August in Glacier Park: Second Busiest Month Ever

More than 908,000 people visited the park last month

By Dillon Tabish
Visitors snap selfies at the Oberlin Bend overlook in Glacier National Park on July 18, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

August was the second busiest month ever in Glacier National Park.

More than 908,000 people visited the park last month, according to the latest National Park Service statistics.

Last month’s attendance was the second highest monthly total ever behind July, which surpassed 1 million visitors.

The flood of visitors also shattered Glacier’s previous all-time mark for the month of August by more than 150,000 people. Glacier drew 748,000 people last August, when the NPS centennial celebration drew record crowds.

August marked the third consecutive month of record visitation this summer. June set a monthly record with a 28 percent increase in visitors and July spiked 23 percent over the previous record. August was up 21 percent.

The latest monthly statistics have not been released for other large parks, such as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, but if July’s trend continued into August, then Glacier was once again among the busiest national parks in the U.S.

The record-breaking summer has led to a spike in parking problems, congestion and even emergency medical issues, leading park officials to establish a multi-year planning effort to address the seasonal flood of visitors.

Park officials have been reporting full parking lots at Logan Pass, Avalanche, Bowman Lake and other popular locations in the early hours of each day. Campgrounds at all corners of the park were similarly packed with eager, and oftentimes out-of-luck, visitors. Gridlock conditions at certain areas and access roads have forced temporary closures. For the first time ever, the park implemented a one-hour time limit for approximately 60 parking spaces at Logan Pass.

The frenetic pace of summer and Glacier’s unprecedented popularity have recently subsided with the increased wildfire activity. Last week the west side of the park, from the south end of Lake McDonald to Logan Pass, closed and evacuated due to fires. The closures will likely prevent September from breaking its monthly record of 482,500 people from last year.

Despite recent fire activity and closures, Glacier is on track to break its annual attendance record for the fourth year in a row. So far this year, 2.8 million people have visited the park, a 19.6 percent increase over last year. The all-time annual record is 2.9 million people, set last year.

This fall also marks the final phase of the Going-to-the-Sun Road rehabilitation project, which includes 14 miles of parking and signage improvements between West Glacier and just past the Avalanche developed area.

Paving improvements are scheduled to start this week from the West Entrance to the intersection with Apgar Loop Road. Visitor traffic will be managed through the area under traffic control. One-lane closures with a cumulative delay of no longer than 30 minutes could occur during work. Two large culverts are being installed a few miles up the road along Lake McDonald to help with drainage problems that have forced temporary road closures in previous years during spring runoff.

Fire closures have not caused significant construction delays and work will continue with minor scheduling changes while fire crews manage the Sprague Fire east of Lake McDonald, according to park officials.

On Oct. 9, the section of Sun Road from the four-way intersection near Apgar to Logan Pass will be closed for the season to vehicles, bicycles and foot travel. Access to Logan Pass from the east side of the park will remain available, weather permitting, until the road is closed for the season beginning Oct. 16.

Courtesy National Park Service
Courtesy National Park Service