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Glacier Park

Glacier National Park Unveils Details for 2022 Reservation System

In addition to requiring tickets for visitors entering the Going-to-the-Sun-Road corridor, a reservation will also be necessary to access the park from Polebridge

By Tristan Scott
Traffic flows into Polebridge in the North Fork on June 30, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As Glacier National Park officials hammer out the details of next year’s ticketed entry system for motorists accessing the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor, administrators have added the dusty, off-the-grid outpost of Polebridge to the list of entrance stations that will require a reservation between May 27 and Sept. 11, 2022.

Why?

“The portion of the park accessed from the Polebridge Entrance Station is much more rustic in character and more remote, but over the past few years it has been discovered and the amount of traffic we received there last summer is unsustainable,” Gina Kerzman, a park spokesperson, said.

As the park refines its ticketed-entry system for 2022, officials have announced several changes to the new iterations, including a reduction in the number of days for which each ticket is valid, from seven to three days along the Sun Road and one day up the North Fork.

“We found that people don’t generally use their tickets for all seven days, so by limiting it to three days we can provide more opportunity for people to get in,” Kerzman explained. “It will increase the number of tickets available.”

There’s also still some uncertainty surrounding the hours during which visitors are exempt from the reservation requirement, which last year occurred prior to 6 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Those hours are still up in the air as park administrators try to determine when a Sun Road utility project along Lake McDonald can occur. And in addition to the West Glacier and St. Mary entrances, park officials will be checking tickets at the previously unstaffed Camas Entrance Station, which intersects the North Fork Road at Blankenship Bridge.

The addition of Polebridge to the short list of entrances that require a reservation is the biggest adjustment, however, and comes as a relief to land managers who have been overwhelmed in recent years by the surge in visitors.

When Glacier National Park announced the launch of last year’s pilot program requiring reservations for motorists accessing the Going-to-the-Sun Road — a measure crafted to blunt the high-volume spikes in traffic that have caused summertime gridlock along the alpine highway — gateway communities and neighboring public land agencies braced for an upsurge of overflow visitation.

Indeed, the inaugural system delivered unintended consequences across Glacier’s 1 million acres, including by diverting ticket-less visitors to corners of the park that didn’t require a reservation, such as Polebridge, which is less equipped to deal with surges in visitation, traffic and crowds, and faced a variety of problems.

“In the past, we’ve managed this district as a primitive and remote section of the park, a place that’s attractive for its scenic beauty and solitude,” North Fork District Ranger Jim Dahlstrom told the Beacon last summer. “We’ve appealed more to the self-reliant visitor who appreciates that we’re difficult to access and offer few services. The visitors here had a sense of the North Fork’s history, of how unique it is. We’re not seeing that as much anymore. We’re seeing the displaced visitor who just wants to drive to the lake, take a picture for Instagram and leave.”

Situated on the park’s northwestern boundary, the unincorporated community of Polebridge and the nearby entrance station were both overrun by traffic during the height of summer, with park officials having to restrict motorists inside the park every single day of the peak summer months.

“We have a management plan for Polebridge and the North Fork that manages to a different level than the rest of the park,” Kerzman said, “and that is specific to maintaining its rustic character and charm. We do not want to max it out to the highest levels of visitation possible.”

The Sun Road and North Fork tickets will be issued separately. The park anticipates a portion of tickets becoming available by early March. Like last year, visitors will need to set up an account on Recreation.gov to obtain the tickets. Although the park does not charge for the tickets, Recreation.gov charges a $2 nonrefundable service fee.    

In addition to the ticket, each vehicle entering the park is required to have an entrance pass for any entry point into the park. These passes could include any one of the following: a $35 vehicle pass, good for seven days; a valid Interagency Annual/Lifetime Pass; or a Glacier National Park Annual Pass.   

Visitors with lodging, camping, transportation, or commercial activity reservations within the GTSR corridor can use their reservation for entry in lieu of a $2 ticket. (The North Fork area inside Glacier does not offer lodging, transportation or commercial services, and camping is first come, first served.)  

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