Attendance at Glacier National Park dipped significantly and predictably in August as wildfires forced the partial closure of the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road and prompted evacuations along a corridor that runs through the heart of the park.
According to park statistics, 667,688 people entered the park last month, a 26.5 percent decrease from last August, which ushered 908,479 visitors through Glacier’s gates despite the lightning-caused Sprague Fire, which burned nearly 17,000 acres and destroyed the Sperry Chalet after it was reported Aug. 10, 2017, nearly a year to the day before the Howe Ridge Fire blew up Aug. 11 along the shore of Lake McDonald.
The Howe Ridge fire forced the evacuation of a large section of the park’s west side, including the upper Lake McDonald area and Avalanche and Fish Creek campgrounds. Park officials also implemented a pre-evacuation warning at Apgar Village, which was uncharacteristically empty as the wildfire spewed smoke and ash over the normally bustling hub of shops and eateries.
Still, the park’s popular west entrance remained the busiest in Glacier, recording 239,389 visits, a 30.7 percent dip compared to last year but still surpassing the 167,428 visitors who entered the park through Saint Mary, a 40.4 percent decline over last year, and the 92,955 visitors who went to Many Glacier, a 13.6 percent decline compared to 2017.
At this time last year, a total of 2,813,430 people had visited Glacier National Park on its way to a record-shattering year of visitation, recording nearly 3.3 million visitors for its busiest year in park history. So far this year, only 2,411,259 people have come to Glacier National Park.
Despite the decline in visitation, the lower figures do little to betray how park administrators are managing the busy summer months, which have been trending upward for years.
With the increasing number of summer visitors, the high concentration of people in the park has created issues with traffic and congestion. Park officials have been reporting full parking lots at Logan Pass, Avalanche and other popular locations. Campgrounds throughout the park are also filled with eager, if sometimes, out-of-luck visitors. In May of this year, Superintendent Jeff Mow told the Beacon that the park advises summer visitors to “have a back-up” plan for their Montana trips.
To better counter the surging rates, NPS officials provide real-time updates regarding closures and restrictions in the park through Glacier’s social media channels. Park officials have also converted parking spots in the Logan Pass lot to short-term spaces of one or two hours to cycle visitors in and out.
Glacier, which has consistently hosted at least 2 million visitors since 2012, has broken annual attendance records for the past four years. The park, however, is not on track to surpass last year’s numbers when total visitation exceeded 3 million for the first time ever.