The winter sights at Glacier National Park are a one-of-a-kind wonderland. Visitors to the park in winter can appreciate an array of unique scenery (including the sight of actual glaciers), traditional winter activities, and plenty of places to rest at night.
Glacier National Park’s winter weather can be extreme, so visitors to the winter wonderland must be informed of what to expect. We’ve uncovered everything you need to know before visiting Glacier National Park in winter.
Keep reading to learn all about what you should expect to experience while visiting Glacier National Park’s winter wonderland!
Why Visit Glacier National Park in Winter?
Each year, outdoor enthusiasts flock to Glacier National Park. Although the weather conditions can be extreme in the winter, many people want to see the stunning views and scenery only available at Glacier National Park in winter.
Glacier National Park in winter is the perfect place to be for travel photographers seeking the perfect winter shots. It’s also a great place to visit for anyone who enjoys winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
Another reason to visit National Glacier Park between September 11 and May 25 is because the park does not require vehicle reservation passes during this time, however, regular entrance passes are still required for all vehicles at a reduced winter rate).
Camping at Glacier National Park is enjoyable all year round, and campers visiting Glacier National Park in winter appreciate a less crowded park. Fewer crowds make it easier to appreciate nature and enjoy camping in peace.
If camping in cold, snowy conditions isn’t your thing, fortunately, indoor accommodations are available to keep you warm and cozy during your trip. Spend your day enjoying all your favorite winter activities, then cozy up at night.
Glacier National Park has something for every type of winter enthusiast!
Important Information to Know Before Your Trip
Entrance passes are required for all vehicles and can be purchased online.
Due to harsh weather conditions, the majority of park roads are closed at Glacier National Park in winter (and become ready-made trails for skiers and snowshoers). However, visitors will find that Going-to-the-Sun Road from West Glacier to Lake McDonald Lodge is plowed and open all year.
However, unpredictable snowstorms and avalanches can slow down the plowing process, so work crews need to replow during these events. Unsafe conditions can delay plowing, so visitors need to be prepared for this possibility.
Visit the Glacier National Park Road Conditions page for the current status of road openings and closures.
Park Headquarters (just before the entrance station at West Glacier) is open year-round. The St. Mary’s (east side of the park) and Logan Pass Visitor (on Going-to-the-Sun Road) centers are closed between September and May
Apgar Visitor Center (near the foot of Lake McDonald on the west side of the park) is open on weekends in winter, if staffing is available.
Apgar Visitor Center restrooms are open all year. The Apgar Visitor Center is located two miles north of the West Entrance.
Visitors will also find a water bottle filling station at the Apgar Visitor Center.
The best way to get to know your way around Glacier National Park is to understand the park’s four regions.
This is the most popular area for visitors at Glacier National Park in winter since lower portions of the road remain open. St. Mary Entrance is the eastern entrance of Going-to-the-Sun Road. Vehicles greater than 21 inches long or eight feet wide are prohibited.
The North Fork
This area was named after the North Fork of the Flathead River, which is at the park’s western boundary. You’ll find limited amenities and services at this part of the park, so you must plan accordingly.
This part of the park is a popular area for those looking for challenging hikes. Many of the trails in this section of the park aren’t for new winter explorers
The Two Medicine Entrance is two miles north of East Glacier, Montana. It can be accessed by taking Highway 49 north for about four miles, then turning onto Two Medicine Road.
This section of the park is accessed through an entrance just west of Babb, Montana. This is a popular section of the park to visit because the area has two glaciers and breathtaking views.
The Best Views at Glacier National Park in Winter
If you’re a photographer or just a parent wanting to get some cute pictures of your family, these are the spots you are going to want to visit.
Located in West Glacier, Apgar Village offers breathtaking views of Lake McDonald. Visitors also have access to snowshoeing and skiing paths that will take them directly around Lake McDonald for a close-up view.
Follow Going-to-the-Sun Road for spectacular views of Lake McDonald and the mountains to the east. A portion of the road is closed for the winter, but you can hike or snowshoe through this area to see more gorgeous views.
The east side of Going-to-the-Sun Road provides the easiest glacier-viewing sight in the whole park. Five miles East of the Logan Pass, visitors will be able to see the Jackson Glacier.
Hidden Lake Overlook
This is one of the most popular hikes at Glacier National Park. Hike, snowshoe, or ski to the Hidden Lake Overview for beautiful scenery. The 2.7-mile (roundtrip) trail starts at the top of Logan Pass and heads through the Hanging Gardens meadow.
The Grinnell Glacier is sadly shrinking due to climate change, but it is still a stunning view to witness. The 11-mile trip is strenuous, especially in winter, but worth it if you’re physically fit for the challenge. Tourists wishing to view the Grinnell Glacier will need to be experienced in winter hiking.
This is the second-largest lake in the park and is an easily accessible spot to shoot some amazing shots of Mount Wilbur. Swiftcurrent Lake is a popular spot to take sunrise and sunset photos.
Swiftcurrent Lake is located in the Many Glacier region and many hiking trails originate from this area.
Winter Sports at Glacier National Park in Winter
Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Snowboarding
Since Glacier National Park receives a record-breaking amount of snow, it’s no surprise it’s a favorite place for skiers, snowshoers, and snowboarders to visit. Several resorts near Glacier National Park in winter offer winter sports rentals:
- Whitefish Resort
- Fernie Ski Resort
- Blacktail Mountain Resort
- Castle Mountain Resort
Many backcountry trails are accessible within Glacier National Park via snow equipment. If you’re not familiar with Glacier National Park in winter, consider hiring a tour guide or going with someone familiar with the area and backcountry winter roads.
If you don’t have either, make sure you have a good map with you of the trails. You can download detailed maps on the National Park Service website.
Some of the best backcountry winter trails for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding at Glacier National Park include:
- Apgar Lookout (Hard)
- McDonalds Falls Cross-Country Ski Route (Easy)
- Beaver Pond Loop (Easy)
- Red Eagle Lake Trail (Moderate)
- Covey Meadow (Easy)
Glacier National Park does not offer equipment rentals on-site, although several private vendors in surrounding cities do offer rentals.
One of the best places to find wild ice (glassy smooth lake surfaces) is Avalanche Lake, a steep two-mile hike from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. You will need snowshoes to hike in.
Use extra caution if ice skating on Lake McDonald, since the lake is only partially frozen. It’s a good idea to avoid walking on it entirely.
Snowmobiling is strictly prohibited at Glacier National Park, but the surrounding area is a popular area to snowmobile. The most popular place to snowmobile is Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Mountain climbing is not recommended at Glacier National Park in winter due to avalanche concerns. If you want to try mountain climbing at the park, you should visit between early July and late September.
If you do decide to attempt mountain climbing at Glacier National Park in winter, you are advised to submit a voluntary climbing registration form, which is available at the Park Headquarters.
Winter Camping Glacier National Park in Winter
Two of Glacier National Park’s campgrounds are open in the winter: St. Mary and Apgar Campgrounds.
St. Mary Campground
This campground is located near the east entrance. It’s free to camp at St. Mary Campground at Glacier National Park in winter from the beginning of November to mid-April (but you still need an entrance pass). No water is available during this time frame.
Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis from September through mid-April. Three sites can accommodate up to 40-foot RVs, and 22 sites can accommodate up to 35 feet. A maximum of two tents per site is allowed.
This campground is near the west entrance of the park and offers primitive camping from November through March. The campground has a vault toilet, but there is no running water in the winter. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis during this time.
Camping is free at Apgar Campground during the winter season.
Winter wilderness (or backcountry) camping is allowed with special regulations from November first through May first. All backcountry campers must request a permit, which will be issued electronically.
Backcountry camping at Glacier National Park in winter requires special equipment and physique. Weather conditions can change rapidly, so winter backcountry campers must come prepared. Check out our ultimate winter camping checklist for a general idea of all the things you need.
Safety at Glacier National Park in Winter
One of the biggest dangers at Glacier National Park in winter is avalanches. Read up on avalanche safety before heading out to the winter paradise.
Know your physical limitations. If you have doubts about whether or not you will be able to make it up a path, it’s best to avoid it.
Use caution when driving around Glacier National Park and surrounding areas in the winter. Avoid braking too fast and applying the gas too quickly. Pack a winter driving kit just in case.
Lodging and Cabins
Beargrass Lodging and RV Resort: Although the RV resort is closed in winter, Beargrass Lodging offers cottages and cabin rentals all year. Located in Hungry Horse, 11 miles from Glacier National Park, you’ll feel right at home in any of their lodging options.
Lone Elk Lodge: Only minutes from Glacier National Park and surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, this East Glacier lodge provides up to eight guests the luxury needed after a day of winter fun.
Columbia Mountain Cabin: Located conveniently in Columbia Falls, 12 miles from Glacier National Park, this cabin has everything you need for a comfortable stay. Columbia Falls is also home to restaurants, shops, and a brewery.
Cedar Creek Lodge: Also in Columbia Falls is this four-season lodge. Guests will enjoy a blend of modern comfort with a mountain lodge appeal.
Paddle Ridge at West Glacier: Enjoy beautiful modern cabins in the heart of West Glacier. Winter accommodations are available, though you must call to reserve after November 1.
Wrapping up Glacier National Park in Winter
You’re all set to experience a winter wonderland like no other. Remember your camera, so you remember your adventure at Glacier National Park in winter for a lifetime.
Looking for more national parks to visit in winter? Check out Yellowstone National Park’s winter splendor.