Big Sky Roundup

Glacier: Park sees record 2021 through May

By: - June 17, 2021 2:15 pm

Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road saw a 41 percent increase in traffic on opening day compared to 2019, according to the park. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

Glacier National Park counted its highest visitation year-to-date through May on record, the park said Thursday in a news release.
The park hosted 170,277 visitors in May 2021, a 2% increase from May 2019 (167,403), according to the news release. (May 2020 cannot be used as a good year-to-year comparison due to the park being closed until June 8 because of COVID-19.)
May visitation is weather dependent and considered a shoulder season month at Glacier National Park with most visitors coming in June, July and August.
The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years (through May):
2021 – 294,742
2020 – 56,048
2019 – 251,704
2018 – 269,347
2017 – 263,938
2016 – 292,529
The park instituted the new Going-to-the-Sun Road ticketed entry process on May 28, which requires visitors to obtain an entry ticket reservation on Recreation.gov prior to arriving at the park. Visitation for the period of May 28 through June 13 was 27% higher this year than in 2019. Based on the number of arriving vehicles, in the absence of the ticketed entry system, the park would very likely have had to close the west entrance gate at least seven times over this period to manage severe congestion, gridlock, and traffic backups onto U.S. Highway 2.
An average of 23% of visitors arrived at the West and St. Mary entrances without an entry ticket reservation over Memorial Day weekend, a number the park expects will continue trending downwards into summer.
The park has seen an expected change in visitation patterns at the West entrance, with an increase in vehicles arriving before 6 a.m. and especially after 5 p.m. when entry ticket reservations are not required. Visitors who arrive at 5 p.m. should expect heavy traffic and wait times.
The North Fork entrance near Polebridge is seeing high volumes of traffic, and vehicle entry has been restricted by mid-morning daily. Visitors are encouraged to check restrictions and closures before traveling to the park.
Park staff continue to closely monitor and evaluate visitor numbers in comparison to ticket reservations to ensure the system is functioning optimally and maximizing access within the park’s capacity constraints. As a result of this ongoing analysis, daily ticket allocations have increased a few times since the program began. This approach will be used throughout the summer.

Visitors are encouraged to plan ahead and have a backup plan. Details for the Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation system may be found on Glacier National Park’s website, and tickets may be reserved at recreation.gov.

An earlier version of this brief contained the wrong percent increase for May visitation and wrong total number of visitors year to date in 2021 due to incorrect information provided to the Daily Montanan. The information has been corrected.

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