WEST GLACIER — Glacier National Park is reporting another busy year with 2,354,475 visitors through August.
A pilot ticketed entry system was implemented on Going-to-the-Sun Road for the 2021 season to help manage high traffic volumes, avoid traffic back-ups onto US Highway 2 during construction and operate with reduced staff and services due to COVID-19 mitigations.
Park officials report that on the first day that the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road opened, there was a 10% increase in vehicles over 2019. In a July press release, Glacier National Park incorrectly reported a 41% increase of Going-to-the-Sun Road traffic over 2019 on opening day. This inaccuracy occurred because of a data error that has been corrected.
“In our attempt to use real-time data to monitor the traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road, we discovered a data error that made it appear as though we had a larger increase in traffic over 2019,” said acting Superintendent Pete Webster. “Although the reported increase in July was not accurate, overall ticketed entry has met the goals we set out to achieve.”
Between Memorial Day weekend through the end of August, there was a 12% decrease in vehicles on Going-to-the-Sun Road from 2019, reflecting the park’s goal to shave off spikes in traffic volume.
The Park reports visitation year-to-date through August was 3.8% lower than 2019.
While Going-to-the-Sun Road vehicle entry decreased this year, 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%, the highest on record, and the North Fork almost 20% over 2019 numbers.
The table below shows visitation for the months of June, July, and August over the last several years according to IRMA [irma.nps.gov], the National Park Service’s reporting tool.
The list below shows the year-to-date visitation trends through August since 2016.
- 2021 – 2,354,475
- 2020 – 1,171,847
- 2019 – 2,447,377
- 2018 – 2,399,298
- 2017 – 2,803,044
- 2016 – 2,344,592
Park officials note that high visitation on Going-to-the-Sun Road in 2020 resulted in congestion and required 28 closures in order to avoid gridlock. The ticketed entry system is being credited with allowing the West Entrance to remain open throughout the main portion of the 2021 summer season.
An average of 19% of vehicles arrived at the West Glacier and St. Mary entrances without a Going-to-the-Sun entry ticket or other reservation between Memorial Day and Labor Day, according to a news release. This number continued to trend downward and was closer to 14% at the season’s end.
Since the ticketed entry system has ended, congestion on Going-to-the-Sun Road is being managed through temporary closures of the West Entrance as needed.
Park officials say they will use the information gathered during the 2021 pilot to determine how to move forward in 2022.
The Park is holding discussions with stakeholders and hopes to announce a decision by late fall.