Wildlife in Glacier National Park

3 Best Places to See Wildlife in Glacier National Park

One of the most common reasons people vacation in Glacier National Park is the chance to see the park’s incredible wildlife. The amazing network of hiking trails means that up-close encounters with the wildlife in Glacier National Park are frequent if you know the right places to be in the park.

In part because of the incredible wildlife, Glacier National Park and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park have been designated as Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The park is recognized as an area that demands specific preservation, research and focus on the impacts of human use.

Today we’re posting some tips about where you have the best chances of spotting wildlife in the more than 1 million acres of the national park.

Grizzly Bear in Green Field

What Wildlife Live in Glacier?

The wildlife in Glacier National Park have been protected for more than 100 years, since the park’s establishment on May 11, 1910. This long-standing wilderness protection has allowed more than 70 different species of mammals and more than 260 species of birds to call Glacier home. The park also hosts some few unique species of fish and reptiles that lucky visitors come to spot.

Some of the most popular wildlife in Glacier:

Bears – It’s hard to talk about Glacier without talking about bears. Home to both black bears and grizzly bears, Glacier has one of the most advanced bear research programs in the National Park Service. The park is home to the core of the remaining grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states.

Mountain Goats – Famous on many postcards of the park, the mountain goats in Glacier National Park are true survivors. They can survive the extreme winter temperatures of the park and can be seen hanging perilously high up on the mountain cliffs of the park.

Moose in Glacier National Park – Many Glacier Road

Moose – The first time we saw a moose in Glacier National Park was truly one of our best national park memories. Seeing one of the park’s moose is what many visitors remember the most about their trip to the park. It can be especially exciting to encounter calves in the spring.

American Pika -If you do any hiking above the tree line in Glacier, you’re likely to spot these chipper member of the rabbit family along the rockslides. They make a distinct noise as an alarm call.

Other animals to add to your Glacier National Park Wildlife checklist:

  • Bald & golden eagle
  • White-tailed Ptarmigan
  • Loons (Glacier is home to 20% of all the loons in Montana)
  • Snowshoe hare & Mountain cottontail
  • Bobcat, Lynx & Mountain lion
  • Red fox, Swift Fox, Coyote & Gray wolf
  • Pronghorn, White-tailed Deer & Mule Deer
  • Elk
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Yellow-bellied marmot & Hoary marmot
Wildlife in Glacier National Park

3 Best Places to See Wildlife in Glacier National Park

1. Many Glacier Valley

We’ve written elsewhere on Park Chasers about how much we love the Many Glacier Valley of Glacier National Park. It has far fewer people than the western side of the park and by far has the best hiking trails. We’ve encountered moose, bears, deer, mountain goats and hundreds of different species of smaller mammals and birds.

Many Glacier Campground, one of the places to see Wildlife in Glacier National Park
Many Glacier Campground

As you enter the Many Glacier entrance gate, watch the Sherburne Reservoir for eagles and other birds. Then scan the slopes for bighorn sheep and mountain goats. You’ll frequently find park rangers in the parking area of the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge with spotting scopes to help with spotting the ‘mountain dandruff’ what the locals call the tiny specks of mountain goats way up on the hillsides.

Getting There

From Montana Highway 89, travel north past the St. Mary Visitor Center to the town of Babb. Enter the park on Many Glacier Park road. As you enter the valley, popular places to spot wildlife include the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail, Ptarmigan Falls Trail, and Redrock Falls/Bullhead Lake Trails.

Related Links

Logan Pass Visitors Center - Glacier National Park
The Logan Pass Visitor’s Center

2. Logan Pass Area

Another popular spot to view wildlife in Glacier is near the Logan Pass area. Logan Pass is the highest point you can reach by vehicle in the park. It’s also a popular spot to the subalpine wildlife in the park (mountain goats, ptarmigan, bighorn sheep, pica, and marmot).

When we were at Logan Pass the last time, a grizzly bear wandered through the visitor’s center and parking area, so it’s even possible to see them at this elevation!

Hiking the famous Highline Trail and the Hidden Lake Trail also provide good chances to see wildlife away from the busy traffic congestion of the parking area.

Getting There

The Logan Pass Visitor Center can be reached by traveling the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, which divides Glacier National Park north to south through the heart of the park. It’s a popular destination in the summer months and it’s best to get there early in the day or stay later in the evening to see wildlife.

Checking road conditions on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is important. The road opens late in the season (mid-June) and closes frequently for inclement weather. The road shuts for the season generally by mid-September.

Related Links

Deer lounging near the buildings in downtown Waterton

3. Waterton Lakes Area

Just north of the Canadian border, Glacier National Park extends into the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, one of the few national parks on the planet managed by two different countries. It was the first internationally managed park in the world when it was established in 1932. Since then the NPS and Canada’s park service have protected populations of bears, elk, mule deer, and fish that live in and around Waterton.

Around town, you’re likely to spot bighorn sheep and mule deer which frequent the common areas and fresh green grass of the campground. Elk and black bears are popular along the lower valleys. Look for animals along Blakiston Creek and Lower Waterton Lake as you enter the park on Highway 5. The Canadian government also maintains a small population of bison at the Bison Paddock near the Waterton Park entrance.

If you have the opportunity to hike or take the boat shuttle to goat haunt, look for mountain goats, bears, and bighorn along the slopes.

Getting There

Waterton Park and the Visitor Reception Area can be reached by traveling the Chief Mountain International Highway along Glacier’s eastern border (Canadia Highway 6, U.S. Highway 17). Note you must have a valid United States Passport to cross customs at the Canadia border.

Related Links

Big Horn Sheep at Haystack Pass in Glacier National Park
Big Horn Sheep at Haystack Pass in Glacier National Park

Safely Viewing Wildlife in Glacier National Park

Given that the wildlife in Glacier tend to hang close to the park’s trails and roadways, the National Park Service posts (and enforces) guidelines about safely viewing wildlife in the park. This is from the NPS Website:

Keeping a Safe Distance
Approaching, viewing, or engaging in any activity within 100 yards (91.4 meters) of bears or wolves, or within 25 yards (23 meters) of any other wildlife is prohibited. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to improve your view. Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear and move away if wildlife approaches you.

https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/bears.htm

Other tips to safely view the wildlife:

  • Never intentionally get close to an animal. No selfie is worth it.
  • Individual animals have their own personal space requirements. Every animal will react differently and its behavior cannot be predicted.
  • If you see a bear along the road, please do not stop near it. If you wish to view the bear, travel at least 100 yards (91.4 meters) and pull over in a safe location. Roadside bears quickly become habituated to traffic and people, increasing their chances of being hit by vehicles. Habituated bears may also learn to frequent campgrounds and picnic areas, where they may gain access to human food. 
  • Pets pose a risk to wildlife in Glacier. They are allowed in developed areas like front country campgrounds and picnic areas but are NOT allowed on any of the trails, lakeshores or in any buildings.
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THE PARK CHASERS

Greg & Amy
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3 thoughts on “3 Best Places to See Wildlife in Glacier National Park”

  1. Pingback: Glacier National Park Trip Planning Toolkit - Park Chasers

  2. Pingback: 5 U.S. National Parks With Native Mountain Goats | The National Parks Experience

  3. Thanks so much for the information. My wife and I will be there next week for our first time as we are trying to fulfill our bucket list of all 50 states and National Parks too. I love your site and it has helped a lot on our travels. Keep up the great work and I will let you guys know what we find from your tips.

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