The Best Time to go to Glacier National Park | A Shoulder Season Guide

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The Best Time To Go To Glacier National Park | June and September

Over 3 million (that’s right, MILLION) visitors visit Glacier National Park each year with over 2 million visiting in the summer months as noted by National Park Service stats.  While some say the summer (July & August) is the best time to go to Glacier National Park, we know it’s the off and shoulder season visitors who are really getting the best deal.  We’ll prove this by going over weather conditions, park crowding, and the best trails for the off-season.  Keep reading to see why June and September is the best time to go to Glacier National Park.

As local elopement photographers who help couples eloping in Montana, we know the summer months definitely have a few advantages like wildflowers, wildlife viewing, more (but never truly) temperate weather, an abundance of clear trails, and the Going To The Sun Road. However, summer crowds cause the wildflowers to be trampled, the wildlife to be difficult to see, and the clear trails to be overrun.  The Going To The Sun Road is often at standstill traffic during busier times of the day, and the blessed Logan Pass parking lot cannot be reached due to overcapacity at 7:00 AM most summer mornings.  

We will make the argument that the best time to go to Glacier National Park is June and September.

4 reasons June is the best time to go to Glacier National Park:

  • Abysmal Crowds–While May has certainly seen an increase in visitors in the last 5 years, it still has not caught the attention of the 2 million visitors coming June-August.  May of 2019 only had 167,403 visitors as opposed to the million in the following month.  Thus access to trails is more likely as well the ability to find lodging & food (2 necessities that can be very difficult with the summer’s crowds & price gouging to accommodate).
  • Roaring Waterfalls–the snowmelt is picking up as the days’ length increasing exposes glaciers and snowbeds to more direct sun.  As the summer progresses, waterfalls will become less exuberant and less powerful.  The summer months give you access to lengthy backwoods trails, but the waterfalls are often lackluster and are finished with their prime.
  • Hiking & Biking the Going to the Sun Road (hereafter referred to as the GTTSR)–The Going to the Sun Road is overrun with traffic in the summer, but crews begin plowing snow as early as April to make way.  Thus, the park permits visitors to experience the GTTSR by bike or foot until the road is officially opened to vehicle traffic.  This is the only time of year (aside from May) to participate this openly in hiking & biking the GTTSR.  If you think the views are stellar from your car window, imagine the views on foot where you can take your time to engage all your senses on the GTTSR.
  • Spring weather–It’s a weird concept that June would be considered Spring, but the temperatures and precipitation dictate this category.  June’s temperatures average from 44 as the low to 72 degrees as the high.  Precipitation changes from the snow risk in May to a guaranteed daily shower in June, especially on the West side of the park.  

 June is my personal favorite month to visit Glacier National Park with our eloping couples due to the moodiness of the rain showers, the power of the waterfalls, and the accessibility to the Going to the Sun Road by foot.  There are, however, several notes to be prepared for so your experience is still pleasurable in June as you experience the best time to go to Glacier National Park.

 Be advised to prepare for the following:

  • Many popular trails such as Grinnel Glacier, the Highline Trail, and Dawson-Pitamakan pass trails are not cleared yet.  Some alternative hikes we love are Avalanche Lake, Mount Brown Lookout, and Apgar Lookout.
  • Due to weather and staffing, some of the park’s conveniences may not be open in early June (though most are open by mid to late June).  Come prepared with snacks, beverages, and a plan A, B, C, & D for food.

 The truth is, as with any experience in Glacier National Park, the key is flexibility and optimism.  Nature is spontaneous and, thus, so is Glacier National Park.  Come equipped with an excitement for life (oh, and bear spray), and your June experience in Glacier National Park will stellar.

 As much as I love June, September is potentially the number one month of the year to visit to avoid crowds, experience the GTTSR, *and* traverse most of the trails you are hoping to knock off your list.

4 reasons September is the best time to go to Glacier National Park:

  • Fall Colors–Foliage color begins to change as early as Labor Day in Glacier National Park and extends throughout the entirety of the month depending on elevation.  Golden tones and hues pop across the mountainscape and can be seen from any drive or hike in the park.
  • Wildlife Viewing–Creatures are preparing for Glacier National Park’s long winter, and they are often busy at work scouring for their meals and stockpiles.  Critters are antsy and thus willing to go the extra mile for their dinner.  You are more likely to experience wildlife in the fall as they unashamedly take back their park from summer visitors.
  • Fly Fishing–As crowds decrease, popular rivers begin to make way for various fish species.  Fly fishing season begins, the fish increase their bite, and the crowds won’t interrupt your leisurely fishing day.
  • Trail Accessibility–The first two weeks in September in particular are what you might call a hiker’s paradise.  The temperatures have cooled off, the crowds have thinned, and most of the popular trails are still available.  Summer leaves these same trails overrun with less-than-serious-hikers, but hiking in September will bring you toe-to-toe with professional and avid hikers making the trail safer and more enjoyable.

Oh and one more bonus reason September is the best time to go to Glacier National Park:

  • Less Crowding–If you haven’t noticed, getting away from the crowds in Glacier National Park is the number one tip we have for truly enjoying your Glacier experience.  In September crowds are down everywhere: in lodging, restaurants, trails, the GTTSR, you name it.  The freedom and beauty with which you have in September cannot be overstated and is the pinnacle of why it might the best time to go to Glacier National Park.

 Just as June has some preparations you must consider, September has some that are very similar.  Mostly this deals with lodging and food.  Many shops close down after Labor Day due to the loss of crowds, so you will want to research ahead of time restaurants that may be open or pack simple groceries.  We love helping couples elope in Glacier National Park in June and September, and we’d be stoked to help you plan your elopement any time of the year!  Either way, we’ll testify again and again that June and September is the best time to go to Glacier National Park.

Summary:

June and September is the best time to go to Glacier National park in order to prioritize less crowding on trails, accessibility of the Going to the Sun Road, and leisurely outdoor activities.  My personal favorite time to go to Glacier National Park is June due to the roaring falls, waking wildlife, and option of hiking & biking the Going to the Sun Road.

As local photographers, we love to help couples & families enjoy their time in the Crown of the Continent and shed insight into the best time to go to Glacier National Park!  We’d also love to meet up and photoraph you guys to document your visit!  Reach out via one of our contact buttons to book your Glacier National Park photo session! <3

 

Additional Resources for Couples:

Glacier National Park Elopement | For if you’ve found yourself thinking Glacier National Park is the perfect place to get married!

Eloping in Montana | Because you might need a location and how to guide that covers the whole state!

How to Elope | So you can have a checklist and guide to get legally married anywhere!

Should I Elope | In case your mind isn’t made up yet, but you’re looking for help from real eloping couples!

Hey, it’s us!

We’re Des & Dan! Husband & wife elopement photographers, planners, and officiants! We help couples like you create elopement days full of meaningful details, authentic moments, and creative experiences because we believe you deserve a wedding day where you are truly heard—a wedding day you can truly remember.

We’d love to help in any way you can, so check out our other free planning resources or send us an email by hitting contact! We’d love to hop on the phone and see what you’re envisioning for your elopement day.

You deserve this.

Des & Dan

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