Lake and mountains at Glacier National Park during fall, the best time to visit

Fall is the Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

We have written many articles about Glacier National Park, more than any other national park. The reason? That’s because it is stunning. Absolutely beautiful. I recommend you go any time and every time you have a chance. But, I want you to consider a trip during fall. Because that is the absolute best time to visit Glacier National Park.

I have been asked many times about my list of favorite spots we have experienced during our full-time RV journey. For the first year of our travels, I struggled with trying to answer this question. I wondered how it’s possible to rank these amazing locations?

How can anyone pit Yosemite against Redwoods or Grand Teton? Each park is spectacular.

That quickly changed after our second visit to Glacier National Park. We visited during the fall season. It was spectacular for many reasons. And I had an official answer to the often-asked questions. The best time to visit Glacier National Park is absolutely in the fall.

Best Time to Visit Glacier National Park

Fall is the Best Time of Year to Visit Glacier National Park

Reasons to Visit Glacier National Park in the Fall

You understand, of course, that when I say official, it’s purely my opinion based solely on my own personal experience. Pure and simple.

I share with you my reasons based on my three weeks’ experience exploring this pristine location. Our first visit was in late July, which is during the busy summer season. We later returned to Glacier and spent two weeks during early September.

The truth of course is that we are each wired differently. That includes all readers of TREKKN (thanks so much for visiting!). We have different needs, wants, and preferences.

Think about a freezing cold morning hike on a quiet, empty trail by yourself. Then consider a warm sunny day with a light breeze and hundreds of other hikers. Which would you choose? I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the former every day of the week. Freezing by myself over squeezing past other folks would always win.

On the other hand, trails do get crowded. That fact is proof there are plenty of outdoor enthusiasts with preferences different than mine. You may be one of them. I understand.

I will share my personal opinions in this article. I will also try to give you the pros and cons of the seasons as we move through my reasoning.

Whatever your preferences, I recommend you visit this outstanding, awe-inspiring Montana national park as soon as possible.

I guarantee you will not regret that decision, regardless of the season.

Glacier is More Than Just a “Pit Stop”

I have a bone to pick with anyone who refers to Glacier as a great “pit stop” on a visit to Montana. A very popular online travel portal used that terminology in their examination of this park. I honestly couldn’t believe I read that.

This put me a little on edge, because this is my place! Me and Glacier are tight, and reading that article just seemed disrespectful.

Sun shining on valley and mountains in Glacier National Park

If you stop by Glacier only for a peek to check it off your bucket list, you will miss out. There is grandeur here. It can transform enough of you that you are called back to the wild again and again.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. But seriously, I beg you not to treat Glacier National Park like a “pit stop”. It’s not. It’s a natural wonder to behold. I hope you allow it to become a part of you, just as I have.

Now we’ll dive into those five reasons for a visit to Glacier during the fall.

Fewer Crowds, Less Traffic in Autumn

It was a few years ago in late July that we spent three nights here. We stayed at an RV park near the west entrance of the Glacier. Plus, we spent three nights at an RV park near the east entrance of the park.

This was our first visit to the park and we enjoyed it immensely. Here are some ideas of RV parks near Glacier National Park, based on our experience.

We spent a lot of time hiking the trails and hanging out on the shores of stunning Lake McDonald. The lake is located near the western entrance.

Everything we saw felt like a dream; it seemed too good to be true. We had never experienced such a sense of being completely dwarfed and enveloped by nature. It’s a beautiful memory. And it left enough of a mark that I’m determined to return at the first possible opportunity.

Related Reading: Hiking Glacier National Park

Teenage boy standing in road within Glacier National Park, during fall, the best time to visit the park.

Less Road Construction

While it clearly didn’t spoil our experience, we encountered quite a bit of road traffic during that initial summer visit. Much of the traffic was due to road construction on the narrow two-lane road that runs through the park.

In at least two different locations, the road was down to one lane. Construction and traffic lights created a long single file parking line. All the travelers were alternating the chance to be at a standstill.

Road construction and crowds during summer significantly increase drive time.

The crews have to work during a small window in June, July and August because of the short summer season. It’s a big reason summer isn’t the best time travel to the park.

Also take into account that summer brings a much higher volume of visitors. Couple that with the road construction and your drive time increases significantly. It took us at least 30 minutes longer than average to reach our destination.


On our second visit during fall of the following year, we arrived on September 1st. It as a mad dash drive from Acadia National Park in Maine, but worth every mile of driving.

We did make a few short stops along the way. But, we drove a long distance at an insane pace that I probably wouldn’t attempt again. I guess that goes to show you how excited I was to revisit Glacier. Despite the crazy drive, this visit cemented Glacier at the top of my list of favorite National Parks.

It wasn’t even a perfect visit. The entire western half of the park was closed due to wildfires. Unfortunately, we were not able to enjoy Lake McDonald. But we still found so much to keep us mesmerized and occupied on the east side of the park.

We stayed in our RV parked at a campsite located just three minutes from the eastern entrance. Talk about a great location!

We encountered far less vehicle traffic, no road construction, and an overall fantastic experience.

Two men hiking the trails at Glacier National Park

Quieter Hiking Trails

Besides the easier flow on the roadways, we also found far less congestion on the trails. Without the summer crowds, we were ready to experience the best hikes.

Those trails included the Highline Trail. We hit the trail in the early morning for a hike of about 8 miles. Then we went back out on a shorter (chillier) evening hike. It was totally worth it! We may have seen a total of a dozen folks during our entire time on the trail.

I don’t know about you, but when I hit a trail I am looking for some solitude. I am looking for an opportunity to be swallowed by nature and alone with my thoughts.

That’s exactly what we experienced during the fall visit. And that is one reason I can confidently recommend a visit to this incredible park during this beautiful season.

Stunning Fall Foliage

When you want to see brilliant foliage and watch it change before your eyes, then the first two weeks of September is the ideal time to visit Glacier.

Trees and mountains along lake within Glacier National Park

Sure, I know that “perfect window” probably changes a bit each season, depending on the conditions. I still do not think you could be disappointed during any visit to Glacier in September.

You will be blown away by the deep, rich colors of the leaves. Every view is enhanced by rapidly shifting weather patterns. The spectacular scenery of the fall colors is truly a natural miracle.

As I write this, I can’t help but smile as I relive those two weeks. I woke up each morning to see amazing views of foliage that seemed to change with each glance out the window. I was never disappointed.

Autumn Temperatures are Cooler

You should know that I’m not a summer guy. This makes things challenging during the long central Texas summers we are currently experiencing. This is where each day in a single month can exceed 100-degrees.

So I close my eyes and remember the chilly breeze and light mist falling during our Autumn excursions in Glacier. It renews me just a bit to relive those exhilarating and fulfilling moments in the park.

Average high daytime temperatures during fall are in the low- to mid-50s. The lows at night dip into the 30s. The cooler temperatures in late summer and early fall provide ideal weather conditions to explore the park.

Our experience in September was perfect. Most days were a nice mix of cloud cover and sun breaks. Those two elements constantly took turns throughout each day and the spectacular natural beauty, complete with sparkling rainbows, is indescribable.

Male hiker standing on mountain ridge with a wide view of Glacier National Park

I advise you to bring an extra couple of layers of clothing. Then get on the trail by 7:00 am while the temperatures are creeping up toward 40-degrees.

Note that with the breezes, it will feel quite a bit cooler than that. Then pause to breathe in one of the best experiences of your life in nearly complete solitude.

That pretty much sums up my idea of paradise.

Wildlife Activity

During our summer visit, we did see some wildlife.

On one of our favorite hikes, the Grinnell Glacier Trail, we spent about 5 minutes quietly watching a female moose. She grazed her way through the thick foliage down a hillside. When she reached the lake, she waded in, then continued eating the aquatic plants.


When we came back in the fall, however, we were completely overwhelmed by the wildlife activity. We saw another moose up close (accidentally too close) and personal. That moose sighting was again on the Grinnell Glacier Trail.

Just beyond that, we saw more black bears (with cubs) and grizzly bears than I could keep count of. We spotted at least eight different bears. A large grizzly crossed the road about 100 yards in front of us!

Several other grizzlies were within 50-75 yards of the Going-to-the-Sun road that runs through the heart of the park. That’s a good reminder to always carry bear spray when hiking the trails.

Wildlife is at the top of the list of reasons why fall is the perfect time to visit Glacier.

Spotting wild animals, undisturbed, in their own habitat is magical. I will never forget these unique experiences. One of the many things that makes fall the best time of year to visit Glacier National Park is the wildlife sightings.

When it comes time to enjoy outdoor activities, nothing else compares to wildlife sightings. It’s unequivocal wilderness to see those animals in their natural habitat.

It takes my breath away every single time and renews my gratitude for the entire opportunity.

Cheaper Lodging or Camping

Talking about the national park experience itself has clearly led the way here. Finances are always a consideration in my world. So, I want to touch on that aspect of the experience as well.

Houses along lake near Glacier National Park

As you would find anywhere else on the planet, the most popular times to visit Glacier National Park are also the most expensive.

Peak times demand peak money, so you will pay more for lodging (and RV parks) during the summer months than you will in the off season, such as fall.


If RVing is your travel mode of choice, I strongly suggest that you check into staying at the Heart of Glacier RV Park near the east Glacier park entrance. We spent two weeks at this location during the fall and paid $35 per night for the privilege. It was very simple and basic with no onsite bathrooms or laundry.

It does, however, have full hook-ups and it was absolutely perfect. We had a great time. Also, they had plans to make several upgrades to the park, including adding bathrooms and laundry facilities, so check their site for current conditions and prices.


And the Red Eagle Motel that owns that RV park (right across the road from it) is a very convenient option you should at least explore if you are searching for lodging during your visit.

I have no first-hand experience staying at the hotel, but I stopped there to pay for our site at the RV park and the staff was very helpful and friendly.

Other Considerations When Visiting Glacier National Park

In my humble opinion, the downside of a visit to Glacier in the Fall is very minor compared to all of the advantages I’ve covered.

But some of these points could make a big difference for you so let’s touch on them to ensure you have the information to make the best decision possible.

Visitor Centers

The Apgar Visitor Center is located on the West Side of the park. It is open daily from mid-May until mid-October. So you will have access to expert information, ranger-led programs, a parking lot and free shuttle service, as well as other amenities. That said, however, weekend services offered during fall (as well as in spring and winter) are dependent on staffing.

On the East Side of Glacier Park is St. Mary Visitor Center. It’s located adjacent to the St. Mary Entrance on Going-to-the-Sun Road and open daily from late May through early October.

Logan Pass Visitor Center, located along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open daily during peak season only.

Potential Road and Trail Closures

During our September stay, we got to watch the highest peaks get dusted with snow on more than one occasion, which just added to the awe.

However, there is a slight chance that snow could hit the higher roads this early and cause road closures or more challenging travel conditions.


The Going-to-the-Sun road generally doesn’t close until mid-October or November. There have been a few years when the West side closed in mid-September for road work. Use the dedicated page from the National Park Service that lists past opening and closing dates of Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan Pass to help plan your adventure. It’s always a good idea to also check current conditions before you depart on your road trip.

Mountains and foliage in the fall, the best time to visit Glacier National Park.


Also, due to the higher level of wildlife activity during this period, we did experience some trail closures. A couple of the closures were due to bear activity in the area.

Some areas were closed due to native birds nesting and the rangers did not want the birds disturbed. The few trails that were closed didn’t keep us from doing anything we were planning on doing, but it’s worth mentioning.

It’s not uncommon to see trail closures during the summer season due to wildlife activity of various sorts, so don’t let this point dissuade you too much.

Local Businesses Close for Winter

Because of the mild start to the cold season during our stay, almost everything in the town of St. Mary was still open.

We stopped at a local restaurant that is well-known for their pies. It was surprising, however, that the place was completely out of pies for the season. They were getting ready to wrap things up. We ended up with fries, not pies. That was a sad day.

Another local restaurant, the famous Johnson’s of St. Mary Restaurant, normally closes  for the winter months at some point during the first half of September.

If I remember correctly, their last day of operation that year was September 12th. But, their closing date varies each year based on several factors.

If you get out there and it’s open, I highly recommend a visit to Johnson’s. You’ll enjoy an authentic homemade dining experience offered by a family who has been at it for almost 70 years!

It’s a must-do for us each visit.

Cinnamon roll sundae from Johnson's of St. Mary Restaurant
Cinnamon roll sundae from the Johnson’s of St. Mary restaurant

The gift shops and grocery store in St. Mary were still open when we left on the 15th, so no worries there. I would imagine that the grocery store, at least, does stay open year-round…but don’t quote me on that!

Fall is the Best Season for Glacier National Park

If you have enjoyed any fall visits to Glacier, I would love to hear your feedback and experience as well…good or bad. Feel free to clue us in on a factor we might have missed or didn’t experience during our visits.

But above all, find a way to get yourself to Glacier National Park in the fall. You will thank me.


Fall is the best time of year to visit Glacier National Park

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