Glacier National Park: Visiting in Fall

Written by: Ellie Hanousek

Just 3 hours away from Missoula, Montana sits one of the most pristine and beautiful national parks in the west: Glacier National Park. Planning a weekend trip to GNP in the fall season can be a challenge with the park’s fast-changing mountain weather and wildfire conditions.

Although these can be tricky problems to work around, a visit to GNP during these unpopular times provides an experience unlike any other with minimal traffic, trails to yourself, access to abundant wildlife, and beautiful fall colors. Next time you are planning a trip to Glacier, consider a September or early October visit – you will not be disappointed! If you happen to find yourself in GNP during fall season, here are a few of the must-visit destinations:

Morning Coffee @ Many Glacier Lodge

Kick off the early morning after a night of camping at Many Glacier Lake Lodge. Grab a coffee at the lakeside coffeeshop run by world travelers and sit beside a roaring fire overlooking the lake.

Grinnell Glacier Hike

One of the most rewarding hikes on the east side of the park is Grinnell Glacier. This 7.5 mile out-and-back hike stretches along side bright blue glacial lakes and rocky cliffsides marked burnt orange mountain ash trees and alpine meadows. The trail climbs to a perched valley where you will find Upper Grinnell Lake, where the smallest remaining glacier sits in the park: Gem Glacier. The backdrop of Upper Grinnell Lake is called ‘the Garden Wall’ and is part of the continental divide.

Iceberg Lake

Located in prime bear habitat, it is common to see grizzly bears on the distant hillsides of this 10-mile hike. This moderately difficult hike to the lake includes small crossings over footbridges through alpine meadows. A family of moose inhabit the area surrounding IceBurg Lake and can be seen resting in the shade. If you are brave enough, go for a swim in the glacial waters!

Drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road @ Sunset

During peak season, The Going-To-The-Sun road leading to Logan Pass on both the West and East sides of the park is often the most crowded and trafficked road in the park. However, during fall evenings, the road is completely empty – meaning you can pull over, take photos, and view wildlife on your own time! Bring your binoculars to spot birds of prey, big horn sheep, mountain goats, and bear along the way.

Huckleberry Milkshakes @ Two Sisters Café

Treat yourself after a long weekend of hiking and sightseeing with a Montana famous huckleberry milkshake from Two Sisters Café in Babb, MT. This quirky and colorful restaurant makes a perfect pit stop on the way out of the park!

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Winter at the hot springs

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We all heard of the idiom “early bird gets the worm”, probably from your parent, or someone like my friend Michael! I used to, who am I kidding, still am the one who sleeps in till 10 am and can’t fall asleep before midnight.

When I moved to Missoula, MT to study business at the Uni, I got introduced to a community of fun, down-to-earth and adventures photographers, which became really good friends of mine! At the end of summer 2017, I was invited by the supeeeeer duper talented and the sweetest Michael Graef on a VERY early sunrise exposition (4am kinda early!) somewhere outside of Missoula and as much as I thought I could pull myself out of bed, I simply couldn’t. But, there was a time when I agreed to get myself out of bed one morning and meet with the group that was going. To be completely honest, that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

On the day to day basis I love sleeping in as much as I can, but when it comes to getting up to get with a group of creatives, my camera, and explore new areas I am ALWAYS down!

Few nights ago, I got a message from Michael about going to the hot springs in the am with a few other friends, and I will likely never turn down that opportunity, especially on a Wednesday morning when the chances of us getting an empty pool are very high.

Here are a few of my favorite photos of Meghan from that morning, and you can find some behind the scenes in my “Sunrise” highlights on my Instagram @fotografed_ .

Aleksandra Was

Montana’s Top 10 Natural Wonders

Did your favorite Montana natural wonder make the list?

10. Ch-paa-qn Peak west of Missoula, Montana

Ch-paa-qn Peak west of Missoula, Montana
Ch-paa-qn (pronounced “cha-pock-qwin”), is unique in that it is one of very few peaks in the state that possesses at least 4,000 feet of prominence.

9. Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park

Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park
The Gunsight Pass Trail is one of the most spectacular hikes in Glacier National Park, the diversity and variety of the landscapes, wildlife and vegetation are unbelievable.

8. Humbug Spires near Butte, Montana

Humbug Spires near Butte, Montana
The Humbug Spires are a grouping of over fifty granite spire formations that sit just a couple miles South and East of the hook in the continental divide, which makes its Westerly shift from the Boulder Mountains to the Anaconda Range just north the little town of Divide.

7. St. Mary Peak in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains

Saint Mary Peak is one of the most accessible 9,000+ ft peaks in the Bitterroot Mountains and offers spectacular views.
Saint Mary Peak is one of the most accessible 9,000+ ft peaks in the Bitterroot Mountains and offers spectacular views.

6. Belly River Valley along the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park

Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail is a tough trail, but it is worth it. Words cannot express the feeling you get after coming out of tunnel into the Belly River Valley.
Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail is a tough trail, but it is worth it. Words cannot express the feeling you get after coming out of tunnel into the Belly River Valley.

5. Flathead Lake in northwest Montana

Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the contiguous United States.
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the contiguous United States.

4. Great Bear Wilderness near Glacier National Park

Great Bear Wilderness near Glacier National Park
The Great Bear Wilderness is on the west side of the Continental Divide, just south of Glacier National Park. In its 286,700 acres, it boasts some wonderful recreational opportunities for all ages.

3. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Southeast Montana

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
A landscape of sheer cliffs towering 1,000 feet above a ribbon of blue water. An area sought the world over for magnificent fishing and as a place where wild horses still run free. A landscape overlaid with 10,000 years of human history.

2. Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park

Tripple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park
This spire is the three-faceted jewel in the Crown, dividing Rocky Mountain waters among the Columbia’s plunge to the Pacific Ocean, the Misssouri-Mississippi’s slide to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Saskatchewan River’s amble to the Arctic Ocean.

1. The Chinese Wall in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness

Bob Marshall Wilderness
With no roads dissecting the area and no motor or mechanical vehicles allowed, the Bob Marshall Wilderness hails as one of the best preserved mountain ecosystems left in the world. This 1 million acre wilderness holds one of the most brilliant natural features of the Rockies- the Chinese Wall, a 1,000 ft deep limestone escarpment that continues on for miles.

Honorable Mention: Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park (Ron Niebrugge)
While not included here because so little of it lies in Montana, Yellowstone National Park is spectacular. It sits on top of a dormant volcano and is home to more geysers and hot springs than any other place on earth. Approximately 50 percent of the world’s hydrothermal features are at Yellowstone National Park.