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Cyclists ride Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park on June 20, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Recreation

Glacier Park Announces Changes to Sun Road Cycling, Campground Reservations

As plow crews prepare Going-to-the-Sun Road for summer, park officials detail recreational opportunities for visitors in April and May

By Tristan Scott

Even though Glacier National Park is still months away from hitting its full summertime stride, a suite of recreational opportunities emerge each spring along with the wildlife. And as the popularity of those activities continues to grow, so too does the list of rules and restrictions surrounding them.

Among the most notable tweaks and changes are new rules that will affect how visitors access the park’s interior while plow crews continue to clear the Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass, a job that usually isn’t complete until between mid-June and mid-July. Road plowing began the first week of April and will continue until the entire 55-mile length of the Sun Road is clear. Typical years see snowstorms and avalanches continuing through April and May, making it impossible to predict an opening date. 

But after the plowing begins and prior to the Sun Road’s full opening, hikers and bikers rejoice as they explore the alpine highway unfettered by the buzz of vehicle traffic.

With rising visitation during hiker/biker season and an increased amount of near-miss avalanche incidents, however, the park is preparing to incorporate additional safety measures around avalanche zones and hazardous trail conditions.

This spring, there will be hiker/biker closure signage on Going-to-the-Sun Road beyond which visitors are restricted. A road crew hiker/biker closure will be in place Monday through Thursday where plow crews are currently working to clear the road.

“In order for heavy equipment to be safely used to open the road, the area needs to be clear of bicycles and pedestrians, similar to a construction zone,” according to a Glacier Park press release Friday afternoon. “A hiker/biker avalanche hazard area closure will usually be determined by avalanche monitors and put in place Thursdays when road crews are done with their work and maintained throughout the weekend as conditions allow. Closure locations will be based on an evaluation of the potential avalanche hazard above the road. This approach will allow more of the road to be opened progressively through the season as the avalanche hazard decreases.”

Visitors who disobey the road closure signage are putting their safety at risk and could face up to a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

Last May, a party of cyclists from Bigfork became trapped between two avalanches that buried portions of the Sun Road, requiring park rangers to execute a roped rescue operation and belay the bikers to safety.

According to Brandy Burke, a public information officer with the park, the changes to the hiker/biker access criteria were crafted with the public’s safety in mind.

“We will send an avalanche monitor every Thursday to assess conditions along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. They will then make a determination and set a point for the closure that hikers and bikers will not be able to pass,” Burke said Friday. “In years past, the hikers and bikers could go as far beyond the vehicle closure as they wanted, which will no longer be the case. It will be progressive closure based on the avalanche monitor’s assessment.”

The park’s free spring hiker/biker shuttle returns this year, providing weekend service from May 7 until June 26, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The shuttle runs between Apgar Visitor Center, Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche Creek. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

On the west side of the park, Going-to-the-Sun Road is currently open to vehicles approximately 12 miles from the West Entrance to Lake McDonald Lodge. On the east side of the park, visitors may currently drive Going-to-the-Sun Road approximately six miles from St. Mary to Rising Sun. Two Medicine and Many Glacier Roads are closed at the park boundary. Hikers and bikers may travel farther into the valleys. Hiker/ biker traffic currently ends at the intersection for the Many Glacier Hotel while road crews are plowing. 

The Inside North Fork Road is closed between the Polebridge Ranger Station and Fish Creek. Road access to Bowman and Kintla Lakes has not yet opened for the season. These dirt roads will open when conditions allow but are prone to intermittent closure in the spring due to muddy conditions.

The Camas Road is currently closed between Apgar and the park boundary until the snow has melted out.

Quarter Circle Bridge Road, accessing the Apgar Lookout trail, is currently closed until the snow has melted out.

A vehicle reservation is required to access the Sun Road and the North Fork area via the Polebridge Entrance Station from May 27 to September 11, 2022.  Most advance reservations have been available on Recreation.gov since March 2, and additional reservations will be released within 24 hours of the visitation date. Other areas of the park can be accessed without a reservation. Check the Glacier National Park website for details.

Campgrounds:

Apgar, Fish Creek, Sprague and St. Mary Campgrounds will operate under a reservation system beginning May 27 for most of the summer. Campsites at Apgar (group sites), Fish Creek and St. Mary sites can be reserved on recreation.gov. Reservations for the rest of Apgar and Sprague Creek will be available beginning April 20. Reservations are only available online. Other park campgrounds not listed below are expected to open in June.

Frontcountry campgrounds scheduled to open in April and May include:

• Apgar Campground will open fully April 25 on a first-come, first-served basis and is currently open for primitive camping. Beginning May 27 advance reservations will be required.

• Bowman Lake Campground opens May 17 on a first come-first serve basis.

• Fish Creek Campground opens May 27 and will require an advance reservation.

• Kintla Lake Campground opens May 27 on a first come-first serve basis.

• Sprague Creek Campground opens May 10 on a first come-first serve basis. Beginning May 27 advance reservations will be required.

• St. Mary Campground is currently open for primitive camping on a first come-first serve basis and will switch over to non-primitive on May 14. Beginning May 27 advance reservations will be required.

• Two Medicine Campground opens May 27 on a first come-first serve basis.

Campgrounds in primitive status have vault toilets available and fees are reduced. No campground reservations are issued at primitive campgrounds and all camping is first-come, first-served. Visit the park’s campground page for additional camping information.

Backcountry Permits:

All wilderness campgrounds (formerly referred to as backcountry campgrounds) except in the Goat Haunt area will be available in 2022 as conditions allow and require a permit year-round. Almost 4,000 requests for advance reservations were submitted on March 15, 2022. The wilderness permit office will begin processing the requests for advance reservations April 17. The remaining 30% of wilderness camping permits will be available for walk-in campers the day before or day of the trip start date. The Apgar Backcountry Permit Center will open May 1 while stations at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier will open May 28, and the station at Polebridge will open May 27. Visitors can go straight to the other permit offices where no vehicle reservations are required if they do not have a Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation, which will be required to access the office in Apgar after May 27.

Boat Inspections:

Private boating will begin on May 8 for Lake McDonald, Bowman Lake, and Kintla Lake with the opening of the Apgar and North Fork AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species) inspection stations. Inspections for North Fork-bound watercraft will still be available at the Apgar inspection station.

Many Glacier, St. Mary, and Two-Medicine AIS inspections begin May 28.

Concession Operations:

All park concessions are expected to operate this summer. Some concessioner services will open up throughout May including lodging, tours, food service, and retail shops. Visitors can find links to each concessioner service through our Lodging, Restaurants, and Services webpage.

Visitor Centers:

The Apgar Visitor Center will be staffed on weekends beginning April 16, with daily operations beginning May 14. The St. Mary Visitor Center will be open daily starting May 28.

Visitors should follow the most up to date CDC guidance for fluctuating COVID-19 mitigations.

Much of the park is still snow-covered this time of year and travelers should be prepared for changing conditions. Avalanches are still active on trails and along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Higher elevation trails can be dangerous and snow-covered until late June. Bears are emerging from their dens hungry, and visitors should take steps to travel safely in bear country. Extensive up-to-date park information is available via the Glacier National Park website.

The park is still in its hiring season and is experiencing the same hiring challenges as businesses throughout the country. This may affect some operations. If you are interested in working for Glacier National Park this summer, contact the park’s administrative officer, Emily Keil, for information about latest job openings. Emily can be contacted at emily_keil@nps.gov or 406-888-7880. 

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