What is Alpenglow?

Alpenglow on mountains surrounding Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.

Alpenglow on mountains surrounding Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.


Alpenglow is an optical phenomenon. When the sun is just below the horizon a red, pink, or violet band of color can sometimes be seen on the opposite horizon. Because the sun is low, there is no direct path of light to the mountains. The light reflects off of snowwater, or ice particles that are low in the atmosphere. This circumstance is what determines true alpenglow from a normal sunrise or sunset. True alpenglow is not direct sunlight and is only observed before sunrise or after sunset.

The alpenglow on the Swan Range was breathtaking. I was driving M and E to shooting sports and was  disappointed with myself for not taking the camera. The mountains were shining, (one of Montana’s nicknames is Land of Shining Mountains) and a sight to behold. They made for a spectacular end of the day.

After I dropped the girls off at the Fairgrounds, I drove home. By that time, the alpenglow had faded and I had missed the photo op. I put this status on my facebook page “Dang it, I missed getting a picture of the alpenglow”.  My cousin from Louisiana saw it and asked me “Um what is an alpenglow…?” I can appreciate that. Afterall, she lives (where I come from) below sea level, completely flat, with absolutely no mountains. Besides, it wasn’t till I moved to Kalispell that I had any notion that mountains could turn colors the way they do. Now I really understand what all of the “purple mountain majesties” stuff is all about.

Clear skies were forecasted for the following day. This is necessary, otherwise we may not even get a glimpse of the mountains due to cloud cover. I was determined to get a picture, especially for my cousin. A picture speaks a thousand words and simply explaining what alpenglow is just wouldn’t do. But my truck was cranky and I missed the picture again.

I decided to dig up a picture that Grandpa Davey took out at Glacier National Park (top of this page) to share on Facebook with everyone that may or may not know what alpenglow is. I decided to share it here with you.