Traffic has been growing at Glacier National Park — and its famed Going-to-the-Sun Road in particular — for years.
Park management used a reservation system last year to manage high levels of traffic within the park and avoid gridlock. That system worked so well that Glacier will use the vehicle reservation system again, from May 27 to September 11. The first batch of reservations will become available on March 2.
If you plan to visit Glacier and Going-to-the-Sun Road this year, here’s what you need to know.
Glacier National Park, which the National Park Service (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 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 challenge for park management is that attendance at Glacier keeps growing. For instance, as of December 1, 2021, 3 million visitors had traveled to Glacier in 2021. That number means 2021 was the second-highest year for attendance at Glacier, lagging only behind 2017 — when a record 3.3 million people visited the park, the NPS notes.
Last year, in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion, Glacier used a reservation system to limit traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road. That system was deemed successful.
“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.”
How To Make A Vehicle Reservation
The NPS has announced it will actually use two vehicle reservation systems at Glacier this year: One to access Going-to-the-Sun Road and the other will be to access the North Fork area via the Polebridge Entrance Station. Vehicle reservations will be needed to access both areas from May 27 through September 11, 2022.
Other areas of the park can be accessed without a reservation.
If you’re wondering why a vehicle reservation system will be used at the Polebridge Entrance Station this year, the answer is simple. Last year, people who were turned away from Going-to-the-Sun Road went instead to the Polebridge Entrance, causing traffic and congestion at the North Fork area.
“The North Fork is managed as a ‘wilderness threshold zone’ with emphasis on solitude, a sense of history, difficulty of access, and limited support facilities.” The NPS explains. “To maintain these values, the park will manage North Fork visitation levels to eliminate the need to temporarily restrict access, improve visitor safety, protect sensitive resources, and provide quality visitor experiences.”
You can begin making vehicle reservations to visit Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork area on March 2, 2022 at 8 a.m. Mountain time. Vehicle reservations for both areas will be available 120 days in advance in a rolling window. That means on March 2, reservations will become available for a visit from May 27 through June 30.
The reservation system will require visitors to set up an account on Recreation.gov and then make a vehicle reservation. There is a $2 nonrefundable fee.
An alternative approach, which is intended “for those who don’t have access to the Internet or are not as familiar with technology,” is to make a reservation through the Recreation.gov call center. That number is (877) 444-6777.
Finally, it must be pointed out that each vehicle entering Glacier is required to have a park pass.
You can find more information about making vehicle reservations to access Going-to-the-Sun Road and the North Fork area via the Polebridge Entrance Station here.
Know Before You Go
It takes roughly 2 hours to drive the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road. The parking lot at Logan Pass, which is 32 miles from the west entrance, is usually full by sunrise during the summer.
If you plan to drive an RV or pull a camper, you’ll want to keep some restrictions in mind. First, vehicles more than 10 feet tall may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass due to rock overhangs. Secondly, vehicles and vehicle combinations which are longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet are prohibited between Avalanche Creek and Rising Sun because the road is narrow in those areas.
You can learn more about visiting Going-to-the-Sun Road here.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to book your home rental!
Be sure to also read the rest of our Glacier National Park coverage, including