October in Glacier National Park

October in Glacier National Park

There’s a reason that Montana is filled with visitors every July and August – you have to see our alpine landscapes to believe they’re real, and that high country is only open for so long. But there’s another must-see time of year. It’s October in Glacier National Park.

Many Glacier Valley October in Glacier National Park

The Many Glacier valley is practically empty in October.

Let’s Manage October in Glacier National Park Expectations

First: a reality check. People who love October in Glacier National Park are the flexible types. They understand that the thrill of seeing more animals than people in the Many Glacier valley is tempered by the fact that there is very little lodging and dining available on the east side in Glacier’s off season. They are prepared to drive big distances and to keep themselves fed, warm, and safe while traveling. These fall visitors are likely to experience all of the weather in a single autumn morning — sun, wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, thunder, back to sun. Such people own sensible footwear, rain jackets, and layers. They wait five minutes when they don’t like the weather.

If your friends wouldn’t describe you and your companions as flexible and self-sufficient, October in Glacier National Park is probably not for you. But if you possess a pliant personality and understand how to read a map, October in Glacier National Park may be your dream vacation. After all, the park is quiet, but the wildlife are active, and your eyes won’t believe the way the yellow aspen and larch pop against an October blue sky.

When Do The Trees Turn?

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In a typical year, the west side trees begin changing color in mid-September. The east side trees usually wait until early October to go golden. Larch, or tamarack, put on an incredible show beginning in mid-October. In addition to being gorgeous, larch are unusual in that they are deciduous conifers that lose their needles.

Grinnell Point October in Glacier National Park

Grinnell Point on a cold day in October in Glacier National Park.

What’s Open in October in Glacier National Park?

By mid-September, Glacier begins to shut down, and by October 1, all of the lodging and most other concession services inside the park have closed for the season. We are proud to be a concession partner since 1983, and we operate our rafting, hiking, fishing, biking, and lodging services, and equipment rentals, through October 15. But we are a little unusual in that regard. You should be prepared to see lots of closed signs, and to drive vast distances between gas stations, stores, restaurants, and lodging. A car is an absolute must this time of year.

Fall in Glacier National Park. Lake McDonald from Fish Creek. NPS Photo.

Fall in Glacier National Park. Lake McDonald from Fish Creek. NPS Photo.

Important 2018 Dates for October in Glacier National Park

This year October 15th is a significant date, as the park service will close the Going-to-the-Sun Road on the west side at the Apgar intersection, for construction, through October 19, 2018. This closure will apply to vehicles, bicycles, and foot traffic. Access to Logan Pass from the east side of the park will remain available, weather permitting, until the alpine section of the road is closed for the season on Monday, October 15, 2018. (The alpine section of the road generally closes for the season the third weekend of October, regardless of weather.)

Takeaway: if you want to see Logan Pass this fall, go before October 15. But remember, parts of the Going to the Sun Road remain open all year, and Glacier never closes.

October in Glacier National Park Apikuni Falls

Apikuni Falls, Many Glacier, October 2017.

If you decide to visit Glacier National Park in October, you should also know that Headquarters is open Monday through Friday year round, and is a good place to get information. Even when the Going to the Sun Road remains fully open, the Logan Pass Visitor Center typically closes in mid-September. The St. Mary Visitor Center, on the east side, closes in early October. And by mid-October, the Apgar Visitor Center, on the west side, is only open on weekends. Be sure to check the park’s Operating Hours page for specifics. And of course, we always recommend looking at the  Current Conditions page and park webcams before all trips, regardless of what time of year.

Huckleberry Lookout Trail in October in Glacier National Park

Empty Huckleberry Lookout trail. Photo: Nancy Stone.

What To Do In October In Glacier National Park

In addition to driving around, soaking up solitude, photographing wildlife from a respectful distance, enjoying empty hiking trails and eating picnic lunches, there are a few other activities in October in Glacier National Park that you shouldn’t miss. Glacier’s southwestern border is formed by the turquoise North and Middle Forks of the Wild and Scenic Flathead River. By October, these stunning un-dammed rivers are running low and slow – a perfect combination for a relaxing fall float or fishing trip. If you’d like to go with a guide, be sure to make advance reservations.

Middle Fork of the Flathead River Glacier National Park

Middle Fork of the Flathead River. NPS Photo.

As the traffic in Glacier empties out, we love riding our bikes on the Going to the Sun Road and the Camas Road. The Gateway to Glacier Bike Trail, which runs from West Glacier to Hungry Horse, is also a lot of fun in the quiet, cooler fall months. If you need a bike, we’ve got brand new Raleigh bikes available for rent. If you’re staying 2 nights or more at our Lodge October 1-14, 2018, we’ll throw in a free bike rental! Just ask when you make your reservation. Exploring the West Glacier area via bike is one of our favorite October activities.
Speaking of our quiet, cozy Lodge, it is open through October 14 and is tucked into a gorgeous canyon less than a mile from the park’s west entrance. A complimentary continental breakfast is served each morning.

Glacier Guides Lodge

For larger groups, we have a Guest House that sleeps 8-10 and is open year round.

October in Glacier National Park is a magical time of year. Be sure to reach out to us if we can help you plan your trip! 406-387-5555 or info@glacierguides.com

October in Glacier National Park Iceberg Lake

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. -L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

By | 2018-09-19T09:59:57-07:00 August 11th, 2018|

About the Author:

Southern expatriate. Montana devotee since 1989. As Marketing Director for Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, I strive daily to meet our mission of providing exceptional active travel vacations and experiences in and around Glacier National Park, while preserving and protecting Glacier's unique ecosystem using the best available ecologically sound practices. Otherwise, you'll find me hiking, backpacking, rafting, skiing, or cleaning up the trail of glitter my kids leave in the wake of their own daily adventures. p.s. I like guest blogging. Shoot me an e-mail for details.

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