Glacier National Park continues ticketed entry, with changes

Tickets required for North Fork in 2022

By: - December 13, 2021 5:20 pm

Glacier National Park’s telecommunications plan is approved. (Keila Szpaller for the Daily Montanan.)

You’ll need a ticket again to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road next summer, and you’ll need one for the Polebridge entrance to the North Fork as well, Glacier National Park announced Monday.

“You can still go to Polebridge, go to the Mercantile and get a huckleberry bear claw,” said Gina Kerzman, public affairs officer for Glacier park. “But then you’ll need a ticket to get into Bowman and Kintla lakes.”

Tickets Required

  • To alleviate congestion, one ticket per vehicle will again be required to enter the Going-to-the-Sun Road at the West Entrance, St. Mary Entrance, and the new Camas Entrance.
      
  • In 2022, a ticket per vehicle will also be required at the Polebridge Ranger Station to visit the North Fork area of the park.

Source: Glacier National Park

Last year, in a quest to keep gridlock at bay and traffic moving on the scenic and historic road between West Glacier and St. Mary, the park launched a pilot program for a ticketed entry system. Basically, tourists in cars needed to buy a $2 reservation ticket for Going-to-the-Sun in addition to their park pass.

Glacier National Park will continue its ticketed entry system in 2022. (Keila Szpaller for the Daily Montanan)

The ticketed system served its purpose, in part: Kerzman said the park didn’t have to shut down the road for congestion at all during the period tickets were required, which last year was Memorial weekend through the end of August. However, the system also rankled many people who tried to get tickets but found them quickly sold out.

So for summer 2022, Kerzman said the park has made changes to the program, still in pilot phase, and it’s also continuing to iron out other tweaks, to be announced at a later date. For example, yet to be determined is how far in advance and staggered tickets will be released, and the daytime hours tickets will be required. Also, the park is mulling whether to issue any tickets 48 hours in advance, or if it will instate another strategy for people who may live nearby and want to make a last minute visit to the park.

“We’re looking at doing something a little different than that,” Kerzman said.

One sure change this year is that a ticket on the main road will be good for three days instead of seven because Kerzman said the park found that’s how most people use it — but North Fork tickets are good for just one day, again, because she said that’s typically a day trip for many visitors.

As a result of the pilot, the park estimated that it didn’t have to fully close down Going-to-the-Sun Road in 2021 an estimated 35 times during ticketed entry.

“This was a major accomplishment despite 2021 visitation numbers currently boasting the second highest on record for the park,” said the news release. “Avoiding gridlock also ensured access to emergency vehicles and prevented severe vehicle back-ups onto Highway 2 outside the park.”

However, alternate entrances to the park saw increased visitation, resulting in frequent closures. Vehicle entry during June through August at Two Medicine was up almost 33 percent, the highest on record, and the North Fork almost 20 percent over 2019 numbers.

Additionally, Kerzman said the week after the pilot ended, the park had to shut down Going-to-the-Sun, maybe three times, because of high traffic. So tickets will be required an extra week in 2022, from May 27 to Sept. 11.

“That’s part of the reason why we extended the ticket season beyond Labor Day,” she said.

Glacier National Park will start ticketed entry for the North Fork in addition to for Going-to-the-Sun Road. (Keila Szpaller for the Daily Montanan)

Last summer, the park managed roughly 4,600 cars and trucks in the corridor a day, including ones that don’t need tickets such as service vehicles, so Kerzman said the number of tickets is fewer than the capacity and accounts for enough room to let emergency vehicles through.

The new approach for the North Fork is partly because the management plan’s call for preserving the area’s remote character has been in direct conflict with the flood of visitors who have been heading there the last several years, in many cases without a good idea of what to expect, Kerzman said. She said the park closed the gate nearly every day last summer because of excessive capacity.

“It used to be a place that was a little bit unknown to visitors, but the North Fork was discovered a few years ago,” Kerzman said.

But many people aren’t prepared to be out of cell service or driving on an unimproved road with the wrong tires or a vehicle that doesn’t have enough clearance, she said. Some even end up there by accident, thinking they’re heading to Going-to-the-Sun Road.

“So it’s also a way to alert our visitors of the type of experience they will have in the North Fork,” Kerzman said, although she noted the community of Polebridge is open.

The news release from Glacier National Park included the following information:

  • The GTSR and North Fork tickets will be two separate tickets. The park anticipates a portion of tickets becoming available by early March. Like last year, visitors will need to set up an account on Recreation.gov to obtain tickets. Although the park does not charge for the tickets, Recreation.gov charges a $2 nonrefundable service fee.  
  • Tickets will not be required at the St. Mary Entrance prior to the full opening of the GTSR, typically in late June. Once snow removal and road preparations are complete and the road opens to vehicle traffic to Logan Pass, tickets will be required at the St. Mary entrance through September 11, 2022.
  • The Apgar and Sprague Creek campgrounds will require advance reservations in addition to Fish Creek and St. Mary campgrounds. Reservations will be available on Recreation.gov in 2022. Rising Sun and Avalanche campgrounds will remain first come, first served. The park anticipates all campgrounds to be operating in 2022.   

The news release also said that in addition to the ticket, each vehicle entering the park is required to have an entrance pass for any entry point into the park. These passes could include any one of the following: a $35 vehicle pass, good 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 GTSR corridor can use their reservation for entry in lieu of a $2 ticket. (The North Fork area does not offer lodging, transportation or commercial services, and camping is first come, first served.)   

Park shuttles will operate in 2022. Service levels are still to be determined.       

The park anticipates continued congestion at Two Medicine and Many Glacier. Tickets are not required at those entrances, but park passes are. 

As in past years, entry will be temporarily restricted when these areas reach capacity. Visitors are encouraged to plan their visit outside of peak hours (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Visitors with service reservations (e.g. boat tours, lodging, horseback ride, guided hikes) in these valleys will be permitted entry during temporary restrictions.    

Park staff are currently working on details for a utility project this summer that may require the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road to be closed at night, except for emergency vehicles. More details on this project will be forthcoming, but visitors should anticipate a late night through early morning closure from Apgar to Lake McDonald Lodge from June to September.       

Recreation.gov is the designated partner of 12 federal agencies for making reservations at 4,200 facilities and activities, and over 113,000 individual reservable sites across the country. While they are a close partner, their website is not operated by Glacier National Park. 

The park website will provide updates as more information becomes available.   

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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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