A Guide to Visiting Glacier National Park in the Winter

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by Audrey Webster

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Visiting Glacier National Park in winter is a picture-perfect getaway. Snow-covered mountains, pristine frozen lakes, and tranquil forests await those who see the park in winter. For those who love visiting national parks during the chillier months of the year, Glacier National Park should land high on your to-visit list. 

During the warmer months, Glacier NP is popular among tourists. It’s hard to visit the park’s most impressive sites without fighting crowds. Yet, the onset of winter quiets the park with some of its main sites remaining open year-round. 

In this article, we’re looking at everything you should know when visiting Glacier in winter, from what to pack to how to plan your itinerary. 

Glacier National Park Weather in Winter

It should go without saying that Glacier in winter has consistently low temperatures. The average temperature rarely rises above freezing, even during the peak hours of the day. The park sees the most snowfall in January, but prepare to encounter several feet of snow no matter when you visit during the winter. 

The average winter highs clock in at just 28°F (-2°C) and you can expect low temperatures to average at around 14°F (-10°C).

You should plan for heavy snowfall, wind, and potential snowstorms. That said, the occasional blue, yet chilly, winter day is possible. Make sure you pack warm winter clothing and winter gear: waterproof outer layers, gloves, snow boots, hats, hand warmers, and anything else you’ll estimate needing to stay warm. 

It’s also wise to be constantly checking the weather in the days leading up to your visit and while you’re in the park. It’s not uncommon for inclement winter weather to move in quickly, covering the park in a dense layer of snow and creating whiteout conditions.

Watch the forecast, check the National Park Service website and make decisions on where you go in the park based on them. 

Glacier NP during winter
Glacier NP during winter

Driving in Glacier National Park During Winter

Some sections of the park are closed during winter—of the seven park entrances, only one is open in winter. Starting at the West Glacier Entrance, the road is plowed 11 miles until it arrives at Lake McDonald Lodge.

Here, you’ll find a fully plowed parking lot where you can park and set out on the lake’s trails to explore the area around the lodge and lake. As long as the weather conditions allow a snowplow to make it down this road, it’s also open to visitors. 

When driving around Glacier in the winter, keep in mind best practices for driving in snow. Always carry chains, road flares, and extra food and water just in case you get stuck and have to wait for help. Try to start each day with a full tank of gas as there are no gas stations within the park and stick to the plowed sections of roadway. 

If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which compares prices across major companies.

Driving in Glacier NP during winter
Driving in Glacier NP during winter

Which Month to Visit Glacier National Park?

Visitors joke that the seasons in Glacier NP are June, July, August, and winter. Snow can start as early as September. Since the park straddles the Continental Divide, weather conditions can vary from one side of the park to the other.

While December can still have relatively tame winter conditions, always check the forest prior to your visit. Here’s what you can expect when visiting in December, January, and February. 

Glacier NP in December

Weather permitting, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is open from West Glacier to Avalanche Creek through the middle of the month. If you visit Glacier National Park in December, you have a higher chance of being able to drive more of the road.

As it’s still relatively early in the winter season, keep an eye out for bears and carry bear spray if you go hiking, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing in a more rural part of the park. By December, the park’s crowds have thinned dramatically, granting visitors a quiet and serene experience. 

Glacier NP in January

If you visit Glacier National Park in January, expect winter to be in full swing. Be prepared for sudden weather changes and freezing temperatures, however, it’s a great time to ski and snowshoe.

By this time of the year, Apgar Visitor Center is the only one open in the park, but it’s often only open on weekends and if staffing permits. Starting in January, you’ll have the option of signing up for ranger-led snowshoeing tours on the weekends. 

Glacier National Park in February

Glacier National Park in February is a great time to visit for winter activities. By now, the park is coated in several feet of snow. Occasional winter storms will roll through, bringing more snow and chilly temperatures, but you have a chance of getting a blue-sky day.

Winter activities in and around the park are in full swing. You can consider winter camping within the park or stay somewhere nearby like Whitefish, Kalispell, or Columbia Falls. 

Winter Views from Whitefish, Montana
Winter Views from Whitefish, Montana

Safety Tips for Visiting Glacier National Park in Winter

When visiting the park in the winter months, there are a few additional safety precautions to keep in mind. First and foremost, make sure you’re comfortable driving in snowy and possibly icy road conditions.

Stay on the plowed roads and pack the necessary items just in case you get stuck. Be prepared for a day in the park without access to the usual park amenities like in winter.

Most visitor centers, lodges, and roads throughout the park are closed. It’s even rare to come across a park ranger. Pack everything you need for your visit, including entering the park driving a car full of gas. 

Secondly, pack for cold temperatures. It’s a general rule of thumb to pack and wear more layers than you think you’ll need. We also recommend packing a rechargeable battery pack, hand warmers, extra thick socks, and anything else you might potentially want to stay warm. Remember to pack out anything you bring into the park. 

Finally, if you go winter hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing in the backcountry or somewhere with fewer people, bring bear spray and keep an eye out for wildlife. For most of the winter, bears will be in hibernation. However, if you’re visiting early in the season, there is still a chance that you’ll come across bears, so keep an eye out. 

Freezing weather in Glacier NP
Freezing weather in Glacier NP

Things to do in Glacier National Park in Winter

While less of the park is open during winter and there are fewer things to do, Glacier National Park still has plenty of ways to spend a day or two. Here are some of the best ways to spend your time while exploring this stunning area.

Try snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience Glacier National Park in winter. Nearly anyone can throw on a pair of snowshoes and head out to explore the park. If you don’t own snowshoes, you can easily rent a pair in the park. 

There are several groomed trails throughout the park. Strapping on a pair of snowshoes is a great way to efficiently move over deep snow that you wouldn’t be able to traverse without them. If you’ve never tried it before, it’s wise to stick to the more populated and packed trails or book a guided tour.

However, you can technically snowshoe anywhere there’s snow and enough space to walk around. It’s generally avoided that you stay off frozen lakes as it’s difficult to tell how strong the ice covering the lake really is. 

Some of the best trails for snowshoeing are Lower McDonald Creek, Rocky Point, Apgar Lookout, McDonald Falls, McGee Meadow Loop, and Bowman Lake. 

Hike to Apgar Lookout 

Apgar Lookout is one of the best routes for winter hiking in Glacier NP. The hike takes you to an overlook with views over Lake McDonald. It’s an ideal trail earlier in the winter and early spring, but it’s still manageable during the peak winter months. 

For this hike, you’ll want to pay attention to the weather conditions before setting out. It’s an out-and-back with a steady incline. All told, the trail is around 7 miles roundtrip. It’s a popular route for cross-country skiing, so expect to encounter other people on the trail. If you’ve been wanting to give snowshoeing a try, this might be the perfect place for it. 

Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the lake and mountains below. Make a day of it by packing a lunch and thermos with a warm drink to enjoy at the top while admiring the view. 

Visit Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is the postcard image of Glacier National Park and a highlight of anyone’s visit during winter. Crystal-clear waters with colorful pebbles underneath and surrounded by snowy trees and mountains make for a stunning sight. 

During your visit here, meander around the lake, taking in the landscape from the shore. Rent a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore the trail around the lake on foot. Lake McDonald Lodge is closed for the season, but you can still walk around this historic building. 

Starting from the lodge, you can walk as far as you like up the unplowed Going-to-the-Sun Road. Depending on snow levels and weather conditions, you might want to have a sturdy pair of snowshoes on hand. There are a few other trails available to you from Lake McDonald.

It’s also a perfect place to pause during your day of exploring the park, sip on the warm drink packed in your thermos, and enjoy the views.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald

Hike to Apikuni Falls

The hike to Apikuni Falls is well known for being short and steep. However, the beautiful waterfall you find at the end of the trail is well worth the climb and it’s perfect for a winter trip to Glacier National Park. You’ll climb about 625 feet in 2 miles through a densely-packed pine forest, gaining most of the elevation during the last portion of the hike when you scramble up rocks. 

You’ll begin your hike at the Poia Lake Trailhead 2.8 miles west of the Many Glacier entrance. It’s a popular hike with a small parking lot, but you can expect far fewer people when visiting in winter. 

Apikuni Falls is a 100-foot two-tier waterfall. The topmost section freefalls and the second section slides down the side of the rock. After this, there are a series of smaller falls that help make this hike into one of the most scenic in winter. 

Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing in Glacier National Park grants you access to areas of the park you wouldn’t be able to access on foot. You can cover more ground in less time and see sections of the park unavailable to snowshoers or hikers.

You can also see more of the Going-to-the-Sun Road on cross-country skis. Cross-country skiing in Glacier NP isn’t for those who are new to the sport. You should already have some experience before setting out on these trails. 

Popular cross-country ski areas are McDonald Falls Trail, Avalanche Picnic Area Trail, McDonald Creek Trail, and Rocky Point Trail. You can rent cross-country skis in nearby Whitefish. 

Skiing in Glacier NP
Skiing in Glacier NP

Try dog sledding

While dog sledding mostly takes place outside of the National Park itself, it’s still a fun and unique activity to do during a Glacier National Park winter. You’ll want to make a reservation as far in advance as possible.

Tours last around an hour and take visitors through parts of Montana’s wildlife that you couldn’t access on foot. If you’re looking for a winter activity that’s a little more off the beaten path, consider giving dog sledding a try. 

Where to Stay in Glacier National Park

The Ridge at Glacier – Those looking for a private and plush stay while visiting Glacier NP in the winter will love these cabins close to the park entrance. They have a range of different cabins to choose from with plenty of great amenities available to guests. Click here to see their availability

Under Canvas Glacier – These plush, safari-style tents are perfect for those looking for a cool and cosy winter escape in Glacier – a bit different from backcountry camping! Perfect for those who want to try glamping, they have a number of great room options to choose from and a range of amenities for guests. Click here to see their availability

Private Rental – If you’d rather stay in a private place while spending winter in Glacier National Park, there are an array of properties on offer. Places like this gorgeous cabin within the park are plentiful and perfect to escape the cold weather. Click here to browse more Glacier NP private rentals

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more hotels near Glacier NP!

Glacier National Park in winter transforms into a winter wonderland. From impressive scenery to unique winter activities, you won’t regret spending a couple days admiring the park. Use these tips to guide your planning and enjoy your visit!

Are you planning a winter trip to Glacier NP? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Audrey Webster is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an Oregon native who has visited countries across the globe and currently spends her weekends exploring the Pacific Northwest and surrounding states. Her approach to traveling combines exploring famous tourist sites and wandering off the beaten path to discover new destinations.

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