Northern Montana is gorgeous, filled with majestic views made even more magical by wildlife sightings. More specifically, Glacier National Park wildlife sightings make for an experience you won’t soon forget.
Let’s take a journey through winding roads to see gorgeous mountains and the wildlife that call Glacier home.
Table of Contents
- About Glacier National Park
- What Kinds of Wildlife Are in Glacier National Park?
- What Are the Best Places to See Wildlife?
- What Is the Rarest Animal to See in Glacier National Park?
- What Is the Best Place to See Bears in Glacier National Park?
- When Is the Best Time of Day to See Wildlife in Glacier National Park?
About Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park, named a national park on May 11, 1910, sits in northern Montana along the U.S. and Canadian border. The Canadian Waterton Lakes National Park butts up against its northern border, and together they form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Glacier National Park is over 1 million acres in size. Within its borders, there are over 700 lakes, though only 130 have names. The park has an impressive number of plants, featuring more than 1,000 different species.
Glacier earned its name because glaciers carved magnificent peaks throughout the park. Though the giant mountains of ice have slowly disappeared over the last 12,000 years, they left behind an incredible legacy!
What Kinds of Wildlife Are in Glacier National Park?
While Glacier National Park’s landscape is undoubtedly unforgettable, so is the wildlife. Glacier houses 71 types of mammals, six types of amphibians, and 276 different bird species. There are also many fish, insects, and reptiles within the park’s borders.
Glacier is such a large park; it likely comes as no surprise that various habitats sustain the wildlife. Within the park boundaries, you’ll find mountains, lakes, and dense forests.
There’s a certain thrill that comes with seeing a grizzly bear for the first time. Visitors will most likely catch a glimpse of these massive bears during the summer months within the lowland meadows area. While grizzly bears explore the entire park, the most frequent sightings occur in Many Glacier Valley.
Popular hikes with frequent bear sightings include: Iceberg Lake Trail, Cracker Lake Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, Highline Trail, Gunsight Lake Trail, and Hidden Lake Trail.
Grizzlies are omnivores and also scavengers, so their diet varies quite a bit. They’ll jump at the opportunity to prey on the carcass of a large animal killed by wolves or that died battling over a mate. Look for them rooting around for berries and plants or hovering over a fresh carcass.
Mountain goats are cliff-dwelling creatures. These animals are well equipped for living in the mountains and can live in harsh conditions. They can survive in temperatures that dip to 50 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) and 100+ mph winds.
Possibly even more impressive, they can scale slopes at 60-degree angles! Look for them on the cliffs and bluffs throughout the park.
Bighorn sheep travel in flocks, making them easy to spot. These agile mammals can easily hide from their predators as they scale up rocky terrain. They can survive winter even at high elevations. You’ll often find them high on the mountains, nestled among shrubs and grass for a hearty meal.
Wolves are an exciting animal to see while at Glacier, especially since they can be challenging to spot. They like to travel in packs, so if you see one, there’s likely more nearby. The wolves in this park primarily hang out near lower McDonald Lake, Apgar Lake, and North Fork Lake.
Glacier has the densest population of wolverines in the lower 48. There are more than 50 reported wolverine sightings in the park, which may not sound like much, but they’re shy, vulnerable creatures who rarely show their faces. Wolverines are opportunistic predators and scavengers, and if you see one in your lifetime, you’ll be among a lucky few.
Have you ever heard of a pika? Not many have. A pika kind of looks like a combination of mouse, rabbit, and squirrel. These mammals stand about 4 inches tall. Their brown and gray color makes them blend into the rocky surroundings.
Spotting a Pika requires a good eye. You might find them gathering plant materials, preparing for the harsh winters. They’re sensitive to temperatures above 78 degrees, so they’re even more challenging to spot on hot days.
What Are the Best Places to See Wildlife?
Glacier is expansive, with varied habitats for wildlife to thrive. Some areas of the park provide a better opportunity for viewing wildlife than others. Let’s take a look at a few popular Glacier National Park wildlife viewing areas.
Many Glacier Valley
About: You can reach Many Glacier Valley going from highway 89 to Babb and driving 12 miles into the valley. Many hiking trails along this route provide up close and personal encounters with animals and the landscape.
Animals You Can See: Bald Eagles, bears, coyotes, elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep can all be seen in Many Glacier Valley.
Best Time to Visit: This is a great place to view wildlife, specifically in July and August. Visiting in the fall will also provide incredible views! (Don’t forget fall comes early in this part of the country.) Spring and summer are the best times to visit for a chance to spot a bear.
Logan Pass Area
About: Logan Pass is popular among visitors. It’s the highest drivable portion of the park. You can access two of the park’s most popular trails via Logan Pass: Hidden Lake Trail and Highline Trail. If you take the famous Going-To-The-Sun road, you’ll find the Logan Pass visitor’s center.
Animals You Can See: Mountain goats, big horned sheep, and occasionally a grizzly bear are spotted here. The wildflowers earn an honorable mention for this area as well.
Best Time to Visit: The parking lots can fill quickly, especially during the summer. It’s important to arrive as early as possible. Shuttles serve this area and are a great way to see and experience the site without fighting crowd congestion.
Waterton Lakes Area
About: Waterton Lakes Area takes you to the Canadian side of the park. Keep this in mind because you have to cross the border to get there, requiring a valid passport or pass card. To reach Waterton Lakes, take the Chief Mountain International Highway at the park’s eastern edge.
Animals You Can See: Visitors commonly see bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, and black bears. Bring your binoculars for the best and safest viewing opportunities.
Best Time to Visit: Visit during the late spring and summer to see the most active wildlife. As it starts to cool down, the animals will begin taking shelter. Come winter, many park roads will be closed too.
What Is the Rarest Animal to See in Glacier National Park?
While it’s easy to find mountain goats and big horned sheep in the park, not all animals are easy to view. John Waller, one of the park’s wildlife biologists, states that lynx, bears, and wolverines are some of the rarest animals you’ll spot in the park. Consider yourself lucky if you get to spot any of these creatures while visiting!
What Is the Best Place to See Bears in Glacier National Park?
Visitors frequently spot bears throughout the park as the omnivores search for food. While on the east side, many bears spend spring in the valleys and wander to the cooler higher country during the summer. Some bears prefer to spend the entire summer in the meadows and only head to higher elevations to hibernate. Many guests have also told of bear sightings in the Logan Pass viewing areas.
Observe the fields and valleys for the best chance to view one of these amazing mammals, and bring binoculars!
When Is the Best Time of Day to See Wildlife in Glacier National Park?
Early risers have the best chance of wildlife sightings. Animals tend to hide out during the warmest parts of the day. If waking up before the sun sounds like an impossibility, keep your eye out around sundown, as many animals become active again during this part of the day.
For expansive views, gorgeous hikes, stunning lakes, impeccable landscape, and wildlife sightings, Glacier is an incredible park worth adding to your bucket list. It’s a popular national park for a good reason!
Pro Tip: To avoid camping fees and crowds, look for free RV camping outside of the park.
Have you had the opportunity to explore Glacier yet? What Glacier National Park wildlife were you lucky enough to see? Let us know in the comments!
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