How to Experience Glacier National Park

I’ve always heard about Glacier National Park—the wildlife, the glacier-carved mountains and lakes, the unbelievable hiking trails, and the sheer size of it all. But then I read about the complaints: the visitor center’s and trailhead parking lots filling by 8am on any given weekday, the packed shuttle buses, the horrible traffic congesting the single-lane road, the tour buses, the long lines at bathrooms, swarming hiking trails, and all the campgrounds with long queues at the registration booths. That doesn’t sound like a getaway into nature.

Then I learned why. Glacier’s hiking season only lasts a little over 3 months (maybe 4 months): mid-June to mid-October, with predictable weather only from July through August. No wonder everyone flocks this park at exactly the same time.

Experiencing Glacier had occupied my mind for over 2 years, and finally the trip solidified into a priority. In order to truly enjoy the park’s gems, I made sure of two things: 1. To arrive after the majority of the lodges, shuttles, boats, and restaurants have closed for the season and 2. To have the flexibility to chase the weather as it was autumn with unpredictable weather.

Immediately upon seeing an entire week of predicted sunshine in the forecast, I made the call to head into the park. It was only five days after most services had closed for the season, making parking, hiking, and camping hassle-free, with camping fees half off at $10/night!

Our arrival to Glacier, passing by Two Medicine:img_5336

It was a win:

  • No traffic or long lines
  • Stellar weather
  • Peaceful hiking trails
  • Plenty of parking and campsites available
  • Reduced-price camping

During our six days at Glacier, I cycled the renowned 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road and we hiked a total of 68 miles in various sections of the park.  Our first day saw wind, fog, and cold temperatures, but each day thereafter was literally the warm, crystal-clear day perfect for hiking.  Locals even told us they had never seen such great weather, and our timing couldn’t have been better.

Even during the off-season in late September, there were enough cars to keep the roads busy. Visitor center and trailhead parking lots and all campgrounds were actually almost full. Many of our hikes still saw dozens of hikers. I can’t imagine the park during the peak season. The park simply cannot handle the capacity. I imagine it to be another stressful, annoying vacation jam-packed with tourists during the peak season. Planning to visit after most services have shut down is key to enjoying what the park has to offer. It really is the only way to fall in love with Glacier National Park.

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