Glacier Park Breaks Annual Record After September

Upper alpine stretch of Sun Road closed; 2.72 million people visited Glacier Park through September

By Beacon Staff
A visitor snaps pictures of fall colors in Glacier National Park. Beacon File Photo

With the recent arrival of winter weather, the upper alpine section of Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed for the season after the busiest stretch in Glacier National Park history.

After only nine months, Glacier Park already set a new annual attendance record with more than 2.72 million visitors in 2016. According to figures released this week by the National Park Service, last month was the busiest September in park history with more than 468,000 visitors, a 33.4 percent increase over last year.

The year-to-date total of 2.72 million visitors is a 20.4 percent spike over the same period in 2015. This year’s nine-month total surpasses last year’s all-time mark for the full year — 2.36 million — and marks the third consecutive year of record visitation in Glacier.

Following the bustling tourism season, the NPS announced Tuesday the seasonal closure of most of the Sun Road. The road remains open for 15.5 miles on the west side to Avalanche Creek and to the foot of St. Mary Lake on the east side. The road was slated to close for the season later this week but shuttered early due to recent winter conditions that swept the region.

The Camas Road is currently closed at McDonald Creek and the Camas/North Fork Entrance due to the weather. The Two Medicine Road is also closed at the park boundary due to the weather. The Chief Mountain and Many Glacier roads remain open.

Each of the last five months — May through September — set monthly attendance records in the park, benefiting from the NPS centennial celebration and a mild fire season in the region as well as reports of strong domestic travel across the U.S.

Visitation through the West Entrance spiked 25 percent in September compared to 2015 with more than 200,000 people. For the year, the West Entrance is up 9.5 percent with more than 1.17 million visitors.

At St. Mary, visitation jumped from more than 80,000 in September 2015 to more than 106,000 this September, a 32.6 percent increase.

Visitation at the Izaak Walton/Goat Lick area went from roughly 2,800 in September 2015 to nearly 25,000 last month. Year-to-data visitation is up 65 percent.

The total number of overnight stays is up nearly 14 percent this year with more than 398,000. RV overnight stays are up 28 percent with more than 124,000 and tent overnight stays are up 21 percent with over 134,000. Backcountry overnight stays jumped 18 percent with more than 38,000.