Glacier National Park in the Fall: Planning Your Getaway

Crisp mornings, cobalt skies, and spreads of rich yellows and oranges—this is Glacier National Park in September, October, and November.

The best time to visit the Crown of the Continent may in fact be during those autumn months, when traffic is lighter, wildlife is more active, and colors are more vibrant.

Because fall is the park’s off-season, there are a few things prospective visitors should keep in mind. With the right preparation, however, your Glacier Park fall getaway will be every bit as magical as you’ve hoped.

Chief Mountain. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Chief Mountain. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Visiting the crown of the continent in autumn

Glacier National Park is open every day of the year to travelers from all over the world. Peak season at Glacier National Park is generally between late June and early September.

During months outside of this peak season (“shoulder” seasons). the park’s usual activities, access points, visitor services, and amenities may be limited. Here’s what you need to know as you plan your GNP getaway.

Seasonal Closures & Limited Access

Winter arrives early in Glacier National Park! For this reason, most park restaurants, lodging, and other amenities close for the season. Closing dates are likely to vary, but most places close for the winter as early as mid-September or early October. Many reopen in late May or early June.

Park Headquarters is open year-round, Monday through Friday. Beginning in mid-October, the Apgar Visitor Center is open only on the weekends. The St. Mary Visitor Center and Logan Pass Visitor Center both close in mid-September to early October, depending on winter weather. We recommend visiting the park’s Operating Hours page to learn more.

The Going to the Sun Road, one of the most popular destinations in Glacier National Park, closes the third week of October. In some cases, it may close earlier, depending on winter weather.

Fall visitors are encouraged to access the park through its main entrance, West Glacier, which is open year-round, 24 hours a day.

Entrance Fees

Fall visitors to Glacier National Park may enjoy a reduced entrance fee, depending on when they visit! Between November 1 and April 30, visitors can expect the following reduced fees:

  • 7-day permit, 1 vehicle: $25.00

  • Single entry, 1 vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist: $15.00

  • Single entry, 1 motorcycle: $20.00

The Weatherwood Homestead is available to Glacier National Park guests from May 15 - October 15.

The Weatherwood Homestead is available to Glacier National Park guests from May 15 - October 15.

Food & Lodging

With the exception of select campgrounds (see below), most lodging within Glacier National Park is unavailable during the off-season. Some lodging closes as early as mid-September! The same goes for concessions and other restaurants.

We recommend finding lodging outside of Glacier National Park if you plan to visit in the fall. The Weatherwood Homestead is an ideal choice for Glacier Park fall visitors. Available May 15 - October 15, the Homestead is a mere 20 minutes from the park’s West Glacier Entrance and offers guests all the comforts of modern living in close proximity to the mountains.

Learn more about our Montana vacation rentals here.

Wildlife

In general, wildlife in Glacier National Park tends to be a bit more active during the fall. These pre-winter months are vital for animals preparing for a long winter and, in some cases, hibernation. For this reason, fall visitors are even more likely to catch a glimpse of animals in the park, including moose, bears, deer, and elk.

Because wildlife is more active during this season, be sure you’re briefed on wildlife safety before visiting Glacier Park. Do not approach or feed wildlife, and if camping, store food properly. Hikers should always carry bear spray for precaution.

Fall Colors in Glacier National Park

Fall visitors to Glacier Park can savor the mountains’ changing colors from any vantage point. Most trees start to change color in mid- to late-September, while Glacier’s iconic larch trees reach their peak gold in mid-October.

The best place to catch a glimpse of these beautiful hues is along the park’s southern boundary on Highway 2. (This is the same highway Weatherwood guests take to the park.)

Glacier Park in September or October: Activities

Glacier National Park offers visitors a wide range of activities during those spectacular autumn months. Here are our top recommendations for things to do in Glacier during the fall.

Mountain goats in Glacier National Park. Photo credit:  National Park Service

Mountain goats in Glacier National Park. Photo credit: National Park Service

Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun road takes visitors into the heart of Glacier’s glory. Winding up through the mountains, this road culminates at Logan Pass. From here, guests can drop by the Logan Pass Visitor Center, start a number of hikes, and maybe catch a glimpse of the park’s iconic mountain goats.

It is possible to bike the Going-t0-the-Sun Road when it is open. However, biking the pass in the fall is the best time to do so, given the intensity of summer traffic. That being said, aim to bike the road earlier in the day, when traffic is lighter.

Camping

Camping in Glacier National Park is widely available in the fall. In fact, after Labor Day, visitors don’t need to reserve campsites. Sites are taken on a first-come, first-served basis, and fees are often half-price depending on the campsite.

Some campgrounds do close early in the park, and others may not have running water or toilets available. After November 1st, Apgar and St. Mary campgrounds are the only grounds available for RV and automobile camping. You can check GNP campground statuses here.

Hiking

Autumn park visitors have the luxury of hiking all kinds of wild terrain—without the crowds! Most trails are open to visitors through October, although winter weather can arrive at any time. Temperatures will be cooler in the mornings and evenings, too, so dress accordingly.

Inspect access points ahead of time, as East Glacier hikes may be more challenging to get to. Otherwise, here are some magnificent day hikes that are favorites of locals and visitors alike:

  • The Highline Trail

  • Piegan Pass Trail

  • Avalanche Lake

  • Iceberg Lake

  • Cracker Lake

The National Park Service also regularly updates statuses of trails, including details on snow, wildlife, and clearing.

Remember: wildlife is very active during the fall season in Glacier Park. Bears are especially active during this time, foraging up to twenty hours a day to fatten up in time for winter. Carry bear spray and understand proper bear protocol before hitting the trail.

Fly Fishing

Ardent fisherwomen and men come from all over the globe to experience world-class fly fishing in the west. Fall can be one of the most fruitful times for fly fishing, especially in Glacier National Park and its surrounds.

We recommend hiring a fly fishing guide or joining a tour, especially if you intend to visit Glacier in the fall. Some lakes and rivers may be closed to fishing activities, depending on the season.

Glacier Park does have some strict fishing policies, especially if you plan to fish west of the Continental Divide. Familiarize yourself with these ahead of time.

WeatherwoodHomestead_FallinMontana.JPG

Boating & Trail Rides

Sail across the pristine surface of Lake McDonald, savoring the fall colors along the shoreline. Or witness all the sensory components of a Glacier autumn from the back of a horse!

Fall visitors can enjoy boating well into the off-season, especially if they hire a guide or sign up for a tour. Trail rides are also available at select locations. We recommend Swan Mountain Outfitters for riding in the park.

Visiting Glacier National Park in the Fall

The Crown of the Continent is always worth a visit, especially in the autumn months. If you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park in the fall, be aware of increased wildlife activity, limited access, and changing weather conditions.

As many park amenities may be closed at this time, we suggest finding lodging and food outside of the park, and planning activities accordingly. This is especially the case if you plan to visit Glacier National Park in October, when most closures begin.

The Weatherwood Homestead is an ideal solution for fall park visitors, given its proximity to the West Glacier entrance. Many of our autumn guests also find the Homestead to be the most alluring in the midst of those Montana fall colors at the base of Columbia Mountain!

View our Vacation Rentals gallery to see what we mean. Then inquire now to start planning your reservation. We look forward to welcoming you home.