What To Do In Glacier Park In The Spring
*Specific 2021 info from the National Park Service can be found at the bottom of this post!*
Are you thinking about coming to Glacier National Park this spring, but not sure what to do? The park is open in the spring, and in every season. Spring is a great time to explore the west side of the park as the snow melts, rivers flow, and everything starts to turn green. Spring is also a good time to get some great deals on lodging because most places offer discounted shoulder season rates!
However, we believe in expectation management. So let’s define spring in Glacier National Park. Spring here rarely starts on the “official” first day of spring – it’s more likely to blizzard here than around March 20th than anything else. Glacier is located literally on the 49th parallel, the Canadian border, and spring takes its sweet time getting here.
We open each year on May 1 for rafting, hiking, fishing, biking, equipment rentals, and lodging. May is considered early spring here, especially in Glacier’s famous alpine areas. Memorial Day Weekend is more of a kickoff to consistent spring, than to summer, around here. This is especially true on the east side of the park, which typically experiences more extreme weather than the west side. Rarely does the Going to the Sun Road open between Avalanche and Rising Sun before the third week in June — and in some years, it can be much, much later.
To sum it up, spring in Glacier is typically May and June. Summer starts July 4th and last for two glorious months. Fabulous fall is usually September and October. Although it can and does snow in every month of the year here, we usually think of November-April as winter. Our ski hill closes in April, for the record.
Planning Your Trip to Glacier National Park In The Spring
If you’re planning your first trip to Glacier, and you have your heart set on driving the full length of the Going to the Sun Road, seeing Logan Pass, and maybe hiking the Hidden Lake overlook trail, this isn’t the time of year to go. But if this is your second trip, or the only time of the year you can make this trip happen, or you’re looking for the relative solitude that spring in Glacier typically offers, read on for advice about best things to do in Glacier Park in the spring!
Lake McDonald Valley
- Go rafting. Scenic and whitewater trips begin in early May! This is the time of the year that the runoff is raging and the whitewater is BIG! Our Wild and Scenic river, the Middle Fork Flathead, isn’t dammed, so these water flows are once a year. Local tip: definitely get a reservation in the spring! Also, keep in mind that rafting is the most fun thing to do on a rainy spring day in Glacier, because you’re gonna get wet anyways. We have all the gear you’ll need to stay safe and warm.
- Bike/walk the Going to the Sun road. Take advantage of the fact that the road is closed to vehicles and enjoy this amazing corridor without cars. Local tip: Always keep your distance from wildlife, bring bear spray and check the hiker/ biker status of the Going to the Sun road before you leave. We guide bike tours in the spring, and rent bikes, too.
- Take a boat ride on the lake. Glacier Park Boats typically stars their Lake McDonald tours in May.
- Look for wildlife. Go for a morning/evening drive along the Camas Road. Drive and look around for bears, deer, coyote, moose or even mountain lion. Please respect all wildlife by keeping your distance.
- Check out the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. It usually opens for the season in late May.
- Take a trail ride. The Apgar and Lake McDonald stables are typically open for the season by June 1. Seeing Glacier Park by horseback is always fun!
North Fork Valley
- Bike or walk the Inner North Fork road. Choose to ride from Fish Creek to Polebridge, or ride into Bowman or Kintla Lake. This is great pre-season, when the roads are closed to vehicles. Please note that these roads are dirt.
- Eat baked goods! Cookies, bear claws, sandwiches, bread … the world famous Polebridge Mercantile opens for the season in the spring and it’s a great addition to a day up in the North Fork.
- Look for wildlife. The meadows up in this valley are known for their deer and elk, but we’ve been lucky enough to see bear, coyote, moose and even wolf up there over the years – again, please respect all wildlife.
The Belly River
St. Mary Valley
- Bike/ walk the Going to the Sun road. Similar to the west side of the park, the road is open part of the way up and then gated off to vehicles.
- Hike. There are some great little trails that you can enjoy as the snow starts to melt. Try the Beaver Pond Loop from the historic ranger station, St. Mary-Virginia Falls, or the Red Eagle trail.
- Boat tours out of Rising Sun, near St. Mary, usually begin in June.
Many Glacier Valley
- Take a boat ride. The Glacier Park Boat Co. typically opens, along with the Many Glacier Hotel, in mid-June. These boats rides are known for the chance of seeing wildlife.
- Check out the historic Many Glacier Hotel. If you want reservations, try a year in advance for best results.
- Hike. The upper section of most trails in this valley, will definitely have snow, but the lower elevations are usually spectacular with flowers. A stroll to Red Rock Falls is always fun. Keep in mind that the Grinnell Glacier trail is usually closed by the Park Service about half way up until the avalanche chutes are melted out, usually after the 4th of July, and sometimes not until the 3rd week of July.
- See Many Glacier by horseback. Like the boat tours and the hotel, horse rides usually begin in mid June.
- Eat Mexican food! No adventure in Two Medicine is complete without a trip to Serrano’s in East Glacier. They officially open May 1st but expect a wait – it’s very popular. Not to worry though, they let you drink margaritas on the porch.
- Visit the lobby and gardens of the historic Glacier Park Lodge. It usually opens for the season around Memorial Day.
- Have a picnic at Running Eagle Falls. The short trail can have a bit of snow on it, but the rocky shores of the river are a great, sunny place to picnic when it’s good weather. Perfect for those with small children since there are tons of rocks to throw into the river.
- Take a boat ride. The historic boat rides on the Sinopah usually begin in in early June.
- Hike (although this valley is one of the last to have the snow melt). The first two thirds of the Scenic Point trail is a great spot since most of the snow will probably be gone from this aspect, and the views are amazing. Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination.
Cut Bank Valley
Longer days and warmer temperatures mean animals and visitors alike are becoming more active in Glacier National Park. More park operations and services will be available than in 2020, although COVID-19 mitigations and resulting staffing limitations will reduce some services. While full park operations are still a couple of months off, visitors will see increasing recreational opportunities throughout the months of April and May.
Road plowing began the first week of April and will continue until Going-to-the-Sun Road opens over Logan Pass, typically between mid-June and mid-July. Road crews report that snow levels at lower elevations have been less than many years, allowing quick progress to The Loop. Typical years see snowstorms and avalanches continuing through April and May, making it impossible to predict an opening date.
No hiker/biker access on the Many Glacier Road this spring, due to construction. Many Glacier Road will open for the season on May 28 with road construction necessitating possible 40-minute delays in both directions.
Check the Glacier National Park website for additional information on road status and construction in and around the park.
The park’s free spring hiker/biker shuttle will not run this year due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements. The park is moving forward with plans to operate a shuttle service during the regular season as COVID-19 mitigations allow.
More campgrounds will be open in 2021 than in 2020. St. Mary, Rising Sun, and Cut Bank Campgrounds will not open this year due to staffing limitations in response to COVID-19. Campgrounds scheduled to open in April and May include:
- Apgar Campground opening fully April 23, 2021
- Sprague Creek Campground opening May 7, 2021
- Bowman Lake, Kintla Lake, Fish Creek (reservations only), and Two Medicine Campgrounds opening May 28, 2021
All wilderness campgrounds (formerly referred to as backcountry campgrounds) except in the Goat Haunt area will be available in 2021 as conditions allow. Approximately half of the wilderness camping permits were made available for advanced reservations on March 17. Rangers are currently processing the record number of advance reservation applications received. The remaining wilderness camping permits will be available for walk-in campers the day before or day of the trip start date. The Apgar Backcountry Permit Center will open May 1 while stations at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier will open May 29.
All park concessions are expected to operate this summer. Services have been modified to incorporate COVID-19 mitigations. Please check the concessioner websites for updates.
Early season openings include:
- Glacier National Park Lodges are scheduled to open Lake McDonald Campstore on May 7; Lake McDonald Lodge on May 14 with take-out food service; Village Inn at Apgar on May 19; and Two Medicine Campstore on May 28.
- Swan Mountain Outfitters horseback rides are scheduled to begin out of Apgar May 15 and from Lake McDonald Lodge May 22.
- Glacier Park Boat Company boat tours and rentals are scheduled to begin at Lake McDonald on May 15 and Two Medicine on May 29. Apgar boat rentals are scheduled to open May 29.
- Glacier Guides day hikes are scheduled to begin in May.
Private boating will begin on Lake McDonald May 8 with the opening of the Apgar AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species) inspection station. Many Glacier AIS inspections will begin May 29. Also opening May 29 will be a new AIS station at Polebridge for Kintla and Bowman Lakes.
The Apgar Visitor Center will be staffed on weekends beginning April 17, with daily operations beginning May 15. The St. Mary Visitor Center will be open daily starting May 28. Park staff will provide visitor information at outside stations in 2021 to mitigate risks associated with COVID-19.
The new Going-to-the-Sun Road Ticketed Entry reservation system will take effect May 28 with reservations becoming available at recreation.gov April 29. Check the Glacier National Park website for details.
Face masks are required in all buildings on Federal Lands and outdoors in situations where appropriate social distancing is not possible.
Much of the park is still snow-covered this time of year and travelers should be prepared for changing conditions. Avalanches can occur on slopes. Bears are emerging from their dens, and visitors should take steps to travel safely in bear country. Extensive up-to-date park information is available via the Glacier National Park website.