It’s about to get a little easier to visit Glacier National Park in Montana. Park attendance begins to slightly drop off after Labor Day, but that day — September 6 — also marks the end of Glacier’s ticketed entry system that requires reservations.
Park officials put the vehicle entry reservation system for its popular Going-to-the-Sun Road in place to ease crowding and road congestion. Tickets are required from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Last spring, park officials faced ongoing COVID-19 mitigations and reduced staffing, as well as construction delays inside and around Glacier. Those factors amounted to a “perfect storm” for delays over the summer, Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said, in an 8 KPAX story at the time.
“The goal [of the ticket reservation system] is to maximize access while avoiding congestion that results in temporary closures of park entrance gates,” Mow explained.
Crown Of The Continent
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 10th most-visited national park in the country — with more than three million visitors, according to the National Park Service.
Indeed, in 2019, approximately 2.6 million people 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.
A Pilot Program
The reservation system, which was a pilot program this year, was intended to alleviate traffic. Here’s how it works: Through September 6, visitors need to purchase — in advance and in addition to park entrance fees — a $2 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.
Park officials said in an Associated Press story that reservations for June sold out within minutes each morning after tickets became available. They also noted that at one point, more than 10,000 people were on the park’s online portal — which is more than three times the number of available tickets. After that, park officials began making more entry tickets available.
Know Before You Go
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is still open, but it is scheduled to close in late October as park management prepares for winter. Although reservations won’t be needed after September 6, visitors still need to buy a park pass to enter any of Glacier’s entrances.
You can learn more about the park’s entrance fees and passes here.
It’s also important to note that as autumn approaches, construction projects will ramp up on several roads. Operating hours for visitor services in Glacier — including the park’s shuttle, campgrounds, backcountry permits, boat inspections, and concession operations — will also begin to adjust, park officials explain.
Finally, seasonal adjustments have also begun for numerous front-country campgrounds. For instance, the Logging Creek and Quartz Creek campgrounds have already closed. Fish Creek campground will close for the season on September 6. Sprague Creek and Many Glacier campgrounds will close September 13.
You can find more information about road construction, campground closures, and operating hour changes here.