When I started looking into going to Glacier National Park in Montana, everything I saw said to avoid going there in June. This mainly has to do with the weather. As this is basically the beginning of the summer season for Glacier, not all of the services and lodges are fully up and running, Going to the Sun road will still probably be snowed in until later in the month, it’s the rainiest month of the year at the park, and there is still the possibility of some really unusual weather, like a snow storm. All of these are valid reasons to schedule a visit to this wonderful park later in the year. Sadly, I was only able to visit the park in early June. Not wanting to miss out, and not being sure when I would have the chance to go there again, I decided to head into the park in June anyway.
We decided to take Amtrak across the country, as it allowed us to make multiple stops in different places for the same price as just traveling direct through. It was our first time to take Amtrak, and I have to say the experience was great. It was a comfortable and affordable, albeit slow, way to travel. Coming from the east, the train arrives in East Glacier Park, the town on the east side of the park, a bit before 7 in the evening. We had booked a night’s stay at the Mountain Pine Motel. I can’t recommend this place enough. The owner, Terry Sherburne, is a gracious and accommodating host. I had actually made a mistake when booking, and reserved the room for the following night. Because it was so early in the season though, we were able to get a room for the night we arrived and cancel the reservation for the next day. Terry was very accommodating and understanding. This would not have been possible even a couple of weeks later in the month.
Not having a car, we planned to take the shuttle bus into the park the next day. While the iconic red buses don’t start running until a bit later in the season, the regular shuttle buses start on June 7th. Both sets of buses are operated by Glacier Park Inc., and depart from Glacier Park Lodge. Information about the shuttle schedule can be found here, however, this information is so inaccurate, it’s almost entirely a fabrication. We found out when we went to the lodge that there were only two buses running a day, and not on the any of the times listed on the website. The timetable the driver had that I saw briefly showed that this schedule was to remain in place for the foreseeable future. Do not plan your trip based on the information on the website. It is much better to call and try to determine actual bus times and make a reservation. Reservations are required later in the season anyway, as the park is much busier. Coming back from the park was also an adventure, as different people we talked to about the bus had different information, and it was a bit stressful making sure we got on a bus that would get us back in time to catch our train. It also seemed like they don’t plan on sending the bus up into the park if there is no reservation for someone to come back down, so make your reservation for the return journey before you get up into the park proper.
Despite the issues with the buses, our time in the park was incredible. We were only there for two days, and we did see some variation in the weather. The first day we were there was incredibly hot and sunny, while the second was cloudier, alternating between being overcast and being pleasantly sunny. It was clear that the weather could change suddenly though, so bringing some rain gear is important when visiting the park in June.
We camped at Many Glacier, and there are a number of trails that you can access from the campground there. Many of them can be done in relatively short out-and-back routes, making them perfect for the unpredictable weather. Wear some good footwear and bring a raincoat, and you can head out on several different trails. If the weather turns bad you can jacket up and carry on, or head back to the campsite to wait it out a bit. Easy easy. Backcountry camping makes the weather a bit more of a challenge, but if you plan to stay at the campground at Many Glacier or Two Medicine, you have plenty of options for one day or half day hikes that would allow you to handle whatever kind of weather you encounter. It’s such a stunningly beautiful park, you don’t need to go far to have your breath taken away.
Note that none of the lodges actually in the park are open early in June. You will need to bring your own food with you. The campsite at Many Glacier has toilets and water only.
The primary benefit to going to the park this early is that it’s not crowded. This is a popular park for very good reason. Once you get into late June reservations are required for pretty much everything. The campgrounds, trails, and roads will all be very busy with other parkgoers. Visiting the park in June is a much more peaceful experience, although you do miss out on Going to the Sun road.
In short, don’t write off going to the park if the only time you can get there is June. Don’t miss out on this gem of a park. It’s well worth the visit at any time in the season.