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!
First: early season means spring in Glacier. Around here, early May through mid-late June is typically our spring. Summer typically starts around July 1.
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
Biking is a great way to get around early season.
Early season is great for wildlife viewing.
You’re more likely to see northern lights.
You can have some of the hottest spots in Glacier all to yourself.
The rivers are a blast early season.
Waterfalls are incredible this time of year.
And so are the wildflowers.
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.
A couple of cyclists stop to enjoy the view along McDonald Creek. Photo courtesy of Glacier NPS.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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 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.
Hiking early season in Glacier National Park means you’re more likely to see wolf tracks than human tracks on the trail.
The mountains somehow seem bigger and wilder when the are still partially covered in their winter coat.
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.
Whitewater rafters with wetsuits, splash gear, lifejackets and helmets – safety always come first!
Guides out enjoying the Middle Fork Flathead in the Glacier’s early season.
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.
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 is quite impressive early season. Photo courtesy NPS.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.