Glacier National Park, Montana

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Northern Montana’s expansive Glacier National Park offers over 700 miles of trails, with 760 lakes, 175 mountains and two dozen glaciers. The park runs along the Canadian border, as well, and I find that the best town for flights to the area is Kalispell, Mont., about 33 miles from the West Glacier entrance. West Glacier is beautiful, and nearby Lake McDonald is the largest body of water in the park. The 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is the main transportation through the park. At the midpoint, the Logan Pass Visitor Center at 6,700 feet is a good stopping point for lunch, information and hiking. Those fit enough for strenuous hiking can get spectacular views of Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier along the trails in that area. In addition, there are a great many backcountry trails and camping opportunities if you can secure a backcountry permit. Throughout the park you’re likely to see abundant wildlife, including mountain goats and bear. Vibrant wildflowers carpet many parts of the park in midsummer.

Weather in Glacier National Park varies greatly throughout the year. Most visitors arrive in the summer months. Expect summer days to be very hot and humid. Bring plenty of water. Weather can be unpredictable—snow has been recorded in August. You might be enjoying a warm sunny day and then within an hour be drenched with a cold, driving rain. The most rainfall usually occurs in June. (Be sure to bring rain gear for yourself and your camera.) Winter can be inhospitable, with bitter cold, wind and deep snow averaging about 40 inches in January and temperatures averaging between 15° F and 28° F, but as low as -35° F.

Photo Experience
I bring a standard backpack load, which includes several lenses with focal lengths from 14mm to 300mm. Careful decisions may have to be made depending on the difficulty level of the hike and your fitness level. I never hike with my 300mm ƒ/2.8, but leave it in the car for driving the roads to spot wildlife. On a strenuous hike, I may have to opt for the lighter 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G. Photographers interested in the wildflowers should bring a macro lens like my Nikon Micro-Nikkor 105mm ƒ/2.8G lens. Landscapes are usually shot with a 14-24mm or 24-70mm on my full-frame Nikon D3. A tripod is a must. I’ll bring the Gitzo Explorer with a Really Right Stuff ballhead.

Best Times
Most photographers and tourists visit Glacier National Park in the summer. It’s a great time of year for wildlife (I’ve photographed many bear, mountain goats, deer, rams, etc.), with easy accessibility to roads, hiking trails, campgrounds, hotels and restaurants. The park is very crowded, however. In early autumn or after the first snow, the Many Glacier Road that bisects the park for easy east-west access is closed. Without it, the drive around the south tip of the park to the other side is quite lengthy. I once made a trip in early autumn and found it virtually deserted. It was a wonderful experience because an early snow blanketed the mountains, but there was still abundant color in the aspens. The drawback to visiting this time of year is that the campgrounds and park hotels are closed. Always tell someone where you’re going, especially in the winter. A few years ago, my 4×4 nearly slid off an icy road and over a cliff drop of several hundred feet.

Contact: Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800,

Essential Gear…
Available for Canon, Nikon and Sony APS-C cameras, the Tamron 18-270mm Di II VC PZD zoom lens is a compact, but versatile single-lens solution for working with everything from wildflowers to landscapes to wildlife. With Vibration Compensation for reducing camera shake, the 28-419mm equivalent focal length offers a 15x zoom range that starts wide and extends into telephoto range. The lens itself weighs slightly less than a pound, making it an ideal choice for keeping your load light on longer treks. Contact: Tamron USA, (800) 827-8880,



    Well done article. From someone that makes my living as a nature photographer, and who also lives in glacier this information is relatively accurate. I would suggest however that you consider Great Falls as your destination. Nothing against the Kalispell, but most people find that the east side is more scenic and therefore you’ll spend a lot more time there. The west side of the park cant hold a candle to the east side, and the drive up along the rocky mountain front as not parallel. Keep informed about glacier park photography if you like @ A blog i’ve keep up for about 5 years. I’m always looking for other people to post subjects or stories. Thanks again James for a well written article.

    nice article-I to do a lot of work from Glacier-it is the place to be if your interested in scenic/wildlife or landscape.Winter is amazing here as it is a real test on your camera gear but spring and summers are awesome as well.

    I was recently in Great Falls, and attended a presentation by the management of the Great Falls Airport. The GF Airport is expanding, and their goal is to include additional flights that will be attractive to tourists traveling to Glacier National Park, and Missouri River country. As a Montana native, my preferred entrance into Glacier is from the east, where the mountains rise spectacularly from the rolling prairie. I love the east side trail system — and the west! Also, paddling sea kayaks in GNP, or YNP is an exceptional outdoor experience — just make sure you “know what you’re doing”. Of course, all of this includes taking lots of photographs.

    saturday 5 may,2012

    great article,those of us that live here like to here from people who have visited. one correction to your article is that the many glacier road does not bisect the park , it ends at the many glacier hotel aprox. 15 miles from babb. while most places are closed in the fall we stay open longer ( all year if you want to book) check us out at PAUL RANCH .com

    Thanks for the nice remarks everyone. I’ll definitely look into the Great Falls airport next time I fly. A quick note: The “Essential Gear” section of the article is not what I submitted & I’ve never used Tamron (but I’m sure they’re great lenses). My original Essential Gear for the article reads as follows: Tenba?۪s Shootout backpacks are rugged, weather-resistant, and well-planned. Though a laptop sleeve is included, I use it for a camelback water bladder. The materials are top-notch and warranty service is prompt and accommodating.

    The article’s introductory image is, I think, one of the worst photos I have ever seen of Glacier National Park. My God, isn’t anyone doing PHOTOGRAPHY anymore? Or is it all HDR-like horribly staturated montages???

    Writer seems a bit of on just a couple of ccomments. Summers are seldom humid, but can be hot. Many Glacier road does not bisect the park, it is in the northeast part of the park. Going to the Sun road bisects the park. Views of Grinnell Lake and Glacier can be accessed off of Logan Pass, that is the highline trail and it is 6 miles out, and then a steep .75 mi. up to the overlook. A hike not for the unprepared photographer. For great Glacier info., go to trip advisor, forums, montana, glacier national park.

    Hey Jeff – I appreciate your concern but this is not an HDR image. If you would like to share a link for any of your images that exemplify good photography I’d love to see them (not sarcastic here – always willing to learn from others.) Doug – I’m from AZ so just about anywhere seems humid to me. I incorrectly said Many Glacier bisects & meant to say GTS instead, thanks for the correction.

    James- you could have been sarcastic and it would have been ok. You handled the snarky, silly comment quite well. On my way out to the three parks in a few weeks and very much appreciate everything here (except Jeff’s inappropriate whining). Thanks, I’m stoked!

    BTW, since you don’t mention a lens..I have the wide angle covered but I’m planning on renting something larger (than my 70-200) for my Eos 1d mark II. Leaning towards the Cannon 100-400 plus doubler. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    My wife and I are considering a trip to the park with the primary purpose photography. It is large and I don’t want to fumble around when I arrive searching for great sites for sunrise and sunset. Can you direct me to a list / site that give directions for excellent places to plant our tripods? It will help in choosing our lodging.

    I appreciate any help you can provide.
    Chuck N+13

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