Looking for Wildlife in the Many Glacier Valley

How to capture the beauty of traveling through Glacier National Park


No trip to the park is complete without spending a day looking for wildlife in the Many Glacier Valley. As a general rule, wildlife is most active in the mornings and evenings. You will need your telephoto lens to maintain a regulated safe distance at all times. I use the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm lens. This VR lens is designed to be handheld so I can react more quickly to any wildlife activity without having to set up a tripod. I usually set the shutter speed no lower than 400, that way I can guarantee little blurring if the subject moves. Use your car as a blind; respect the rules of the park and road; and have fun.


Both kinds of bears frequent the valley. The wildflower fields just past the park entrance near the Apikuni Falls trailhead is a great place to see grizzly bears. I have spent several mornings watching them on their rounds, digging under the rocks, and chasing after ground squirrels. Ask around for recent sightings, then park and wait. Bears have trails, daily rounds they go on, and odds are if they were sighted there yesterday they will be sighted there again. Another clue to look for is a pile of blueberry-filled droppings larger than your hand. Take precautions; don’t ever surprise a bear; respect their space; and be prepared to use bear spray if necessary.


These guys can be spotted almost anywhere. I’ve had close encounters in the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot as well as on the road. The horns of both species are sharp. Maintain your distance at all times. The females are pretty ratty in the spring as they shed their winter coat, but it is also the best time to view the kids. Look for their nurseries on the green slopes. The bighorn sheep rams travel in a group separate from the females. They have game trails they frequent, one of which crosses the road near the entrance to the hotel.


Birds are plentiful in Many Glacier Valley all season long. At Swiftcurrent Lake, especially in the early morning hours, osprey can be seen fishing. Along the park road, several species of hawks perch on the snags. A multitude of songbirds are found along any of the trails, anticipate where they are going to land for the best shots. Near sunset look for flocks of the beautiful painted Cedar Waxwings who I have observed roosting on the weathered snags above the Many Glacier hotel.




If you can, arrive before dawn at Swiftcurrent Lake at the back of the Many Glacier Hotel. Bring coffee and stake your claim to one of the most photogenic sunrise spots in the park. Check for sunrise times. It’s not unusual to have crowds made up of PJs and tripods. If there are too many people for your liking, then head down the Swiftcurrent Lake Trail to the left of the hotel. There are several quiet viewing spots near the shore’s edge. If you’re lucky you might even spot a snowshoe hare hiding in the shadows. Always keep the telephoto as your default lens on your camera.

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