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The National Park Service expects large crowds in all parks this year because people are looking for outdoor activities and excursions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. In a proactive move, officials at Glacier National Park announced the park will implement a vehicle entry reservation system for its popular Going-to-the-Sun Road to ease crowding and road congestion. Tickets will be required from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

“We just felt like the ticketed entry would get us a couple of things,” park spokeswoman Gina Kerzman said, an 8KPAX article reports. “First, we would reduce the congestion in the park, and it would also prevent us from having backups on Highway 2. It also would allow our visitors to have a more quality visit and also allow us to protect resources since we expect a high number of visitors this summer.”

A Special Park

Glacier National Park, which the NPS calls the Crown of the Continent, is known for its rugged mountains, spectacular lakes, and more than 700 miles of trails. One of the park’s most popular attractions is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, an almost 50-mile scenic road that makes its way through the park -- and even crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

The flip side of the coin is that the park has a rapidly growing number of visitors. In 2019, for example, Glacier National Park was the tenth most-visited national park in the country -- with more than three million visitors, according to NPS.

Indeed, in 2019, approximately 2.6 million visitors visited the park between June and September. The park’s busiest month is July, and in July of 2019 alone, roughly 900,000 people visited the park. What’s more, even though visitation was down last year due to the pandemic, the park still saw significant crowds.

“We have the making of a perfect storm this season,” Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said in a statement, the KPAX article reports. “Not only do we have ongoing COVID-19 mitigations and reduced staffing, we are also facing construction delays inside and around the park. The goal [of the ticket reservation system] is to maximize access while avoiding congestion that results in temporary closures of park entrance gates.”

An entrance sign in Glacier.

How The System Will Work

In 2020, Glacier National Park had temporary closures 29 times in 25 days at the park’s West Entrance, which resulted in backups along Highway 2, an NBC Montana article reports. Implementing the ticketed entry system increases the certainty that visitors will be able to enter the park.

Here’s how the system will work: Visitors will need to purchase -- in advance and in addition to park entrance fees -- a vehicle entry reservation ticket to enter the 50-mile-long Going-To-The-Sun Road corridor at the West Glacier and St. Mary entrances from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The system will take effect Memorial Day weekend and continue through Labor Day weekend.

What the system will hopefully prevent is what NPS calls a “worst-case scenario” -- in which “visitors may endure 40-minute construction delays on Highway 2 traveling to the park, arrive at the west entrance to find that entry is temporarily closed, and then have to endure another 40 minutes of construction delays to return to the Flathead Valley or head to the east side of the park on Highway 2.”

Know Before You Go

Much of Glacier National Park is still operating under winter conditions; however, spring plowing is expected to begin any day now. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open at the West Entrance. As a reminder, face masks are required on NPS-administered lands when it’s not possible to maintain social distancing. Face masks are also required in all NPS buildings and facilities.

More information about park opening and conditions can be found here. More information about the ticketed entry system can be found here, and when they become available, entry reservation tickets will be available here.

Interested in national park news? Read up on Rocky Mountain National Park’s new reservation system, starting in May.

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