MISSOULA – Vehicle reservations will not be required in 2024 to access some places in Glacier National Park that had required the $2 advance-purchase reservations during much of the day in peak season this year.
For its fourth pilot-program season in 2024, vehicle reservations will no longer be required to access Going-to-the-Sun Road from St. Mary on the park’s east side, or to access the Two Medicine area on the park’s southeast side. Also new for next year, the reservation checkpoint near the park’s west entrance will no longer block access to Apgar Village, meaning no reservation is needed to reach the village.
Vehicle reservations will still be required to access Going-to-the-Sun Road beyond Apgar from May 24 through Sept. 8; the North Fork Road within the park from May 24 through Sept. 8; and the Many Glacier area on the park’s east side from July 1 through Sept. 8. In all three areas, visitors without a reservation can still enter before 6 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
Also new next year, reservations for Going-to-the-Sun Road are good for one day only, compared with the previous three-day reservations. Only 2% of visitors with three-day passes used all three days, according to the National Park Service. The agency said shifting those reservations from three days to one will increase the number of reservations that will be available daily. As in past years, reservations for the other areas remain one-day reservations.
Also unchanged for 2024: People who own land within the park accessed by an area subject to a vehicle-entry ticket are exempt from purchasing a ticket, as are tribal members. Anyone who has lodging, camping, transportation or commercial activity reservations within the three areas (a room at Lake McDonald Lodge, for example) does not need a vehicle-entry ticket. Instead, their reservation counts as their vehicle-entry ticket.
The vehicle reservation tickets, which cost a $2 processing fee, must be purchased in addition to the regular $35 park entry pass or annual pass required to enter the park at any time. The $35 passes, available at entry, are good for seven days. Vehicle reservations are available online at recreation.gov or by phone at 877-444-6777. Reservations will become available staggered by month beginning at 8 a.m. Jan. 25.
Not all of the limited supply of reservation tickets will be sold months in advance. For last-minute planners or more spontaneous trips, a portion of the tickets for each area will be available for next-day entry, beginning at 7 p.m. on May 23. Making next-day tickets available the evening before they grant entry offers even later planning than in previous years, when next-day tickets went on sale at 8 a.m. the day before.
Reservations were initially implemented on Going-to-the-Sun Road in 2021. The system expanded to include North Fork in 2022 and Many Glacier and Two Medicine in 2023. With an influx of visitors as Montana grows, and since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic drove Americans outdoors, NPS has used the reservation system to ease overcrowding in the most popular areas.
NPS announced the details of next year’s reservation system in a statement on Nov. 9.
“Our balanced approach for the 2024 pilot reflects feedback from tribes, the public, partners, and stakeholders, particularly regarding access to the Apgar Village area and Two Medicine,” Glacier National Park Superintendent Dave Roemer said . “We also heard that knowing what park operations and access will look like sooner, rather than later, is important.”
Last February, Roemer told the Missoulian in an interview, “We have learned quite a bit, particularly in the North Fork.” He said that people who couldn’t get onto Going-to-the-Sun Road in 2021 often went up to the nearby North Fork area instead, “So no mystery there. People will go where they can go.”
Roemer, who became Glacier’s superintendent in July 2022, said visitors, businesses, local residents and park employees told him North Fork returned to its “slower, rural” quality in 2022 because of the ticketed-entry system.
”The North Fork was like the North Fork again,” he said people told him. But, he said, “I think that’s a success story that comes at a cost.”
The success wasn’t perfect. Parking at places such as Logan Pass or Avalanche Creek wasn’t much better than before, he said. The tickets simply grant vehicle access – they don’t guarantee a parking space, and people often flock to the same lots around the same times.
Other popular national parks have implemented ticketed entry systems, too, including Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Arches National Park and Zion National Park in Utah, and Acadia National Park in Maine. All of the parks are piloting the program, Roemer said, and are all testing in slightly different ways. Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, requires ticketed entry tied to entering at a specific one-hour time slot.
”We could spread people more evenly with tighter controls, but tighter controls are not really what people want to have about their experience,” Roemer said. “We’re a looser system, believe it or not.”