Glacier National Park in Montana used a ticketed timed-entry system last year to alleviate traffic and avoid gridlock along its famed Going-to-the-Sun Road. The system was deemed a success, so it came as no surprise when officials announced Monday that the park will use the system again this year during its busiest months.
The system will be in place from Memorial Day weekend through the weekend after Labor Day.
“The 2021 pilot of the ticket system successfully reduced traffic on GTSR [Going-to-the-Sun Road] during peak hours and circumvented the need to fully close access to GTSR due to congestion an estimated 35 times,” Gina Kerzman, Glacier’s public affairs officer, explained. “This was a major accomplishment despite 2021 visitation numbers currently boasting the second highest on record for the park. Avoiding gridlock also ensured access to emergency vehicles and prevented severe vehicle back-ups onto Highway 2 outside the park.”
Glacier isn’t the only national park announcing it will use a timed ticketed-entry system next year. Officials at Arches recently announced the park will use a similar entry system, and officials at Zion announced the park will use a lottery system to allocate permits to enter the area around the park’s most popular hike, Angels Landing.
Crown Of The Continent
Glacier National Park, which the National Park Service 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.
That fame, however, is a double-edged sword. In recent years, the park has experienced a rapid growth in attendance, leading to crowding and road congestion. In 2019, for example, Glacier was the 10th most-visited national park in the country — with more than 3 million visitors, according to the National Park Service.
What’s more, nearly all — approximately 2.6 million – of those visitors went to Glacier 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 Call To Action
Park officials implemented the vehicle entry reservation system for its popular Going-to-the-Sun Road in place last year to ease crowding. Tickets were required from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
At the time, 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 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.
After evaluating how the system worked over the summer, Kerzman told the Daily Inter Lake in September that the park never had to close the west entrance as it has been forced to do in past seasons. The system’s use prevented backups at Glacier’s entrances and also helped ensure visitors were able to find parking.
“Generally, we feel it was a success because it met our major goals,” Kerzman said. “We feel that we were able to manage the number of visitors and be able to ensure a good experience for everybody,”
A Proven Template
Based on last year’s success, Glacier will use the ticketed entry system again in 2022 from May 27 to September 11.
Here’s how it will work: One ticket per vehicle will be required to enter the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the park’s West Entrance, St. Mary Entrance, and the new Camas Entrance. One ticket per vehicle will also be required at the Polebridge Ranger Station to visit the North Fork area of the park.
In 2022, the GTSR entry tickets will be valid for three days — rather than seven days, as was the case last summer. Kerzman explains that this may allow for more tickets to be sold.
Timed-entry tickets for Glacier can be reserved for $2 at Recreation.gov.
It should be pointed out that in addition to the timed-entry ticket, each vehicle is required to have an entrance pass to enter any of Glacier’s entry points. These passes may include a $35 vehicle pass, good for seven days, as well as a valid Interagency Annual/Lifetime Pass or a Glacier National Park Annual Pass.
Know Before You Go
Though the timed-entry system at Glacier aims to alleviate traffic and prevent gridlock that was common in the past, the park may still be crowded. Park rangers advise arriving at Glacier before 9 a.m. or after 2 p.m. to avoid waiting in lines to enter the park.
You can find more information about Glacier’s timed-entry reservation system here.
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to read all of our Glacier coverage, including: