5 Reasons to Photograph Glacier National Park
Words and photographs by Matt Meisenheimer. Learn about the photography workshops Matt leads in America’s National Parks and worldwide.
1. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most spectacular roads in the world.
After ten years of construction, the road was completed in 1932 and was instantly recognized as an engineering marvel. The road spans 50 miles and connects the east and west entrances of the park.
Driving on the road is quite the experience. It’s fairly narrow and winds up to Logan Pass, the highest point on the road at 6,647’. Expect to see amazing glacially carved valleys and huge mountain peaks. Photo opportunities are scattered all over the road. There are many pull-offs that you can take advantage of, either by shooting right off the road or hiking for a better vantage point.
I personally like shooting around the areas by Logan Pass. In mid-summer, the roadside explodes with wildflowers, which make a great foreground to pair with the mountains. A trip to Glacier just isn’t complete without driving the Going-to-the-Sun road. I love the diversity it offers too. You can shoot in the lower elevations along Saint Mary Lake and Lake McDonald, or go up to the higher elevations of the road for a totally different experience.
2. The wildflowers are downright awesome.
The park has three distinct ecosystems coming from the west, east, and north that basically clash into one. This means you get a lot of diversity in the plant communities and that’s great news for photographers....we get LOTS of wildflower species.
The wildflower bloom in Glacier begins in July. When the lower elevations melt you, the flowers start to pop up. I spent two weeks in Glacier during July and meadows were covered in lupine, asters, and daisies. Now, if you miss the low elevation bloom, you can always make it for the alpine bloom. The alpine bloom usually starts in mid-July and peaks in early August. The alpine bloom provides a great opportunity for a foreground of wildflowers with some of Glacier’s iconic mountains in the background.
Wildflowers are my #1 compositional element to look for during summer in the mountains, and Glacier makes it easy. Try looking around Logan Pass and some of the pull outs along Going-to-the-Sun Road as you get closer to Logan Pass from either direction.
3. The fall colors in Glacier do not get the respect they deserve.
While everyone flocks to the Rocky Mountains to the south in Colorado each fall, Glacier stays under the radar. But, I’m telling you the fall experience in Glacier is much better than its counterpart to the south. There are aspen and cottonwood stands all over the park that turn bright yellow and orange in fall...and add in mountains dusted with snow. The photographic opportunities are literally endless.
Glacier is much less busy in the fall as well. Depending on when you go, the park might be completely dead. Much of the east side of the park shuts down the last week of September. The park service, the concessionaires, restaurants, and many hotels in the area close for winter. However, if you are open to camping and being relatively self-sufficient you can have the park pretty much to yourself.
Peak fall on the east side usually occurs the first week of October. I visited last year in October and was treated to amazing colors all over the east side of Glacier and there were no people outside of a few photographers in the park. I camped just outside the park and it remains one of the best trips of my life. Go for it!
4. The alpine lakes are beautiful.
I’d be hard pressed to come up with an area that has the beautiful lakes PLUS the easy access that Glacier does. Add these lakes to your trip to Glacier: Lake McDonald, Saint Mary Lake, Two Medicine Lake, and Swiftcurrent Lake. If you’re open to longer hikes, add Grinnell Lake and Iceberg Lake to the list. All the lakes listed are incredibly photogenic, as each has crystal clear water with prominent mountains towering over them. Their shorelines are usually speckled with extremely smooth, vibrant rocks (something you’ll notice right away throughout the streams and lakes of the park) and wildflowers too. They are great for reflection shots when calm, but during periods of high winds, most of the larger lakes get huge waves. I personally like photographing the lakes during high winds because of the great wave action you can get...it adds a lot of drama to your scene. It’s easy to visit all these lakes during a weeklong trip in Glacier so why not add all of them to your list?
5. Glacier is king of dramatic weather.
There seems to always be instability in the forecast, due in part to the fact that Glacier stands as a clashing point for the warm, wet air of the Pacific and the cold, dry air of the Arctic. I find this is especially evident in fall. The weather is crazy, which means fantastic light for photographers. I’m talking clear sky one minute, absolute white-out blizzard the next, and then lenticular clouds moving into the area for days. If you can deal with the bad and wait it out, you will be treated to fantastic conditions.
I recommended visiting in fall again. Not only are the colors great, but the weather is extremely unpredictable. High winds ravish the area in fall, making those lakes I mentioned a prime candidate for a great fall shot. Summer can be great for weather too. Thunderstorms constantly move through the mountains and can make for epic light...departing rainstorms often leave fog in the valleys too. Really, no matter what season you visit in, you can’t go wrong with Glacier.