Glacier Park

Glacier Park Expands Vehicle-Reservation System for Third Year

Park officials announced the managed access system will include all park entrances during peak season, aimed at easing overcrowding at popular eastern entrances

By Micah Drew
The rising sun illuminates the peaks surrounding the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park on July 3, 2015. The Many Glacier Hotel celebrated 100 years as one of the crown jewels of Glacier National Park. For more than a century, the massive hotel has withstood the ravages of time, floods and fire, all the while enticing people with its legend and lore. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

For the past month, gateway business leaders ringing Glacier National Park have anticipated the release of details surrounding the 2023 version of the Park’s vehicle-reservation system. After soliciting feedback during two virtual meetings in mid-November, park officials announced Friday that the vehicle-reservation system will expand to new entrances, with reservation requirements at Two Medicine and Many Glacier.

Similar to the previous two seasons, motorists who want to drive through the heart of Glacier National Park on the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the peak summer season will need a reservation to do so. New this year is a requirement for vehicle reservations in the Two Medicine and Many Glacier valleys, as well as a continued requirement to enter the North Fork area through the Polebridge Ranger Station.

This put all vehicle-accessible points of the park under the reservation system, with unique details and separate reservations for each area.

According to a press release, the decision to add Many Glacier and Two Medicine valleys was based on data collected during the first two years of the reservation system when the exempted areas saw an influx of traffic as visitors surged to locations that didn’t require prior planning. The two eastside entrances frequently restricted access in 2022 due to overcrowding, swinging their gates closed for periods stretching up to several hours long.

“One of our priorities in 2023 is avoiding gate closures at Many Glacier and Two Medicine,” Phil Wilson, the park’s chief of resources, told business representatives at November’s virtual meetings.

While several other national parks across the country have begun rolling back similar pilot programs, Glacier Park has opted to continue for a third season following clear improvements to traffic volumes over the last two years.

Park officials are hopeful that this iteration of the reservation system will keep building on the previous years’ successes while continuing to deliver quality visitor experiences and protecting natural and cultural resources. By ironing out some wrinkles such as aligning time windows between all entrances, park officials hope for easier communication with the public and less confusion from visitors.

The 2023 system will be implemented in the following ways:

For the western entrances to Going-to-the-Sun Road at West Glacier and Camas, and to access the park’s North Fork area at the Polebridge Ranger Station, reservations will be required from May 26 through Sept. 10.

For Going-to-the-Sun Road, vehicle reservations are valid for three days and are required from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., ending an hour earlier than in 2022. In Polebridge, reservations are only valid for one day and are required from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On the east side of the park, the reservation period is shorter. Entrances at Two Medicine, Many Glacier and the St. Mary entry point to Going-to-the-Sun Road will require a reservation from July 1 through Sept. 10 between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Reservations for Two Medicine and Many Glacier valleys will be valid for one day.

At the St. Mary Entrance, reservations will be checked at the Rising Sun check point, six miles inside the St. Mary entrance, allowing visitors to access the St. Mary Visitor Center and park shuttle outside of the vehicle reservation area.

Vehicle reservations will be available on Recreation.gov. New in 2023 are two types of booking widows to reserve a pass.

A portion of reservations will be made available 120 days in advance, beginning Feb. 1. This round of reservations will only be for entrances to Going-to-the-Sun Road or the North Fork, spanning a range of dates from May 26 through June 30.

On March 1, the next batch will be released, for all reservation areas from July 1 through July 31. On April 1, reservations will become available for all areas for Aug.  1 through Aug. 31, and on May 1 reservations for all entry points will be released for September.

A portion of all reservations will also be made available 24-hours in advance on a rolling basis starting at 8 a.m.

In addition to a vehicle reservation, each vehicle entering the park is required to have an entrance pass, which includes any one of the following: a $35 vehicle pass, valid 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 Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor, Many Glacier, or Two Medicine can use their reservation for entry in lieu of a $2 reservation to gain access to the portion of the park for which they have a reservation.  

As in 2021 and 2022, landowners inside the park are not required to have a vehicle reservation to access their properties. Pursuant to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, vehicle reservations are not required for tribal members throughout the park. 

For the second year, access along the Going-to-the-Sun corridor will experience delays from the West Entrance as the Lake McDonald Utilities project continues.

Visitors should anticipate daytime delays of 30 minutes between the four-way intersection at Apgar and the Lake McDonald Lodge, and nighttime delays of up to two hours.