the Whitefish Arts Festival in July to Huckleberry Days Arts Festival in August and Festival Amadeus, a week-long classical music festival, summer is a wonderful time to visit this corner of Montana. Though if you visit before the summer season begins, you can bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is free and clear of vehicular traffic. The Christmas Stroll in Downtown Whitefish happens in December.
Peak Season in Glacier National Park
July and August are when the park experiences the highest number of visitors. In 2018, from mid-June through mid-September, almost 3 million people visited the park. Summer is the most popular time to visit due to animal sightings, favorable weather, and open roads, however, a visit during other seasons will reward you with far fewer tourists.
Area hotels and resorts are more expensive during peak season and you’ll have to book accommodations well in advance if you plan on staying in a lodge or at a campsite inside the park. While Glacier National Park is experiencing increased amounts of summer visitors each year, the areas just outside it are quite lovely and crowd-free.
The winter season is one of the best times to visit Glacier National Park because the crowds have dispersed, and a blanket of snow covers the region. The roads near Apgar Village, 11 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road on the western side of the park, and a little over a mile on the eastern side, are the only maintained roads during this season. Don’t let the cold temperatures and road closures dissuade you, however, because this is also the most serene and quiet time to visit.
Events to check out:
- Ranger-led snowshoe walks are available on select weekends throughout the winter. Check-in at Apgar Visitor Center for the 2-hour trek, where you can also rent snowshoes if you don’t have your own.
- Winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on the closed roads are also available and super fun for all during this time of year, when the park is silent and peaceful. Keep an eye out for snowshoe hares and other small critters.
- Winter camping is not for the faint of heart, however, if you want to experience the adventure, and you have all of the necessary weather-rated supplies, you can auto-camp at Apgar Picnic Area and St. Mary Campground. Backcountry camping is also available, but you’ll need to secure a permit and check-in with the Park Service.
The snow begins to shift in the spring and the park's animals begin to wake up. The rivers start to flow and, slowly, the landscape begins to change color. Lodging, ahead of the busier summer months, also offers discounts as this is the shoulder season. The historic Lake McDonald Lodge is open, weather dependent, and even if you’re not staying the night, it is a great place to visit.
Events to check out:
- There’s a small, yet celebrated, window of time where the park opens the roads to cyclists (weather and snow dependent) so that they may challenge themselves by biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Always be cautious of wildlife, keep your distance, and bring bear spray for the journey.
- Spring is a good time to go rafting in Lake McDonald Valley, horseback riding inside the park, low elevation hiking, and boating in Many Glacier Valley. The Many Glacier Hotel is also open for the season, weather contingent.
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the summer months is one of the most spectacular experiences you can have if you’re a nature lover. The wildlife viewing alone makes this route one of the most popular in the world. Visitors will be able to see grizzly and black bears, moose, Bighorn sheep, elk, and more. Plan your visit well in advance to secure availability and favorable rates on accommodations and tours. Everything will be priced at a premium.
Events to check out:
- Ranger-led activities are plentiful. Stop in at the various visitor’s centers along the way to learn about animal sightings on trails and to get valuable information on which areas have fewer tourists.
- For a truly remarkable cultural happening, attend a Native America Speaks event, where members from the Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribes contribute their knowledge and expertise through cultural programs. Live music, dancing, and informative talks happen from June through September.
Leaf peepers will get their fill by visiting the park during the fall months when the Aspen groves turn every shade of yellow and orange. Fall is also an active time for wildlife. Be cautious, keep your distance, and never approach wild animals. Consider bringing along binoculars for up-close viewing from a safe space. Shuttle services also modify their availability during this season.
Unfortunately, the weather is unpredictable this time of year and road closures happen frequently. Dress for winter-like conditions and be prepared for rain. Even though portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open year-round, closures are weather contingent, and the alpine portion typically closes for the season in mid-October.
Many businesses, including restaurants and lodges, close after Labor Day, however, the communities outside of the park—like Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls— have much to offer and are well worth a visit.
Events to check out:
- Intrepid travelers will love camping inside the park during this season. Spots are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, yet rarely fill to capacity. Apgar and St. Mary Campgrounds are open in the winter and are free of charge.