Hiking In Glacier Park: When Is The Best Time?

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Hiking In Glacier Park:  When Is The Best Time?
Glacier National Park is without question a “hiker’s paradise”, but visitors need to remember that just because the weather may be nice in late spring and early summer, that doesn’t necessarily mean the trails are ready for hiking in Glacier Park.  When is the best time for hiking in Glacier National Park?  Below is our answer to this frequently asked question…

Definitely Not May or June!
Glacier National Park gets a ton of snow each year, and it takes a long time for it to melt.  Of course the amount of snow that Glacier Park receives varies year to year, but we’d have to say that 90% of the time, nearly all of the popular Glacier Park Hikes are still snow covered, and most are still closed.  The Highline Trail, Swiftcurrent Pass Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, Siyeh Pass Trail, Piegan Pass Trail and the Pitamakan Dawson Loop are all closed in June due to snow hazards.

A General Rule of Thumb is This:
Any trail along the Continental Divide, or any trail that involves a pass, will more than likely be closed due to snow the entire month of June, into the first part of July, and probably into the second or third week of July. And keep in mind, the Going To The Sun Road usually does not open until the third week of June, which gives you an idea of just how much snow Glacier Park receives each winter and spring.

July Is A Great Month For Most Day Hikes in Glacier Park
We love the month of July for hiking in Glacier National Park because the sky is crystal clear because there are usually no fires burning yet in the neighboring areas or neighboring states.  Also, there is still a lot of snow in the high country which makes for incredibly gorgeous scenery.

But keep in mind that the Glacier Park Hikes that involve the Continental Divide such as the Highline Trail, Swiftcurrent Pass Trail and Pitamakan-Dawson Loop, and the Glacier Park Hikes that involve passes, will more than likely be closed until possibly the third week of July.  Again, this all depends on the amount of snow Glacier Park received the previous winter and spring.  We’ve waited until the second week of August for the Highline Trail to open on certain heavy snow years.

Lingering Snow Hazards
And keep in mind that just because sometimes it may seem like there is not a lot of snow, there are traditional “snow hazards” that always take longer to melt off, such as the annoying Ahern Drift along the Northern Highline Trail. But all in all, you can get a lot of fantastic day hiking in Glacier National Park during the month of July.

River and Stream Fording
There are several trails that require a river or multiple stream fords, such as the Nyack-Coal Creek Loop, Harrison Lake Trail, etc.  When the water is high due to snow melting, these fords can be extremely dangerous if not impossible.  July is a really tough month for stream and river fording in Glacier National Park.  Always ask a ranger at a backcountry office, ranger station or visitor center the stream and river conditions before attemping any of these fords… and often times these rivers and streams are not ready until mid-August!

August Marks the Beginning of the Backcountry Multi-Day Hikes in Glacier Park
Much of the backcountry of Glacier National Park, such as the Boulder Pass Area, Brown Pass Area, Hole In The Wall, Gunsight Pass Area, Stoney Indian Pass Area and Northern Highline Trail that includes the Fifty Mountain Area.  These areas seem to take the longest to open up simply because these areas receive a tremendous amount of snow earlier in the year.  And the NPS does not open the backcountry campsites until they are somewhat dried out, which takes time as well.

So if you’re planning a multi-day backpacking adventure in Glacier National Park, consider planning it no earlier than the early part of August, and even better mid August.  Now we know several of you who are reading this won’t believe us, but in time you will find out for yourself.

What About September Hiking In Glacier Park?
September is another great month for hiking in Glacier National Park, especially early September. One thing that you will have to deal with is the occasional snow storms, especially the third and fourth weeks of September.  Also the nights begin to get really, really cold, so to all you multi-day backpackers, be prepared for cold nights and snow storms, especially beyond mid-September.

 How About October?
October is a gorgeous month in Glacier National Park because the aspen turn bright gold, and the forest undergrowth turns amazing fall colors as well.  Later in the month the larch (tamarack) trees turn bright yellow.

But of course the downside of hiking in Glacier Park in October is that snow storms are frequent, and the night-time temperature can get really, really cold.  Also, the days are getting quite short, which makes it difficult to do any long day hikes over 22 miles or so because you’ll be in the dark getting back. And anyone planning on multi-day backpacking in October really needs to pay attention to the weather reports, and always be prepared for cold weather and snow storms.

Another downside to hiking in Glacier Park during the month of October is that the lodges are pretty much closed up by then, so there are very few visitor services available.

Glacier National Park is a “hiker’s paradise”, and knowing the best time to plan your Glacier Park hikes is really important.   We’ve talked to many a visitor who came to Glacier Park in June and were all excited to hike a ton of trails, only to find that 90% were still closed due to snow.  Snow is a reality of Glacier National Park, and it takes quite awhile for it to melt each year.

And when you arrive in Glacier National Park, make sure you ask a ranger at any visitor center, ranger station or backcountry office about the status of the trails you’re interested in so you know what the situation is for each of these Glacier Park Hikes.

Click Here for details on all the Glacier Park day hikes.
Click Here for details on all the Glacier Park multi-day hikes.

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