Glacier ends pilot ticketed system this weekend

The park notes analysis of numbers is underway, but initial results are positive

By: - September 1, 2021 5:46 pm

In just a few days, you can get onto Glacier National Park’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road without a ticket.

This year, Glacier started a ticketed entry pilot program to cut down on traffic jams on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and the pilot ends this Labor Day weekend. The park’s shuttle program ends for the season at the same time.

The tickets were just $2 on top of a park pass, but a limited number of them were available, and they went like hotcakes.

Gina Kerzman, spokesperson for the park, said Wednesday it’s too early to comment on how well the ticketed system worked or whether Glacier will reinstate it next year, with or without modifications. But she said the park generally had a positive impression of the results.

“We’re looking at all the numbers right now,” Kerzman said Wednesday. “Basically, I would say we were pleased with how ticketed entry progressed, and we’re currently looking at the numbers and the data that we gathered during the pilot.”

The park anticipates September will be a busy month. Kerzman said that’s because visitation is high in all national parks, and Glacier in particular experienced a significant influx last fall.

In 2020, the park saw its highest October on record with 125,544 people visiting, a 62 percent increase from 2019, according to earlier data from the park. The 40-year average was 71,000 for the same month.

This year, additionally, the ticketed system had some people holding off on a summertime visit, Kerzman said: “Some of the visitors have been waiting until a reservation isn’t required.”

A news release from the park this week asked drivers to prepare in September for temporary traffic restrictions at the west entrance due to congestion and U.S. Highway 2 construction delays.

While the last day of ticketed entry is on Sept. 6, construction will continue in and around the park,” said the news release. “In addition, there may be temporary closures of the west entrance due to congestion. Visitors can check the Montana Department of Transportation website for updates on Highway 2 construction.”

This year, the park has had some trouble with its data and is behind in getting numbers of visitors, Kerzman said. The counters for Going-to-the-Sun worked for the most part, she said, but the ones used in Many Glacier didn’t pick up numbers because of the construction.

It’s taken us time to figure out just exactly how to report that. But we’re really close,” she said.

From Glacier National Park’s news release:

  • All real-time reporting systems such as campground availability, trail status, etc. are currently down on Glacier National Park’s website. This service is not expected to resume this season. 
  • The Going-to-the-Sun Road is scheduled to remain open from Avalanche Creek to Jackson Glacier Overlook until Sunday, Oct. 17 at midnight, pending closures due to winter weather. 
  • Construction will continue on Many Glacier Road causing 40-minute delays in both directions during the day and up to three hours at night. Starting Sept. 19 at midnight, Many Glacier Road will be closed to the public for the year. 
  • Camas Road is also under construction causing 30-minute delays in both directions during the day. 
  • As fall approaches, bear activity will increase. Visitors are asked to be mindful of attractant storage requirements and remember that pets are not permitted on trails at any time. Learn more about bear safety on the park’s website

Operating hours for visitor services in Glacier National Park including the park’s shuttle, campgrounds, backcountry permits, boat inspections, and concession operations will also begin to adjust. 

Visitor Centers: 

  • Visitor information services at Logan Pass Visitor Center continue daily through Sunday, Sept. 26. The Glacier National Park Conservancy bookstore operating within Logan Pass Visitor Center will also close Sept. 26. Potable water will be unavailable at Logan Pass after Sunday, Sept. 12.  
  • Visitor information services at St. Mary Visitor Center continue daily through Sunday, Oct. 3. Potable water will be unavailable at St. Mary after Monday, Oct. 4. 
  • Visitor information services at Apgar Visitor Center continue daily through Monday, Oct. 11, and then move to weekends only through Oct. 24, weather permitting. Restrooms and potable water are available at the Apgar Visitor Center plaza year-round. 

Campgrounds: 

Front country campgrounds will close on the following dates:  

  • Logging Creek, September 2 
  • Quartz Creek, September 2 
  • Fish Creek Campground, September 6 
  • Sprague Creek, September 13 
  • Many Glacier, September 13 

One section of Apgar Campground (Loop B) will move to primitive status starting Monday, October 4. 

Bowman and Kintla Lake campgrounds will move to primitive status Monday, September 13 through weather dependent closure. Two Medicine campground will move to primitive camping Monday, September 20 through weather dependent closure. 

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. 

Avalanche Creek, Cut Bank, Rising Sun, and St. Mary campgrounds remained closed during the 2021 season.  

Backcountry permits: 

Wilderness camping by permit remains available to visitors. The Apgar Wilderness Permit Office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sept. 25. The office is open from 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. 26. Walk-in permits are issued up to 24 hours in advance. Check the Wilderness Camping page for more information. 

Boat Inspections: 

Lake McDonald, Bowman Lake, and Kintla Lake will be the only vehicle accessible bodies of water open to watercraft in the park after Sept. 25. Boat inspection station hours are currently 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Sept. 4. Inspection hours will change to 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. starting Sept. 5 and again to 8 a.m.—4 p.m. Sept. 26 through Oct. 31. All park waters are closed to watercraft beginning Nov. 1.

Concession Operations: 

Some concessioner services will begin winding down mid-September including some lodging, food service, and retail shops. Visitors should check with services on our website for operational hours. 

Autumn visitors to Glacier National Park will find cooler temperatures and are encouraged to prepare for shifting weather conditions with potential for rain or snow, especially in alpine areas.  

The park is open year-round and recreational opportunities can be found during all seasons. For additional information, visit the park’s website or call park headquarters at 406-888-7800.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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