September in Glacier National Park
Oh, Sweet September. It’s been a wonderfully busy summer, but we’re ready for you. September in Glacier National Park isn’t just the changing of the calendar. It’s a shift in attitude, tone, and feel all over the park’s million acres of beauty. The angle of the sun mellows, and everyone here does, too. We love our visitors, but September is beloved because there are fewer visitors. There’s more room to wonder and to wander in Montana in September.
“What is the best time of year to visit Glacier National Park?” — #1 FAQ at Glacier Guides and Montana Raft
Depending on what you’re looking for, each month of the year offers something special in Glacier that could make that specific month the best. But the general answer is: the best time of the year to visit Glacier National Park is in September! All of our favorite activities are extra special in September: rafting, fishing, biking, and hiking.
Hiking in September in Glacier National Park
As the crowds thin out, the trails become even more enjoyable. The colors change from summer’s turquoise and emerald-green to autumn’s gold and scarlet. Temperatures cool off. Our favorite picks for fall hiking are dictated by where the colors are prettiest.
Advanced Fall Hiking Option: Lee Ridge-Gable Pass, 13.1 Miles Roundtrip
Love Chief Mountain? Go visit its less admired side in September, for solitude and jaw dropping views of Belly River Country dressed in its fall finery.
How To Get There: Lee Ridge Trailhead is not well-marked and there is no parking lot or bath room. On the east side, travel north from St. Mary. When you first turn off US Hwy 89 onto Chief Mountain Highway, set your trip odometer. Approximately 13.6 miles later, you’ll see orange and yellow plastic markers on a tree next to the road, on your left. You’ll have to keep driving another tenth of a mile and then you’ll see a small parking area to your right. It might hold 10 cars, but it’s likely yours will be the only one.
Begin hiking in a thick conifer forest — talk amongst yourselves and keep your bear spray handy. This is grizzly country. After about 2.5 miles, you’ll start to gradually gain some elevation as you ascend Lee Ridge. After another approximately 2 miles, you’ll gain iconic views of the Belly River valley, Gable Mountain, Chief Mountain, Ninaki, and Papoose. The trail disappears further up the Ridge, but you can see Gable Pass and can easily follow cairns in its general direction. The higher you go up Lee Ridge, the better the views get! If you’ve ever wanted to see Kaina Mountain, Bear Mountain, or Glacier’s highest peak, 10,466′ Mt. Cleveland, this is the hike for you.
At the 6 mile mark, you’ll reach the Gable Pass Trail junction. From here, you have another — fairly strenuous — 1/2 mile to go before reaching Gable Pass. The views from the junction are every bit as good as from the Pass, so if you’re tired, this makes a fine turnaround spot. If you decide to go to the Pass, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Otatso Drainage, including Slide Lake, Yellow Mountain, and Sherburne Peak. Either way, retrace your steps to your car while you soak in September in Glacier National Park’s northeast corner.
Intermediate Fall Hiking Option: Highline Trail — Logan Pass to Haystack Butte, 7.2 Miles Roundtrip
Everyone loves the Highline Trail. But there is even more to love in September in Glacier National Park, as the views remain jaw dropping but there are far fewer people on this trail, one of the most popular.
How To Get There: Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass. There are vault toilets available. Cross over the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the “Logan Pass” sign to find the well-marked trailhead. In the fall, hikers tend to travel from the Pass to Haystack Butte, and not on to Granite Park Chalet — which closes in 2017 on September 10th — and down the Loop, because the park’s shuttle system is not running, and it is harder to get a ride back to the Pass. The hike to Haystack Butte and back is moderate, gently gaining and losing elevation as you hike along Glacier’s Garden Wall. When you get to the bottom of the Butte, keep going! The switchbacks look much steeper than they actually are, and the top of Haystack Butte makes a fabulous lunch spot.
If you’d rather explore the Highline Trail with a guide, we can take you every Tuesday in September.
Easy Fall Hiking Option: Hidden Lake Overlook, 2.7 Miles Roundtrip
Love watching the alpine tundra change colors? The stroll to stunning Hidden Lake Overlook is the hike for you.
How To Get There: Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass. There are vault toilets available. The trail begins behind the Visitors Center — it transitions from pavement to a wooden boardwalk to dirt.
Along the way, you’re likely to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep enjoying the September sun on the rocky ledges of Mt. Reynolds (to your left) and Mt. Clements (to your right). About a mile from the Visitors Center, you will cross a small rise, with beautiful, small ponds to your left. You’ll arrive at spectacular Hidden Lake Overlook at 1.35 miles. Take time to enjoy the staggering views. Be sure to look for wildlife, as this area is known for healthy marmot, mountain goat, and bighorn sheep populations. We’ve seen wolverines and grizzly bears here, too!
If you’re up for more of a challenge, drop another 770 feet down to Hidden Lake. This will add another 2.8 miles total to your adventure, bringing the roundtrip total to 5.5 miles
Fishing the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River
There’s less water in the river in the fall, meaning there’s fewer places for the fish to hide! Fly fishing Glacier National Park tends to be amazing in September. Temperate weather, crystal clear water visibility, and hungry trout generally combine to make for happy anglers. If you’ve never fly fished, or if you’d like to brush up on your skills, check out our popular Fly Fishing School. If you’re ready to head down the river and would like a professional guide and gear, give us a ring to set up a trip. 406-387-5555.
Scenic Floating September in Glacier National Park
Lower river levels also mean our Scenic Floats are the rafting adventure of choice in September! All summer, we think we run rafting trips on the most turquoise waters in the world, and then September turns the larch gold, and we realize that against that autumnal backdrop, our waters appear even bluer than they were in July. Western Larch are conifers that think they are deciduous, and their needles turn bright yellow, then a fiery orange before falling off. And it’s not just the trees that turn colors in September in Glacier National Park — the smaller foliage, like fireweed, turn brilliant colors and transform entire hillsides into works of art. Drinking in the colors from the comfort of a raft is the most relaxing way to explore September in Glacier National Park.
Got Glacier National Park Lodging?
If you need a West Glacier setup, we have limited availability in September and October at our charming Guest House or quiet, cozy, eco-friendly Lodge. Guests call our bed-and-breakfast-style Lodge a “treehouse with a fabulous, largely locally sourced and organic breakfast.” We’re rated #1 on TripAdvisor.
Got September in Glacier National Park Questions?
As a 35 year concession partner of Glacier National Park, we’re here to help you with your September travel plans. Give us a call at 406-387-5555 and we’ll be happy to answer your questions! Now, get out there and enjoy Sweet September!