One of Glacier National Park’s Red Buses is parked on Logan Pass on Sept. 11, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Glacier Park

After Short Season, Glacier Park to Begin Shuttering Services

West side of Going-to-the-Sun Road will close for construction Oct. 1 through May 15, 2023; vehicle reservations ended for the season on Sept. 11 as services start to taper

By Tristan Scott

By the time this article appears in print, the full 50-mile length of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road will have been open to vehicle traffic for exactly two months, which means an approaching Oct. 1 closure on the alpine byway’s west side will wrap up one of the shortest seasons on record. (If we’re accounting for the 48 nighttime hours each week that the Lake McDonald Utilities Project rendered that expanse of road impassable, then we really start getting into record-breaking territory.)

Regardless of the formula, the calculus is simple — in 2022, the brief window for accessing Glacier’s eye-popping alpine reaches by vehicle even more fleeting than usual.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road did not fully open this year until July 13, tying its second-latest opening on record, which, according to road crews, was largely due to late-spring storms and avalanche conditions slowing plowing progress along the National Historic Landmark’s snow-choked corridor.

Indeed, the Sun Road has only opened after the July Fourth holiday five times in its 90-year-history, including the day it debuted to the public on July 15, 1933. In 1943, reduced staffing due to World War II led to a July 10 opening, whereas in 2011 an exceptional snowpack and persistent winter weather through June required a July 13 opening. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic delayed the road’s opening until July 13, after which visitors were allowed to travel only from the west entrance to Rising Sun Campground, marking the only year a portion of the Sun Road remained closed for an entire season.

Still, 2022 won’t go down as the shortest season in the Sun Road’s history — in 2011, the scenic road’s west side closed on Sept. 19 to accommodate construction crews working on a multi-million-dollar highway reconstruction project

Although Glacier National Park remains open year-round, the closing of its main thoroughfare, one of the Flathead Valley’s most prominent tourist attractions, signifies the end of the peak season and its benefits as an economic pot sweetener, in some sectors amounting to the whole pot itself. This year, the early west-side closure was again set due to road work.

On Oct. 1, the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road will close for the season from the four-way intersection at Apgar to Logan Pass due to the Lake McDonald Utilities project and road crew operations. On the east side, Going-to-the-Sun Road is scheduled to remain open from St. Mary to Logan Pass until Sunday, Oct. 16 at midnight, unless winter weather forces an earlier closure. There will be no access to potable water at Logan Pass starting Sept. 11.

As the autumn season approaches, operations in the park will also start winding down, beginning with the conclusion of the park’s 2022 vehicle reservation pilot study on Sept. 11. That means visitors to Glacier National Park are no longer required to obtain a limited vehicle reservation for either entrance to the Sun Road or for the North Fork, although they still must have a park pass to enter Glacier.

Concession services (lodging, food service, retail shops, horseback rides, boat and bus tours) have also begun winding down. All concessions services will close for the season by the beginning of October.

Construction on the Lake McDonald Utilities Project will continue along Going-to-the-Sun Road from the south end of Lake McDonald near Apgar Campground to Sprague Creek Campground through September, causing short delays in both directions during the day. The construction zone will be closed Monday through Saturday, 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly until Oct. 1.

Hiker/biker access is permitted on the road closure west of Logan Pass to North McDonald Road while the road crew is not working. A daily road crew closure will be in place while crews are working. Visitors are advised the return to Logan Pass consists of steep up-hill terrain.

Park shuttles will remain in operation until Sept. 18 with reduced services. As of Sept. 6, shuttle service operations are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with all stops in service. Wait times may be longer than 20 minutes as there are fewer shuttles on the road. Visitors planning to use the shuttle should check the Shuttle page for additional details.

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.

Wilderness camping requires a permit, which can be obtained at the Apgar Wilderness Permit Office. The permit office is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sept. 30 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 31. Wilderness permits will be issued until 30-minutes prior to closing. Advance reservations for wilderness permits are available until Sept. 23. Walk-in permits are issued up to 24 hours in advance. Check the Wilderness Camping page for more information.

Lake McDonald, Bowman Lake, and Kintla Lake will be the only vehicle accessible bodies of water open to watercraft in the park after Sept. 30. Boat inspection station hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at Lake McDonald, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Polebridge through Sept. 30. Beginning Oct. 1, inspection hours will change to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at both Lake McDonald and Polebridge. All park waters are closed to watercraft beginning Nov. 1.

Winter recreation will be restricted on Going-to-the-Sun Road along Lake McDonald for the 2022-2023 winter season due to the utilities project. For additional information, visit the park’s website or call park headquarters at (406) 888-7800.