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Glacier National Park in September

September is the best time to visit Glacier National Park! The weather is lovely, it’s far less crowded than in summer, and you can even see fall colors starting mid-September! We’ve compiled everything you need to know about visiting Glacier in September, the top fall hikes, and other things to do in Glacier National Park.

Does Glacier National Park have fall colors in September?

Glacier in September has amazing fall colors! The trees change colors around mid-September and reach full gold foliage when the Larch trees change around mid-October.

Is Glacier cold in September?

It can be a bit cold. The average high in September is 72 down in West Glacier and the average low is 40. It might not seem cold but it’s typically 10-15 degrees colder up at Logan Pass. Similarly, Many Glacier is usually 10 degrees colder than West Glacier.

Where can I see fall colors in Glacier?

Glacier Valley is filled with Aspen trees! Fall colors are best enjoyed on the scenic drive up Going-to-the-Sun road but there are many great hikes with fall colors through all regions of the park.

Do I need reservations to visit Glacier N.P. September?

Yes and no! Up until September 8th, you will need a vehicle reservation to drive into Glacier National Park from any entrance station. After September 8th, you don’t need any reservation to visit Glacier National Park! Plus, the park campgrounds are all first-come first-serve after Labor Day. This is one of the great parts of visiting Glacier in September.

Glacier National Park In September
You thought summer in Glacier National Park was beautiful? Wait till you see this…

Why Visit Glacier National Park in September

1 | Fewer Crowds

Glacier is one of the most stunning National Parks in America but it’s also one of the most crowded! Doing a Yellowstone to Glacier National Park road trip was the most popular trip in the West this year!

The good news is, when your summer turns to fall and September comes around, the park empties fast!

Glacier in September is far less crowded than mid-summer which can make for a much more enjoyable experience whether you driving the Going to the Sun Road or hiking one of Glacier’s top 5 trails!

2 | Fall Colors in Glacier

Fall Colors in Glacier, Going to the Sun road
Stunning fall colors on Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road

Plot twist, fall comes early in the Rockies. While fall doesn’t technically begin until September 22nd this year, mountainous areas don’t get the memo.

At high elevations like Glacier National Park, nightly low temperatures make the fall leaves change colors much sooner.

This is great because during the great month of September, you can enjoy pleasant warm days and low crowd levels, while also enjoying beautiful fall colors!

Best Time to See Fall Colors

Generally, you can see fall colors best between mid-September and mid-October.

Aspens are the first to turn colors around mid-September. Aspens change colors first on the west side of the Going to the Sun Road and eventually make their way to the east side of the park (including Many Glacier, Two Medicine, and St Mary’s) by the end of September.

Western Larch trees are even more abundant in the park and even more spectacular to see however these don’t change color until mid-October.

3 | No Going to the Sun Road Reservation Required

Logan Pass, Glacier in September
Open roads on Going to the Sun Road in late September

The Going to the Sun road is a Glacier bucket list adventure that you can’t miss!

If you didn’t know, in Summer 2021 the National Park Service implemented a new ticketed entry system for Going to the Sun Road. In 2024, the National Park Service extended that system to many of the access roads in the park. This means you have to obtain a ticket reservation in advance to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road as well as the North Fork Road, Many Glacier Road, and Two Medicine Road.

What’s great about visiting Glacier in the fall is that after September 8th, you don’t need a ticketed entry to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road!

If visiting before September 8th, read our blog about how to get a reservation in Glacier National Park in September.

4 | Services Still Available

While fall colors stay through October, many services don’t. Many campgrounds close in October as do most of the lodges and Visitor Centers inside the national park.

In September, almost everything is still open!

The Going-to-the-Sun road is usually open until the 3rd Monday of October but can often close sooner depending on the weather. In September, you’re almost guaranteed to be still able to drive the scenic highway.

You can click here for the current road status in the park.

5 | Backcountry Camping Permits

Backcountry camping permits are very difficult to obtain in mid-summer. In September, it’s much easier to get these permits which are available in-person up to 24 hours in advance.

What to Pack for Glacier National Park in September

Gear up right for glacier with our top 5 favorite outdoor essentials:

  1. Grab the REI Flash 22, our all-time favorite day hiking pack
  2. Join our Live Outside the Box revolution with our Nomads With A Purpose Merch line
  3. Choose a functional style with Kuhl’s Splash Roll Ups for women and the Renegades for Men
  4. Wear our favorites. The La Sportiva Bushidos is our all-time favorite hiking shoe
  5. Camping? Our favorite piece of gear that we never leave without is the Luci Outdoor 2.0 Solar Lantern

Things To Do in Glacier in September

1 | Drive Going to the Sun Road

No trip to Glacier is complete without driving the legendary scenic highway up to the top of Logan Pass. On this drive, you’ll spot stunning fall colors. With less congestion, it’s easy to take your time and stop at all the great pullouts along the way.

If you’re an active traveler, take a quick hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook. It’s not the best hike for fall colors, but it is one of the best glacier hikes. In the summer it’s always crazy crowded and in September, it’s so much more peaceful. In late September, don’t be surprised if the meadows are covered in snow.

2 | Go For A Hike

With fall colors and fewer crowds, September is a great time to hike in this beautiful National Park. Some hikes give way to better fall foliage viewing opportunities.

The east side of the Continental Divide has more coniferous Aspen trees which change color. This makes the hiking better at Many Glacier, Two Medicine, St Mary’s, and Apgar.

3 | Watch Wildlife

While summer is certainly full of great wildlife viewing opportunities, the possibility of seeing rare wildlife is even better in fall when bears are fattening up for the winter. Glacier is along a key North American migration route and you’ll see many eagles, hawks, raptors, deer, elk, and more! 

4 | Drive Highway 2

Highway 2 is the highway just outside of Glacier National Park that takes you past West Glacier, to Essex, and beyond to East Glacier. This beautiful drive is full of hidden gems that most people don’t know to explore on a trip to Glacier.

Click here to see the 5 best hidden gems hikes along highway 2. 

In late September, I recommend taking a day to drive this highway, either stopping and doing a hike or just driving out to East Glacier Park Village and back.

5 | Explore Looking Glass Hill Road

Keep your scenic drive going from Highway 2 and continue onto Highway 49 to the 11-mile section of road known as Looking Glass Highway. This less popular scenic road gives you views of Two Medicine fall colors from a high vantage point.

6 | Go for A Fall Float

Rafting is all the rage in summer in Glacier but when temperatures start to drop, the idea of cold water might not sound so appealing.

Fortunately, the Middle Fork River slows down in September and many rafting companies in the area offer relaxing, fall floats. Less about adrenaline, these floats give you great views of fall foliage.

7 | Bike the Camas Road in the North Fork

Biking Glacier's Camas Road
Biking Glacier’s Camas Road
Photo credit: explorewhitefish.com

The North Fork road is an unpaved dirt road near the Bowman Lake area. Biking the Going to the Sun Road is fun in spring, but in the fall, biking this dirt road is unforgettable due to vivid fall foliage.

Best Fall Hikes in Glacier National Park

When it comes to fall hikes in Glacier, lower elevations are usually better. Here are some of the best treks to take on in September!

Many Glacier Fall Hikes

Many Glacier, Glacier NP
Many Glacier is a basecamp for great fall hikes

Many great hiking trails bring you through fall foliage the best of which includes Bullhead Lake (7 mi RT). Many Glacier is a great place to find fall colors!

Iceberg Lake and Cracker Lake are stunning hikes too but don’t have quite as many colorful trees.

If you’re looking for a shorter hike, try Apikuni Falls which is only 2 miles roundtrip.

Two Medicine Fall Hikes

If you’re looking for a strenuous fall hike, Firebrand Pass or Pitmakan-Dawson Pass loop are full of fall foliage aspen trees and deliver amazing panoramic views. These two hikes are 10 miles and 15 miles round-trip respectively and are no easy feat, but make for memorable fall colors.

If you don’t want a strenuous hike, the easy hike to Lower Two Medicine Lake is also great.

Pitmakin-Dawson Pass Hike, Glacier National Park
Full of fall colors down low, and epic views of high, Pitmakin Pass is a no-brainer for the most adventurous folks.
Photo credit: 10adventures.com

St Mary’s Fall Hikes

St Mary’s area has two great fall picks. The Beaver Pond Loop (3.5 mi RT) may seem just average in the summer, but in fall it’s a colorful wonderland and a super easy way to see fall foliage.

If you want a more epic hike, check out Gunsight Lake. While it’s not full of quite so many aspen trees, the alpine lake at the end is incredible.

Apgar Fall Hikes

Apgar is a better choice for fall hikes in very late September because it’s primarily Larch trees. If you are visiting at this time, Rocky Point is a beautiful fall hike with views of Lake McDonald too.

Related- 50 Best Hikes in Glacier broken down by easy, moderate, and strenuous and by location within the park

Where to Stay in Glacier National Park in September

Many Glacier Lodge or Campground

Many Glacier brings you up close and personal with epic nature. When you stay up here, fall colors are right outside your front door whether you stay at the lodge or the campground. The lodge here is almost like a European Refugio, and if your budget allows for it, staying here is an unforgettable trip.

Campsites at Many Glacier
Beautiful camping at Many Glacier

If you want to be surrounded by nature more, Many Glacier Campground is probably the best National Park campground in the US. The campground has amazing forested sites and feels off-grid but also has comfortable amenities like flush toilets, drinking water, and trash services.

Many Glacier is open July 14th through September 15th and can be reserved on a 6 month rolling basis.

Lake McDonald Lodge or Apgar Campground

If you’re visiting in late September when Larch trees begin to go golden, staying closer to Apgar and Going to the Sun Road is a great choice.

Lake McDonald Lodge is on the north end of the lake, right on the water, and feels like a cozy cabin retreat.

Apgar Campground is one of our favorites since you’re close to Apgar’s town amenities and still surrounded by forest. Apgar Campground is open through September 30th but only reservable beginning May 24th.

Cedar Creek Lodge

Cedar Creek Lodge is actually in Columbia Falls, just 15 minutes outside the park but is extremely popular. Staying here makes you closer to the upscale ski town, Whitefish, and feels like staying at a ski resort in itself.

RelatedGuide to RV Road Trip or Camping in Glacier

Are you visiting Glacier this September? Let us know in the comments and tell us which of these things you’re most excited to see!

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Debbie

Sunday 17th of March 2024

We are staying in Lake McDonald Lodge Sept 18-21 and need to know if any shuttles will still be running in that area then and if not, if there is other transportation as we won’t have a car. Also wondering if horseback riding is still available then. Thanks!

Robyn Robledo

Sunday 17th of March 2024

Glacier National Park’s free shuttle service on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is scheduled to operate July 1st through Labor Day, weather permitting. Horseback riding with swanmountainglacier.com is MAY 25TH TO SEPTEMBER 22ND, 2024

Chris

Tuesday 30th of August 2022

I am just beginning to explore what a trip to Glacier will look like beginning September 12 and for possibly a two week stay. We are a couple in our early 70's traveling with our RV and really want to experience the best Glacier has to offer including all key sites mixed with some hiking. The RV can function without a hook up but we would prefer that option. Your website has given us a great overview of what to expect and any insights that could help us cut to the chase of where to stay in order to cover the most highlights would be great. For example, should we stay put in one site or is there a reason to move to different campsites (other than perhaps space considerations on the park of the particular facilities)? Thanks

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