Despite the recent blast of wintry weather, plow crews tasked with clearing the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park have topped out on the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, where they’re now working to clear the “Big Drift,” the last major obstacle in their quest to clear the road for summer.
A colossal snowbank that often towers 80 feet above the roadbed, the Big Drift is located just east of Logan Pass, where each winter it buries the iconic alpine byway at precipitous angles, dwarfing the fleet of plows working to pioneer a route through the seemingly impenetrable wall of white.
The seasoned members of the park’s famed plow crew are no strangers to springtime snow, especially in Glacier’s upper reaches, and they continued to make progress during last week’s storm system, even as it delivered more than a foot of snow at Logan Pass and hammered the east side with gusting wind. This week’s forecast calls for more precipitation, with rain in the Flathead Valley transitioning to snow above 5,500 feet.
At 6,600 feet, Logan Pass continued to accumulate snow on May 24, at which point the plows had made it up and over the pass from the west side, while the east-side crews were working above Siyeh Bend.
Visitors are now able to drive on 29 miles of the iconic highway: 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook. Hiker and biker access is in full swing, although visitors should use extreme caution above The Loop on the west side and Jackson Glacier Overlook on the east, as hazards are present, including rockfall and avalanches.
Two separate avalanches recently buried sections of the Sun Road and stranded a party of cyclists for hours, requiring a rescue by park rangers.
Road plowing began the first week of April and will continue until Going-to-the-Sun Road opens over Logan Pass, typically between mid-June and mid-July.
Glacier National Park also announced that Many Glacier Road would remain closed to vehicle, hiking and bicycling traffic through Memorial Day weekend, which marks a departure from the road’s anticipated opening on May 28. According to a park spokesperson, inclement weather has caused delays in road construction, preventing it from reopening to traffic in time for the holiday weekend. The road is now projected to open June 3.
Even after its opening, visitors should expect travel delays up to 40 minutes each way from Babb to the Many Glacier Hotel. The road opening postponement will not affect scheduled openings of services at Many Glacier.
Beginning May 28, visitors who want to access the park via the Sun Road will need to purchase a ticket through a new online reservation system. For additional information on how to make a reservation under the new system, visit https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrticketedentry.htm.
As local business leaders predict record-breaking visitation to the region this summer, and as park administrators reel from the combination of COVID-19 restrictions and heavy visitation that caused unprecedented closures and congestion at the park’s most popular entrances last summer, Glacier officials have spent months refining a system to regulate the number of vehicles entering the road this summer, as well as providing a degree of certainty to visitors who might otherwise be turned away at the gate.
Now that the ticketed reservation system is online, however, out-of-state visitors and locals alike are airing frustrations, with most of the criticisms aimed at the dearth of available tickets, the pace at which they are selling out and the added challenge of planning a summer vacation. According to Gina Kerzman, the park’s public information officer, visitors who are unable to procure a ticket should check back frequently on recreation.gov, the online portal through which the reservations must be made. She said additional tickets would be made available as officials track the ebb and flow of visitor traffic, as well as once the full opening of the Sun Road is announced.