Summer is off to another busy start in Glacier National Park.
An estimated 177,256 people visited Glacier last month, the second most on record for the month of May, according to the National Park Service.
Reflecting summer’s deluge, May’s spike in visitation is only the beginning — June, July, August and September are the four busiest months in Glacier and drew an estimated 2.5 million people a year ago.
The local national park is riding a three-year streak of setting annual visitation records and is coming off its busiest ever — 2.94 million people in 2016 — thanks in part to the NPS centennial, which boosted attendance to record highs at sites across the U.S.
There doesn’t appear to be much post-centennial slack in visitation, illustrating a new normal for the Crown Jewel of the Continent.
Last month saw roughly 6,600 fewer visitors than May 2016, when a record 183,925 visited. The NPS began collecting monthly figures in 1979.
Year-to-date visitation is also down this year compared to last year — 253,852 visitors compared to 292,529 — but 2017’s pace remains well ahead of historical averages.
For example, there were 42,500 more visitors this May than two years ago, and 65,000 more than three years ago.
The first six months of 2017 saw roughly 26,000 more people than the first six months of 2015. That year went on to see 2.33 million visitors, a record at the time.
Last month’s overall dip in visitors was largely due to specific drops at Walton/Goat Lick and Two Medicine. The west entrance saw an 8 percent increase with 95,631 people.
The iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road is a prime driver of visitation, and access continues to expand following its seasonal closure. On the west side, vehicle traffic was allowed to Avalanche Creek on May 12. On the east side, traffic is allowed from St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook.
Plow crews are clearing the final section of Sun Road before the thoroughfare can fully open.
Last year the NPS opened the full 50 miles of road on June 16. The latest opening of the full length was July 13 in 2011. The earliest opening was May 16 in 1987.