Driving north on U.S.93, our anticipation heightened as we approached Flathead Lake. It was the beginning of the last week of September, already we were seeing patches of autumn-yellow on the mountainsides. My wife and I had left Missoula, Montana that morning heading for Glacier National Park to meet up with friends from San Diego. We’d been planning this photography trip for almost a year. Finally it was coming together.
Passing through Kalispell, then Columbia Falls and West Glacier, we continued down U.S.2 another ten miles beyond the park entrance. We were staying at Glacier Wilderness Resort, a small cluster of modern log cabins nestled in the forest on the edge of the Great Bear Wilderness Area. The next morning dawned chilly and wet with new snow on the Flathead Mountains. Not to be dissuaded, we drove into the park for breakfast. With the snow unrelenting, the ladies preferred to browse the gift shops while my photographer friend and I planned our shooting locations.
Most of the park’s facilities were getting ready to close for the season. The summer crowds were gone, the remaining folks felt a camaraderie with the other hardy visitors. Early morning photography at Saint Mary Lake gave us wonderful light across the Lewis Range, the snow-capped peaks bright against the sky. The restaurant at the Many Glacier Hotel served delicious French fries with our lunch of buffalo burgers. We even had another lunch of buffalo burgers the following day at the Glacier Park Lodge, a first rate facility.
We found brilliant late afternoon autumn colors along U.S.89 between Saint Mary and Two Medicine, with vast scenic views and a sky full of mares’ tails cirrus. It was interesting to note how some aspen leaves turned from yellow to orange to red.
Just a few days before our arrival, the Park Service had closed a portion of the Going-To-The-Sun Road near Logan Pass for repairs. Although disappointed in missing those high-elevation view points, we spent the golden hours of each day photographing other far reaching areas of the park.
At dawn one morning, we drove along the un-paved Inside North Fork Road from Fish Creek to Logging Creek to Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake. A low fog was rising through the vibrant autumn colors as bull elk and mule deer wandered across our path.
Weather is always a consideration when planning photography at Glacier National Park. Snow is common in September. Be prepared with winter clothing. A four-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance is reassuring on the unimproved roads in and around the park.
Beginning photographers and seasoned shooters will find autumn in Glacier National Park to be an extraordinary visual adventure.
Lee Robinson is a freelance writer, photographer and business owner living in Sandy, Utah with his wife and two retired racing greyhounds. You can see more of Lee's photography on his blog.