Glacier Park

Reservations Lingering Longer with Tweaks to Glacier Park’s Entry System

In second year of pilot program to reduce congestion on Going-to-the-Sun Road, 120-day advance vehicle reservations taking longer to sell out; utility project near Lake McDonald will affect early-morning entrants this summer

By Tristan Scott
A car rolls up to the west entrance of Glacier National Park. Beacon file photo

As Glacier National Park’s snow plows rev up for the annual springtime task of clearing all 50 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road for the hordes of summertime visitors, the visitors themselves appear to have revved down. At least, that is, if the rate at which advanced reservations are selling out each day is any indication.

For the second year in a row, motorists who want to drive through the heart of Glacier National Park during the high summer season will need a reservation to do so. Unlike last year, however, when park administrators debuted the pilot program to a mix of consternation and cautious optimism, this year’s inventory of advanced reservations is lingering longer.

“Last year, our advanced reservations were gone within five minutes every day, and that’s not the case this year,” said Gina Kerzman, Glacier Park’s public information officer. “So either people aren’t as anxious, or they don’t feel that they need to get their reservations as early, or they don’t know they can get their reservations this early.”

Since March 2, vehicle reservations to access the Sun Road corridor have been available 120 days in advance on a rolling window, which is a departure from the 60-day advanced window that visitors grew accustomed to last year. That means that on March 21, when this article went to print, visitors could book vehicle reservations to access the Sun Road on July 18. 

On most days since reservations went on sale earlier this month, hundreds of passes have still been available by early afternoon.

“We have been noticing that reservations are not selling out as quickly as last year, when they were gone in just a couple of minutes,” Kerzman said. “And part of it is maybe because people are not aware they are available 120 days in advance instead of 60 days in advance like last year.”

A 2022 reservation to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road is good for three days (compared to last year’s seven-day reservation window) and must be furnished in addition to a park pass. These passes could include any one of the following: a $35 Glacier National Park pass purchased at the gate or online (valid for seven days); a Glacier National Park Annual Pass; or an America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, including the annual, senior, military access, volunteer, or 4th grade passes.  

Visitors with service reservations along the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor do not need a vehicle reservation. Valid service reservations include lodging, camping and commercial tours in areas located inside the West Entrance, Camas Entrance and St. Mary Entrance. Proof of a valid service reservation will serve as a vehicle reservation for the day of the service reservation only.  

Similar to last year, the reservations are available through the park’s online portal at recreation.gov and will be required at both eastern and western entrances to the Sun Road. New this year, a separate reservation will also be required to access the North Fork area via the Polebridge Entrance Station. The North Fork vehicle reservations are good for a single day and are much more limited due to space. According to Kerzman, those reservations are selling out immediately each day, which is further evidence of the once-remote corner of the park’s newfound popularity.

“The North Fork used to be the best kept secret in Glacier National Park and it’s no longer a secret,” Kerzman said. “It’s managed to a different level than the rest of the park and a lot of visitors should adjust their expectations for what they will encounter up the North Fork. It is primitive. It’s much more roughing it than other sections.”

One vehicle reservation per vehicle will be required to travel beyond the West Entrance Station and the Camas Entrance Station from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May 27 to Sept. 11. 

New this year, a vehicle reservation will not be required at the St. Mary Entrance. Once snow removal and road preparations are complete and Sun Road opens to vehicle traffic to Logan Pass, vehicle reservations will be required starting at the Rising Sun area, located 5 miles west of the St. Mary Entrance, through Sept. 11.  

Starting May 26, additional vehicle reservations will be made available 24 hours prior to the effective date, allowing visitors the opportunity to book reservations the day before they plan to visit. 

Visitors will also have the option of driving the Sun Road without a reservation so long as they do so after 4 p.m. or before 6 a.m. And while the evening hours still provide motorists plenty of opportunity to drive the entire expanse of the scenic byway, early-morning visitors to the West Glacier entrance will encounter construction closures along Lake McDonald that are likely to damper their plans for an alpine start. 

The utility project will require closures along the west side of the Sun Road from mid-June to September while crews replace seven miles of sewer force main, electrical and telephone lines along Lake McDonald.

“These are long-overdue improvements that need to be made and we were finally able to secure the funding for the project,” Kerzman said. “As much of the work as possible will be done at night and then into the fall. Because this requires night work, and because this is newly awarded, we are still working out the details with the contractor. But it’s safe to assume that it may affect how early in the morning visitors will be able to enter the park past Lake McDonald on the west side. As soon as we have more details we will make them available.”

Although the early-morning access issues will likely inconvenience wildlife photographers and peak-baggers who enter the park in the pre-dawn darkness, access to the Sun Road from the east side will still be possible. 

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