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Autumn (Fall) in Glacier National Park

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Autumn - Fall in Glacier Park
Includes How, When and Where to Enjoy the Glacier Park Fall Season
(Scroll down for details)
Fall Colors on the Going To The Sun Road, Glacier Park
Fall Colors along the Going To The Sun Road during an Autumn in Glacier National Park.


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Fall (Autumn) in Glacier Park
Includes How, When and Where to Enjoy an Autumn (Fall) in Glacier Park


Fall Colors along the Many Glacier Road during an Autumn 
in Glacier Park.

Autumn in Glacier Park is shockingly beautiful.  The Glacier Park fall colors are stunning and the sky becomes a vivid electric blue that is more than welcome after a typical fire season where visitors nearly forget what a blue sky even looks like... and the snow in the higher elevations... Autumn in Glacier Park is one of our favorite experiences of the year, and below are some tips we've learned through the years on when and how to enjoy an autumn in Glacier National Park for some memories that will truly last a lifetime.

Before The Leaves Turn, the Grass and Tundra will Change.
Before the leaves begin to turn in mid September, the lush green grass and alpine tundra will turn during the last part of August or early September due to a killing frost.  This is the first sign that the season is about to change. Some areas will be brown, yet some grasslands and tundra will turn a vivid red just as you'd see on the Alaska Tundra in September.  But soon to follow will be the leaves of trees and shrubs....

Autumn In Glacier Park Provides Amazing Fall Colors!
Aspens
Aspens are found throughout Glacier National Park, but they are the most concentrated along the entire east side of the park.  Thousands and thousands of aspen trees blanket the east side’s lowlands and foothills, including the Two Medicine Area, East Glacier Area, Looking Glass Road (State Highway 49), U.S. Highway 89 between Looking Glass Highway Junction and the Canadian Border, Cut Bank Area, St. Mary Area, East Side of the Going To The Sun Road, Many Glacier Area and the Chief Mountain Scenic Highway.  When these aspens turn, the scenery is nothing short of spectacular.  Their colors vary from bright yellow, to orange, to red, to copper.... and these colors will literally blanket the area.  If the conditions are right, you will not believe your eyes during an Autumn in Glacier Park.


Aspens are found throughout Glacier National Park, but there is an ocean of them along the entire east side of the park!

Aspens are also found along U.S. Highway 2 along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park, as well as along the west side of the Going To The Sun Road and the North Fork Road up to Polebridge, Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake.  They are not as thick along the west side as compared to the east side of Glacier Park, but they still put on a remarkable show.

Cottonwoods
There are also a lot of cottonwood trees found on both the east and west side of Glacier National Park, and during an Autumn in Glacier Park the cottonwood leaves turn a bright yellow, adding to the splendor.

Birch
Birch Trees are found mainly west of the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, which turn yellow during an Autumn in Glacier Park.  These birches, along with the aspens, cottonwoods and undergrowth provide a breathtaking scene if the conditions are right.

Undergrowth and Alpine Tundra
In addition to the aspen groves, Autumn in Glacier Park is also enhanced by the colors of the alpine tundra and undergrowth that is found throughout the park.  Reds, oranges, yellows and everything in between will appear along all of the hiking trails in Glacier Park during the Glacier Park Autumn season.

Tamaracks
And just when you think autumn in Glacier Park is over once the leaves fall, the Tamarack Trees (Also called Larch) begin turning a bright yellow all throughout the west side of Glacier National Park in EARLY OCTOBER.  These Tamaracks look just like regular evergreens throughout the summer, but in early October, their needles turn yellow and turn the  Glacier Park forests west of the Continental Divide a stunning array of green and yellow.

WHEN is Best Time to See Fall Colors During an Autumn in Glacier Park?
Typically, the aspens, undergrowth, alpine tundra, cottonwoods and birch trees begin to turn colors during an Autumn in Glacier Park between the SECOND THRU THE FOURTH WEEK OF SEPTEMBER, and the peak color time is during the last several days of September.  HOWEVER, every year is a little different, and the quality of the colors depends on certain conditions....  


Fall Colors along the west side of the Going To The Sun Road During an Autumn in Glacier Park.

Four Important Conditions For A Colorful Autumn in Glacier Park
1. The first condition necessary for a fantastic autumn in Glacier Park is the RIGHT TEMPERATURE.  If it gets too cold (i.e. below freezing for too long), the leaves will die very quickly and never turn the brilliant colors that we all hope for.  And often times these cold temperatures are accompanied by snow, which also is not helpful in bringing out the fall colors because the leaves will freeze and die. During colder autumns in Glacier Park, the leaves go from green straight to brown because the temps were so cold the leaves never got the opportunity to turn color.

2. The second condition is LITTLE OR NO WIND.  If it’s a windy September, the leaves are blown off the trees before anyone gets to enjoy the colors.

3. The third condition that we already touched on is NO MAJOR SNOW STORMS.  Snow is not your friend when it comes to vivid fall colors during an autumn in Glacier Park.  The snow tends to freeze the leaves, killing them prematurely before they had the chance to turn color or to hold on to their color to give everyone time to enjoy and photograph them.

4. And the fourth condition is the LUCK OF YOUR TIMING.  Every year the peak color days are different, and therefore being lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time is a huge factor in catching the fall colors at their best.

Colors and Change By The Hour!
Another important thing to know about fall in Glacier Park is that the colors will change by the hour.  For example, we're driven up the Many Glacier Road in the morning and most of the aspens were not yet turned, and when we drove back on that same road 4 hours later the aspens were all a perfectly bright yellow.  So hours count when the colors are about to pop.  Also, it's important to note that the leaves do not turn the same all at once.  Each section of Glacier Park is different.  Sometimes the Going To The Sun Road will turn color a week before the Many Glacier Road does, and the next year it's the opposite.  And you'll also soon see that one grove of aspen will be at their peak color, and right next to it the leaves are still green.


Aspen grove during a fall in Glacier Park showing the entire range of autumn colors.

TAMARACKS TURN IN EARLY TO MID OCTOBER!
Just as the peak colors for the aspens, cottonwoods and undergrowth ends, the Tamarack Trees begin to turn a bright yellow.  This sparks the beginning of a brand new fall season in Glacier Park on the west side of the Continental Divide.  These Tamaracks are unbelievable... the contrast between the vivid green forests intermixed with the bright yellow Tamaracks will take your breath away.

WHERE are the Best Spots To Visits During an Autumn in Glacier Park?
Autumn in Glacier National Park is different every year, including the locations of the “hotspots”.  However, for the most part, there are some classic spots that are “must sees” when the the conditions are right.  Below is a list of these “must see” spots:

1.  Going To The Sun Road, both East and West Sides.
During the third and fourth weeks of September, the Going To The Sun Road (when the conditions are right), will blow you away.  Our favorite side is the west side as you can look up the entire valley all the way to Logan Pass from the road near The Loop, where the valley is filled with yellow and orange aspen leaves.  There are several pullouts that are unbelievably gorgeous, and it’s obvious which ones they are when you’re up there.   The east side is also fantastic, and very much worth the drive over to St. Mary to catch these colors.


A view along the West Side of the Going To The Sun Road during an autumn in Glacier Park.


Autumn in Glacier Park along the West Side of the Going To The Sun Road.


Autumn in Glacier National Park along east side of the Going To The Sun Road near Rising Sun.


Classic shot of the west side of the Going To The Sun Road during an autumn in Glacier Park.


2.  Many Glacier Road.
This remarkable 12 mile road that begins at Babb Montana from U.S. Highway 89 is fantastic any time, but when the fall colors are at their peak during an Autumn in Glacier Park, the Many Glacier Road is beyond breathtaking and is a “must do” during your Autumn adventure in Glacier Park.... AND  AS A BONUS, this is a great time to see bears long the road as they are frantically trying to fatten up before they crawl into their dens.


Many Glacier Road during Autumn in Glacier Park.

3.  Two Medicine Road.
The 7 miles long Two Medicine Road is very much worth your while when the fall colors are in their full glory.  The aspens and cottonwoods, as well as the undergrowth shrubs and bushes, really put on a show along this scenic road.


Two Medicine Road with Rising Wolf Mountain towering over it during an Autumn (Fall) in Glacier Park.

4.  Looking Glass Highway (State Highway 49).
Located north of East Glacier Park Montana, beyond the Two Medicine Road Junction, rests a wonderfully scenic, winding road that provides outstanding vistas of the Two Medicine Area, Cut Bank Area and more.  All along this winding, narrow road are aspens and cottonwoods, and the valley below once you get on top will make you gasp when the colors are at their peak.


An autumn view along the Looking Glass Highway (State Highway 49) north of East Glacier Park.

5.  Cut Bank Road.
The five mile long gravel road to the Cut Bank Campground drives you through some tremendous aspen groves, and if you hit it just right the drive will be well worth your while.  The Cut Bank Road junction is located between St. Mary and East Glacier Park Montana along U.S. Highway 89.


September snow on the peaks in the Cut Bank Area... photo taken from Looking Glass Highway.

6.  U.S. Highway 2 Between West Glacier and East Glacier.
This roadway follows the Middle Fork of the Flathead River along the southern border of Glacier National Park, and is a great drive during the peak of the fall colors... both in September during the aspen/cottonwood show and the October Tamarack show.


7.  Chief Mountain Scenic Highway (State Highway 17).
Located north of Babb Montana just off U.S. Highway 89, the Chief Mountain Scenic Highway will provide probably the most memorable vista of your entire Autumn In Glacier Park Adventure... that is when the conditions are right.  IF your lucky and hit it just right, the entire massive expanse of aspens below Chief Mountain near and on the Chief Mountain Overlook will be bright yellow, orange and red, and you’ll probably get tears in  your eyes as you gaze upon this natural wonder.  


Chief Mountain towering above an ocean of aspen during a fall in Glacier Park.

The bonus is getting a blue sky and a dust of snow on Chief Mountain... that’s the “Holy Grail” when it comes to Autumn in Glacier Park.  The problem is that often times the trees in this vast expanse  of aspens are on different schedules. Some sections will have NO leaves on the trees and others have peak color leaves... and yet other sections still have green leaves.  So to actually hits it just right when ALL of the trees are in the same peak color phase is not an every day occurrence.   We’ve waited 3 to 4 years between a “full blanket” year.... so if you luck out and hit it right, burn all the of memory cards you have on this glorious scene.


Chief Mountain during an Autumn in Glacier National Park.  This photo was taken along the Chief Mountain Scenic Highway.


Chief Mountain rising above an ocean of aspens.

8. North Fork Road.
The North Fork Road is a mainly graveled road that runs between the Camas Entrance to Glacier National Park (north of Apgar Village), along the North Fork of the Flathead River... all the way to Kintla Lake in the northwest corner of Glacier Park.  During a Glacier Park autumn season, the trees along this road can be very colorful... and Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake are known for the spectacular Tamarack display in early October when these “evergreens” turn a vivid yellow.


But Is Anything Open?
That’s a really good question.  After mid September, the  Glacier Park lodges and services begin to close, leaving you to “fend for yourself”.  We realize this seems really early, but without fail the park service and the surrounding businesses in the gateway communities begin wrapping things up in preparation for winter.  The campgrounds in general remain open, but soon after mid-September they will begin shutting off the water so the pipes don’t freeze and break. 

By the first of October, all of the lodges are closed, including St. Mary, as well as most of the businesses in the St. Mary Area, East Glacier Park Area and West Glacier.  Glacier Park Campgrounds are open but no running water is available.  So you’re kind of on your own after this.  A lot of visitors rely on the businesses located along the U.S. Highway 2 Corridor between West Glacier and Kalispell via Corum and Columbia Falls for lodging and services.  To give you an idea when the lodges close up in Glacier National Park each fall, see below:

2018 Closing Dates For Glacier Park Lodges:
Many Glacier Hotel, September 18
Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (at Many Glacier), September 16
St. Mary Lodge and Resort, September 27
Lake McDonald Lodge, September 26
Glacier Park Lodge, September 23

Autumn Hiking In Glacier National Park
We absolutely LOVE hiking in Glacier National Park during the autumn season... the fall colors are crazy beautiful, and crowds are gone for the year.  The air is crisp, clear and cool, and the sky is a remarkable “electric blue”.  The higher peaks will begin having snow on them, making for a great photo opportunity.


Hikers enjoying the Hidden Lake Overlook on Logan Pass during a fall in Glacier National Park.


Fall colors along the Swiftcurrent Pass Trail in the Many Glacier Area of Glacier Park in Autumn.


Logan Pass during a fall in Glacier Park.


Garden Wall above the Highline Trail during a fall in Glacier Park.

Shannon hiking along the Highline Trail during a fall in Glacier National Park. Click Image to watch video.

Great Animal Viewing During An Autumn in Glacier National Park!
Autumn in one of our favorite times of the year to watch animals.  The elk and moose are rutting, the bears are eating berries like crazy to fatten up, the bighorns are migrating, and the mountain goats are growing out their long white hair... It really is a great time of year to observe and/or photograph these remarkable animals.


Grizzly Bear during a fall in Glacier Park.


Bugling Bull Elk during a fall in Glacier Park.


Black Bear during an autumn in Glacier National Park.


Mountain Goat during an autumn in Glacier Park... on Logan Pass.

Be Prepared For Winter Conditions
Now of course, beyond late August, a winter storm can blast through at any time, bringing with it deep snow and frigid temperatures, so make sure you are prepared for this type of weather... whether you’re hiking in Glacier Park or driving the roads.  During this time of year in Glacier Park, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN when it comes to the weather... ANYTHING.


Logan Pass Webcam.  A September snow storm is not at all uncommon during a fall in Glacier National Park... This one closed the Going To The Sun Road for over a week.


Hiking along the Hidden Lake Trail on Logan Pass in September during a fall in Glacier Park.



Mountain Goat along Hidden Lake Trail during a fall in Glacier Park.


View along the west side of the Going To The Sun Road during an autumn in Glacier Park.

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