7 Secrets Locals Know About Early Season in Glacier National Park

7 Secrets Locals Know About Early Season in Glacier National Park

There is no doubt that July and August are the most popular times to visit Glacier National Park. The snow has melted out of the high country, the wildflowers are incredible, and the weather is generally just about perfect. However, I’d like to let you in on a little secret: early season in Glacier National Park will blow your mind!

So, why do the locals love the early season? I’ve got 7 reasons for you.

7 Secrets Locals Know About Early Season in Glacier National Park

  1. Biking is a great way to get around early season.
  2. Early season is great for wildlife viewing.
  3. You’re more likely to see northern lights.
  4. You can have some of the hottest spots in Glacier all to yourself.
  5. The rivers are a blast early season.
  6. Waterfalls are incredible this time of year.
  7. And so are the wildflowers. 

 

Any local will tell you that early season in Glacier National Park is something special.

Any local will tell you that early season in Glacier National Park is something special.

1. Biking is a Great Way to Get Around Early Season.

Early season in Glacier National Park means miles of riding through stunning scenery without having to worry about cars. For hikers who don’t like crowds, it means that having a peaceful trail all to yourself is only a bike ride away. Bike traffic is allowed on most of Glacier Park’s roads long before cars are permitted. If you need a bicycle, we rent them here. Also, when the Going to the Sun Road is closed to vehicle traffic, we guide bicycle tours of the Going-to-the-Sun Road! And other roads, too. Just ask.

bikers on GTTSR

A couple of cyclists stop to enjoy the view along McDonald Creek. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

cyclist going to the sun road glacier park montana

When you don’t have to look around for cars, you can spend more time looking around at the view. Photo courtesy of Marc O’Brien (IG: marc_obrien).

biking in glacier national park montana

Biking in Glacier Park before cars are allowed on the roads means you can spend more time exploring with your family instead of stressing about your kids biking around traffic. Photo by Denny Gignoux.

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The Going-to-the-Sun road might get most of the hype when it comes to cycling, but there are plenty of other bike friendly roads, like the Camas road, west of Lake McDonald. When you’re riding along, enjoying a few pleasant rolling hills and staring at snow-covered peaks, you can’t help but think it was built with cyclists in mind.

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The East side of the GTTSR is also a great early season ride, and a great introduction to forest fire ecology because a significant portion of it goes right through the Reynolds Creek fire area.

#2. Early Season in Glacier National Park is Great for Wildlife Viewing.

Glacier is home to all sorts of incredible wildlife, and we definitely see animals all times of year. However, since spring isn’t as warm or busy as midsummer, animals are more active in lower elevations and often easier to spot.

black bear in glacier national park

Bears don’t like people, and they don’t move around as much in hot weather, so early season, before the lower elevations get warm and busier, is a great time to spot bears foraging. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

moose glacier park

Moose are pretty anti-social, so the slower spring season is a great time of year to catch a glimpse of one in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

logan pass bighorn sheep

Early season, when the female bighorn sheep are about to give birth, they chase all the males out of their territory. Therefore, you’ll often see “bachelor groups” of handsome bighorn rams like this one hanging out together along the edge of the snow line.

beaver glacier park

The high water caused by spring snowmelt wreaks havoc on beaver lodges and dams, so they can be seen scurrying around making repairs. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

grouse showing off his plumage

Grouse are on the lookout for a mate in the spring, so if you look closely in wooded areas and along the edges of trail and road corridors, you might catch a glimpse of one of the males showing off his plumage. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

#3. You’re More Likely to See Northern Lights.

You can see aurora borealis any time of year in Glacier National Park, of course. But in the spring, the nights are a bit longer and darker, and so it is prime time to catch an incredible light show!

lake mcdonald northern lights

The foot of Lake McDonald, near Apgar, is a great spot to watch for northern lights in the spring. There are apps you can download and websites (like this one) that will tell you when conditions are good for aurora. If you want to catch the show, find a spot with no light pollution and a low northern horizon. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

aurora in glacier park

Having a clear view and low horizon to the north significantly increases your chances of seeing aurora at our latitude. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

#4. You Can Have Some of the Hottest Spots in Glacier Park All to Yourself.

Glacier is popular in the summer because it’s one of the most gorgeous places on earth. But if you can get here a little earlier, you can see a lot of the same beautiful scenery, but without the masses of people.

grinnell glacier trail glacier park

The trail to Grinnell Glacier is popular for a reason, and worth the 11 mile trek any time of year, but if solitude is what you’re after, spring is the time to go. Just be aware that the last few miles are typically not open till around the first of July.

avalanche lake spring glacier park

Avalanche Lake is a perpetual favorite, and the high peaks surrounding the lake hang onto winter a little longer than lower elevations, so you can get a glimpse of the wildness of Glacier Park’s winter season without donning crampons or skis.

wolf track in Glacier

Hiking early season in Glacier National Park means you’re more likely to see wolf tracks than human tracks on the trail.

hiking glacier national park

The mountains somehow seem bigger and wilder when the are still partially covered in their winter coat.

iceberg trail glacier park

Spring snow storms can create exciting hiking conditions, and will virtually guarantee that you’ll have even the most popular trails like Iceberg Lake all to yourself if you’re willing to venture out. Photo by one of our lodge guests, Gordon Zubrod.

#5. The Rivers are a Blast Early Season!

Snowmelt means higher water, and higher water means bigger rapids and faster trips. If you’re feeling adventurous, book an early season whitewater rafting trip and take on the rapids yourself.

Pro Tip: Glacier Guides and Montana Raft provides wetsuits, river shoes, and splash gear at no additional charge. This gear is designed to keep you warm while you’re on the river. Be sure to bring extra non-cotton layers to wear under your splash gear, and leave some dry clothes in the car to put on after your adventure. 

 

rafting glacier national park

The Middle Fork of the Flathead has class II and III rapids, so it’s always fun and splashy, but if you’re looking for a bigger thrill, go early season! Photo by Glacier Guide Chelsea Tuttle.

white water rafting early season in glacier national park

Dressing in warm layers and wearing the right gear makes rafting fun in any weather. Photo by Glacier Guide Chelsea Tuttle.

north fork rafting early season in glacier national park

High water also means faster rivers, so you can see cover longer distances and see more scenery on a mellow float in June than you can in August or September when the snowmelt has leveled off.

kayaking north fork

Higher water isn’t just fun for rafting, it’s great for kayaks too!

#6 Early Season in Glacier National Park is Waterfall Season …

I’ve talked a lot about snowmelt in this blog, but that’s because virtually everything about springtime in Glacier revolves around the snow melting. If you’re into waterfalls, let me let you in on a little secret: there are waterfalls EVERYWHERE around here this time of year.

haystack creek, glacier national park

Haystack creek is quite impressive early season. Photo courtesy NPS.

bird woman falls, glacier

The second tallest waterfall in the park, Bird Woman Falls, is visible from the Going-to-the-Sun road, and it’s nothing short of spectacular early season. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.

# 7. Last But Not Least: Wildflower Season.

All the spring moisture and sunshine leads to incredible fields of wildflowers everywhere you look early season in Glacier National Park.

glacier lilies at logan pass early season glacier national park

Glacier Lilies are one of the first things to bloom every year in Glacier National Park, so they are a critical food source for Glacier’s bears and other critters.

camas and shooting stars

Shooting stars are everywhere you look on early season hikes. These shooting stars are surrounded by camas that’s just a day or two away from blooming.

glacier national park wildflowers

Camas is an early season favorite among locals, but can be hard to find. If you ask one of us where to look, we just might tell you, or better yet, we’ll show you. 

glacier park flowers

Trillium (easy to spot because of the distinct pattern of three petals and two sets of three leaves) loves wooded, marshy areas, so low-lying wetlands and dense forested areas are perfect for spotting them.

glacier park wildflowers

Forget-me-nots are one of my favorite flowers and they love moisture and sunshine. Look for them in places with lots of water and not a lot of shade.

indian paint brush

Indian paint brush is a sunshine loving flower that’s most likely to be found in direct sunlight and prefer a more arid environment. These plants don’t photosynthesize well, so the more sunlight they get, the brighter their petals.

service berry bushes

Serviceberry bushes are a hallmark of early season in Glacier National Park, and they are one of the first flowering plants you’ll see. Make a mental note when you find them, because later in the year you’ll want to come back and pick berries for serviceberry jam.

Early Season in Glacier National Park: You Won’t Know If You Don’t Go!

One of the things I love about Glacier National Park is that every season is incredibly different. Every season has a magic all its own. Living and working in the park has given me a chance to get to know those different seasons, and I hope you get a chance to experience spring here. Early season in Glacier National Park is truly something special.

See you out there!

By | 2019-02-04T10:22:32-07:00 May 27th, 2016|

About the Author:

Mountain lover, backcountry gourmet chef, writer, tree hugger, and couch surfer extraordinaire. I still can't believe they pay me to play in the most beautiful mountains on earth.

10 Comments

  1. Cristina January 2, 2017 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Thanks for these tips! What’s the earliest you would call “early season”? We’ve decided 2017 is the year to go but are open to any times! Thanks!

    • Cristina January 2, 2017 at 4:27 pm - Reply

      Ps- we want to see the northern lights!

    • Courtney Stone January 5, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      We recommend July, August, and the first part of September as prime times to see the park — the Going to the Sun Road generally opens by mid-June, so you might say that the early, early season starts on Memorial Day. Let us know if you have further questions, we love to talk about our favorite national park.

  2. Jen March 9, 2019 at 8:51 am - Reply

    My husband an I will be visiting the park Memorial da ah wknd. We are planning to hike. We know at spring we are likely to encounter more wild life. I’m extremely nervous of the bears. How likely are we to encounter one on the trails?

    • Courtney Stone March 15, 2019 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Hi Jen!
      Thanks for your question – unfortunately, that’s an impossible one to predict, but generally speaking, if you’re talking and making noise on the trail, and not hiking in the dawn or dusk hours, any bear in the area is most likely to get out of your way. Bears don’t generally want to see you any more than you want to see them! Feel free to call us at the office for more info. 406-387-5555. Enjoy your trip and remember – Memorial Day weekend is for biking and rafting 🙂
      -Courtney

  3. Wesley Hoyer March 10, 2019 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    I am planning a spring trip. When is the best time to go?

  4. Jennicha House March 15, 2019 at 8:39 am - Reply

    Hi Courtney
    Thanks for your reply. What do you mean that Memorial day wknd is for biking and rafting? Does this mean that the trails will be closed at this time or there is not allot of people on the trails?
    We wont arrive until Sunday, the day before Memorial day. So we will be in the park Sunday through Wednesday.

    Thanks

    • Courtney Stone March 18, 2019 at 8:41 am - Reply

      Hi Jennicha! No problem – for a faster response, please feel free to call or email. To answer your question, yes, most trails in the park will not yet be melted out from the winter’s snows – late May is definitely still spring in Montana. Most of Glacier’s iconic trails — i.e. Highline, Grinnell Glacier, most passes, etc — aren’t fully melted out until July. Lower elevation trails like Avalanche Lake will likely be available, but it’s hard to say at this point. Right now, we’re still in late Winter, with about 2′ snow on the ground in the valleys.
      -Courtney

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