Glacier National Park in Winter: Things to Do + Useful Tips

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Planning a trip to Glacier National Park in winter? The gorgeous Montana park transforms into a winter wonderland and is calling your name!

Glacier National Park has quite the summer reputation as it becomes a hiking paradise and filled with campers… but winter in Glacier National Park is just as spectacular.

This guide will tell you all the wonderful things to do in Glacier National Park during winter, including where to stay, winter activities, and practical tips.

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If you are visiting Glacier National Park, or any of the other 2,000 federal registered sites in the US, we highly, highly recommend
purchasing an ‘America the Beautiful’ pass that lasts for 1 year and grants you admission to all registered sites.  At only $79.99, it is a steal and one of the best values for your buck for US travel!

>> Purchase your National Parks Pass here and start traveling!

If you have any tips for a Glacier National Park winter trip, please leave us a comment!

Reasons to Visit Glacier National Park in Winter

There are many reasons to visit Glacier National Park during winter but the main reason is to beat the crowds. The park has far fewer crowds in winter than it does in summer.

Another perk to visiting Glacier National Park in winter is that the area becomes a wonderland for sports enthusiasts and those that love snow and ice!

Winter activities in Glacier National Park - ice climbing
There are many winter activities in Glacier National Park

With that being said, flights are also cheaper during the winter months and so are the prices of accommodation in the area.

Basically, if you love snow and experiencing a true winter, Glacier National Park is definitely one to put on your Montana bucket list.

Quick Facts about Glacier NP

Location: Montana
Size: 1,013,322 acres
Annual Visitors: 3,049,839 (2019)
Established: May 11, 1910
Closest big city: Columbia Falls, MT
Glacier National Park Highlights: Apgar Nature Center, Lake McDonald, Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass, Iceberg Lake Trail, mountain goats

When is it Winter in Glacier National Park?

Glacier National Park experiences a pretty long winter. You will find that it is the ‘summer’ season from late May until early September and snowfall can arrive in the park as early as September.

How Cold Does it Get in Glacier National Park? (Temperatures & More)

Naturally, winter arrives when it arrives in Montana and while winter in Glacier National Park is technically December, January, and February, it can feel like winter far beyond those months.  

For the sake of this guide, here are the average temperatures and precipitation days in Glacier National Park in December, January, and February:

  • December: Highs of -3C/27F, Lows of -10C/14F, 19 rainy days
  • January: Highs of -1C/30F, Lows of -9C/17F, 19 rainy days
  • February: Highs of 0C/32F, Lows of -10C/14F, 16 rainy days

Does it Snow in Glacier National Park?

It is not surprising at all to discover that Glacier National Park receives a lot of snow annually.

On average, you will see about 29 inches of snow near West Glacier’s Headquarters and about 157 inches at the main Headquarters.

Glacier National Park mountains and trees in winter

What to Wear When Visiting Glacier National Park in Winter

I spent years living in Scandinavia and I thought that made me an expert when it came to cold weather.  Needless to say, it definitely took me a couple of years to claim that expertise, after several failed attempts. When I look at it, my wardrobe for an Oslo winter is pretty much the same as during a Glacier National Park one.  

Note: I am a huge fan of REI for all of my winter gear in the US, but I also love throwing minimalistic Scandinavian brands into the mix.  I am listing an array of my favorite winter gear below.

Winter Parka

You need a winter parka for Glacier National Park.  Point blank.  I actually love my Helly Hansen Svalbard parka and I have worn it on several of my Arctic trips and it has served me so well.  Helly Hansen is a Norwegian brand and they know winter and outdoor clothing well.

Because of the severe temperatures at Glacier, I only feel comfortable recommending the parka above as I haven’t had a chance to test others since this one has always done the job for me!  Click here to see my Helly Hansen Svalbard parka (I own it in black because I’m boring).

Crampons

If you’re not sturdy on your feet (*sheepishly raises hand*), definitely invest in a pair of crampons for your Glacier winter trip.

What are crampons? They are basically attachable ‘traction’ for your boot.  They can feel a bit awkward when you first put them on but at least you won’t end up with severe back pain from having to hold your gait funny in the end. I have used them on some of the best hikes in Banff National Park as well as some of the iciest sidewalks of my life in Norway!

I have used several types throughout the years and I found that these ones from Yaktrax are the best ones for me, personally.  Click here to purchase them on Amazon.

Sorel Snowboots

There is actually nothing worse on the planet than frozen feet.  At least for those surrounding me, frozen feet are a surefire way for me to complain and annoy everyone else.  So, I take my snow boots seriously!

I have used Sorel Snowboots for the last 7-8 years and I love them.  I think I purchased them because they were trendy at first, but they served me well and I haven’t looked back and I ended up purchasing multiple pairs.  But, my favorite pair is this one.

Make sure you buy them big enough that you can throw some thick wool socks on when you’re dressing for your adventure in GNP!  Click here to purchase my Sorel Snowboots on Amazon or, if budget isn’t a factor, this other Sorel pair that I recommend from REI.

In addition to what I listed above, I definitely recommend that you take a good pair of mittens (never gloves), thermals, and a hat.  The hats I recommend (stylish, yet warm) are from two of my favorite Danish brands Libertine-Libertine and Samsøe & Samsøe.

By the lake during winter in Glacier National Park
Make sure you pack the right gear for winter in Glacier National Park!

What to Pack for Glacier in Winter (Gear & Miscellaneous)

Packing the right clothes is always the most challenging part, but you need to consider the other things you will bring with you, too. 

Below are some items I always tote along in winter when I travel to cold places and will definitely make a great addition to your Glacier NP trip.

Mobile Power Bank

The weather will deplete your cellphone battery.  I repeat- the weather WILL deplete your cellphone battery.  Bring a mobile power bank with you to ensure you can snap photos whenever you want!  Click here to purchase my recommended power bank on Amazon.

Extra Camera Batteries

If you’re into photography but have never photographed in a cold setting, you’re going to want to ensure you have a few extra batteries to bring along for the ride.  The camera battery will deplete quicker in subzero temperatures just like phone batteries do. 

I also travel with a USB charger for camera batteries that I can stick in my mobile power bank in case times get tough.  Click here to find a USB charger for camera batteries.

READ MORE:  Best National Parks to Visit in December

Dry Bags

It will be snowy and the weather will be a bit off-putting on certain days on your winter in Glacier National Park vacation… so don’t let it ruin your equipment or gear!  I travel with dry bags just as an extra precaution and they have served me well all over the world.  These dry bags from the Friendly Swede are my favorite.

Glacier National Park Travel Tips

Winter Driving in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park shuts down many roads during the winter. In fact, the only maintained roads are around Apgar Village, 11 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road (located on the western side of Lake McDonald Lodge), and a mile and a half on St. Mary Campground’s eastern side.

Winter roads to Glacier National Park
Winter roads to Glacier National Park

It is advised to monitor Montana road conditions prior to your trip to Glacier National Park in winter to ensure everything looks suitable for driving.

If you experience mild weather while there during the winter, you might get very lucky with road closures!  Click here to check current road conditions.

Facilities Open at Glacier NP

While the roads in Glacier National Park may shut down during the winter months, the park is technically never closed. Winter may feel never-ending in GNP, but the park goes along with it accordingly.

As for the visitor centers, here is the winter status in GNP:

  • Apgar Visitor Center (West Side of the Park): open on weekends in winter (but only if staffing permits)
  • St. Mary Visitor Center (East Side of the Park): closed in winters (closes in early October and reopens in late May)
  • Logan Pass Visitor Center (Going-to-the-Sun Road): closed in winters.

Glacier National Park Winter Entrance Fee

The entrance fee for Glacier National Park during winter is $25 per car or $15 per person. The annual pass is $70 per person.

Alternatively, you can opt to get an America the Beautiful pass which will cost you only $79.99 a year and grants you access to ALL US national parks!  And not only the national parks, but also the monuments and other sights.  You will have over 2,000 US national sites included on the pass and it is SO, SO worth it.

>> Click here to get your America the Beautiful Pass

Things to Do in Glacier National Park During Winter

There are many things to do in Glacier National Park in winter and here are some of the top places to visit, things to do, and activities:

Go Cross-country Skiing

If you’re a lover of new adventures, then definitely opt to go cross-country skiing in Glacier National Park in winter! The ski trails offer you gorgeous views of the snow-covered paths and large trees that saturate the Montana park.

To have a safe cross-country skiing experience, it is vital to check the trail closures and potential avalanche threats. Carrying the essential equipment and ensuring you are well-experienced is also vital due to the risk of avalanches and lack of marked routes throughout the park.

Cross country skiing in Glacier National Park in winter
Cross country skiing in Glacier National Park in winter

Another thing to potentially watch out for is hypothermia– so dress appropriately and know your risks before going out there.

Some of the top cross-country ski areas in Glacier National Park are:

  • Apgar-West Glacier
  • St. Mary
  • North Fork
  • Lake McDonald-Avalance
  • Two Medicine
  • Marias Pass

If you’re looking for cross-country skiing outside of Glacier National Park, here are some of the top areas to consider for your adventure:

  • Glacier Nordic Club (at Whitefish Lake Golf Club)
  • Big Fork Community Nordic Center (near Swan Mountains)
  • Blacktail Mountain Nordic Center (located on the way to Blacktail Mountain Ski Area)
  • Stillwater Nordic Center (about 8 miles NW of Whitefish)

Stop by the Apgar Visitor Center

There are three visitor centers in Glacier National Park, and one of them is the Apgar Visitor Center. It is located on the western side of the park.

You can get the maps and publications of Glacier NP, one of the most visited US national parks, in this visitor center. The opening hours of this visitor center changes according to the season.

Travelers can get information about planning their Glacier National Park winter trip and activities across the region inside of the Apgar Visitor Center.

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There are free parking services at the visitor center, and you can also board free shuttle buses for your trip around the park. In addition, you can also explore other useful facilities inside, such as a bookstore, restroom, and wifi.

The Apgar Visitor Center also organizes an astronomy program, and you can join it if it is currently available and something you’re interested in. 

Hike to Apgar Lookout

One of the top activities in winter in Glacier National Park is the hike to Apgar Lookout.  This 10.5-mile long trail steepens gradually and the hike must only be completed or attempted by those that are well-experienced.  And by well-experienced, we mean… also skilled with hiking during winter conditions and snow!

After you park your car, you will need to take the left fork from the lot across the Quarter Circle Bridge.  From there, you will take to the right and walk for half a mile before arriving at the actual trailhead for Apgar Lookout.

Although the trail may seem easy during the start, the latter part of the hike definitely is difficult for those that are not well-versed in hiking (and winter hiking). 

However, if you have the chance to successfully complete the hike, you will be greeted by a spectacular view from Apgar Lookout over the park!

Hike Fish Creek to Apgar

The Fish Creek Campground is the beginning point for many of the hiking trails in Glacier National Park.

One of the best hiking trails in winter in Glacier National Park is the trail from Fish Creek to Apgar simply because it offers spectacular views and landscapes. The hike is around 7 miles in total.

The trail finishes at the top of Apgar Mountain.  Beginner hikers may have challenges on this trail but those that are well-experienced will enjoy the process of winding through forests and rugged Montana terrain.

Glacier National Park winter sunset

One thing to really watch out for, however, is wild bears.  Depending on when you’re there, they ‘should’ be hibernating, but if you try tackling this hike in the shoulder season, you need to be careful.  

Nearby Apgar village also offers hikers a glimpse of rural America.

Dog Sledding near Glacier National Park

Are you looking to experience the incredible wintry nature in a unique way that will leave memories for years to come?  Try dog sledding near Glacier National Park at Dog Sled Adventures in Montana!

This local business offers family-friendly dogsledding in Montana right outside of Glacier National Park (on the western flank of the park).  They have 130 huskies trained to pull the sleds and run through the northwest Montana scenery.  

READ MORE:  Best things to do in Whitefish, Montana

Dog Sled Adventures in Montana is open daily, weather permitting.  Another perk of Montana dog sledding is that you have the chance to see other wild animals along the way.  To find out more, including tour info, check out their website.

Go to Lake McDonald (West Shore)

One of the most iconic places in Glacier National Park is Lake McDonald and you can still get epic views during the winter months!

The best way to complete this hike is to snowshoe or cross-country ski.  The trail will start from the south of McDonald Creek Bridge and it is around 1.8-3 miles long depending on your pace and which paths you take.  You will meander through forests on this popular Glacier National Park hike.

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in winter
Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in winter

If you’re looking for something a bit more organized, opt for one of the ranger-led snowshoe walks.  Also, be sure to download the skiing and snowshoeing brochures from Glacier National Park that will provide trail descriptions and maps.  

Some of the landmarks you’ll see on this trail to Lake McDonald are St. Mary Lake, Red Eagle Lake, McDonald Creek, and McDonald Falls.

Hike to Apikuni Falls

Apikuni Falls is situated in Glacier National Park and the roundtrip hike there is about 2 miles in total, but it is a steep climb at around 625 feet.  This means that you definitely need to be prepared before going into the hike (while it may not seem too daunting by the numbers, it is steeper than expected).

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This trail winds through a dense pine forest and you can hear the water of the falls while you’re climbing.  

The famous Glacier National Park hike will start right by the main road and if you have trouble making your way up there, don’t worry, there are some resting points along the way!

Visiting this popular attraction in Glacier National Park in winter also allows clearance for you to check out some of the wildlife that may greet you, such as chipmunks, mule deer, squirrels, and more.

Snowshoeing in Glacier National Park

During the winter at Glacier NP, you have to try snowshoeing, one of my favorite winter activities!  Since many of the roads in the Montana national park are closed during the winters, it is truly one of the best ways to navigate the large park.

Since the park spans over one million acres in size, it gives you the chance to wander about a bit and check out as many of 60 species of mammals that call the park home.  This alone makes it one of the best places to snowshoe in the world.

Snowshoeing in Glacier Lake National Park
Snowshoeing in Glacier Lake National Park

There are several ranger-led programs in place at the visitor centers in GNP and the fee is merely $7 in order to go snowshoeing there.  If desired, you can also hire a guide for the route.

Ski to Grinnell Glacier (Experienced)

Grinnell Glacier is probably the most famous glacier in the park and it is 5.1 miles one-way from the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.

So, is this famous glacier able to be seen during the winter? Technically, yes. But, it is not easy. The road may be closed and that requires you to venture there by cross-country skiing just to get to the trailhead (around 12 miles). This is definitely only for the experts and extremely experienced adventurers.

So, you’re technically looking at 12 miles to get to the trailhead, another 3.8 miles one way from the trailhead to the lake… totaling 16 miles of snowshoeing or cross-country skiing one way.

This 32-mile round trip adventure would ideally need to be completed in a single day since most campgrounds are not open. So, yes, you can technically work your way to Grinnell Glacier in winter, but only if you’re the top 1% when it comes to being equipped to do so!

Ice Fishing in Glacier National Park

Another fantastic winter activity in Glacier National Park is ice fishing.  Not only is ice fishing a popular past time in Glacier National Park but also all of western Montana!

One of the most crucial things about ice fishing in Montana is that you need to plan ahead! You are going to need your normal tackle like hooks, sinkers, and bobbles but you also will need some type of bait (salmon eggs work well). Also, you will need an auger (ice drill).

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Also, be sure to have an ice skimmer, shelter (if you need one), and a lot of extra clothing! Montana temperatures are unforgiving!

Glacier County has many awesome places where you can go ice fishing. Flatwater Lake is a top spot as it is the Western US’ largest natural freshwater lake. Whitefish Lake is also amazing starting in late December.

If you want to check out the perfect ice fishing itinerary for Glacier National Park and other nearby national parks, click the previous link!

Glacier National Park Winter Lodging 

Since most of the park closes during winter, you definitely will need to plan your Glacier National Park lodging situation beforehand!

The following cities and towns are the best places to stay near Glacier National Park in winter:

All of the places offer a variety of winter accommodation for guests.

Camping Near GNP (Winter Options)

If you’re wanting to go camping in Glacier National Park in winter, you can obtain a backcountry camping permit beforehand by consulting the park services 24 hours in advance at the Apgar Backcountry Permit office.

Alternatively, you can RV camp at the Apgar Picnic Area and St. Mary Campground. The Apgar Village campstore may be open but I wouldn’t count on it. Instead, stock up on supplies and groceries in Columbia Falls or Hungry Horse.  Camping and glamping in Glacier National Park is definitely a viable option- better done in summer but not totally impossible during the winter!

Airbnbs near Glacier National Park

Another option of places to stay in Glacier National Park in winter is at an Airbnb near the park.  Here are some of our top picks for Airbnbs in Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish:

Many people are conflicted about where to stay for a trip to Glacier National Park.  We highly recommend Whitefish.  Not only are there many awesome things to do in Whitefish, but it is one of the most charming towns in all of Montana.

Should You Book a Winter Trip to Glacier National Park?

If you love snow and adventure, Glacier National Park in winter is most definitely for you!  It is a winter wonderland nearly six months a year and has something to offer every active traveler.

Not an active traveler? Visiting during winter in Glacier National Park may shorten the number of activities you have to choose from, but you will be in awe of the views of the Montana bucket list destination!

If you have a favorite thing to do in Glacier National Park during winter, please leave a tip below!

Pin This Winter in Glacier National Park Guide

Planning a trip to Glacier National Park in winter? This guide details what to know about winter in Glacier National Park - tips, lodging, activities, and more! | Glacier National Park winter | Glacier National Park Montana | US National Parks | Glacier National Park skiing | Glacier National Park Snowshoeing | Glacier National Park hikes | Glacier National Park lodging | Glacier National Park trip | Glacier National Park winter snow

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