The New Reservation System
For the past three years, Glacier has required vehicle reservations to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, however, in 2023 these reservations have extended to the whole park. To enter Glacier National Park this summer in a vehicle or motorcycle, you must have both a national park pass and a vehicle reservation (your vehicle reservation does not function as a national park pass, and vice versa).
The park is implementing this new reservation system due to vegetation loss and environmental destruction that has occurred alongside annually increasing visitors. According to the park website, from 2008 to 2017 it saw an increase of about 1.5 million recreational visitors. In 2022 Glacier saw 3 million visitors, 1.9 million of whom visited between June and August.
What Time of Year Do You Need Reservations?
Going-to-the-Sun Road from West Side (Apgar) Reservations
Going-to-the-Sun Road from East Side (St. Mary) Reservations
North Fork Road Reservations
Many Glacier Road Reservations
Two Medicine Road Reservations
What If You Already Have Reserved Lodging or Tours?
If you already have reserved lodging at a campground or hotel within the park, you do not need to purchase a vehicle reservation for the area that you are staying in. However, if you wish to travel to other areas of the park, you will need to purchase a reservation for those areas. For example, if you have a campground reservation in Many Glacier but you wish to travel to Two Medicine for the day, you will need to purchase a vehicle reservation for Two Medicine.
This same rule applies for tours; if you have a reserved tour in Two Medicine, your tour reservation functions as your vehicle reservation for the day and you do not need to purchase one for that area.
Services that function as a vehicle reservation also include:
How Can You Get a Reservation?
Some of the 2023 permits were released four months in advance, but the park has reserved the remaining permits to be released 24 hours in advance. The 24-hour reservations will become available every day at 8:00 a.m. MDT on recreation.gov. These reservations still need to be made in advance, so if you plan to enter the park on August 1st, make sure to check for availability at 8:00 a.m. on July 31st. Reservations are free, but there is a $2 processing fee.
The 24-hour permit system allows the park to accommodate and adjust to current conditions. There is not a set number of permits that will be released each day, but instead, the park will determine how many permits to release depending on the most recent congestion levels and parking availability. The park has stated that demand is expected to exceed availability.
What If You Can’t Get a Reservation?
As you may have already noticed up above, there is a loophole. From May 26th to September 10th, vehicle reservations are only required from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., so you can get into the park without a reservation if you enter before or after this window.
If you are specifically looking to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, then you may find yourself more frustrated. The west entrance to the road is currently under construction and cannot be accessed until after 6:00 a.m., which leaves two options. You can either park at the Apgar Visitor Center Plaza and take the free shuttle, or you can drive to the St. Mary area and access the Going-to-the-Sun Road via its east entrance (if you get there before 6:00 a.m.!).
If you can’t make it before 6:00 a.m. or after 3:00 p.m., there is also an option to enter the park without a reservation on the east side. The St. Mary Visitor Center is located 6 miles before the Rising Sun checkpoint, so it can be accessed without a vehicle reservation. If you park here, you can catch the free shuttle into the park. Shuttles arrive every 15-30 minutes and run from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day.
Get To Your Trailhead Early!
Glacier’s over 700 miles of trails are some of the top hiking locations in the world, which unfortunately means that they are packed during the summer. Parking lots commonly fill up before 9:00 a.m., so your best bet is to get there early.
You can also try the free shuttle system. The shuttles can take you to almost any trailhead in the park, as long as it’s between St. Mary and Apgar. Some of the trails, such as the Highline, are thru-hikes where you will park at the trailhead and then catch a shuttle back to your car when you finish. Make sure to do your research and always talk to park rangers.
What About Bear?
According to the Glacier National Park website, the park is home to almost 1,000 bears (about 300 of which are grizzlies) sprawled across 1 million acres of wilderness. While that sounds like a lot of land, black bears and grizzlies are commonly spotted throughout the park. If you are ever concerned, you can stop at any visitor center and talk to rangers about recent bear sightings and get up-to-date hiking recommendations based on bear activity. You can also follow a few hiking protocols to limit your chance of surprising one:
If it’s got a hump lay like a lump, and if it’s got a big rump give it a good thump. If a grizzly bear attacks, play dead and do not fight back. Cover your head and neck with your hands and arms, lay flat on your stomach, and spread your legs apart. Do not move or make any noise, and when it leaves count to 1,000 before you stand back up. The goal is to convince it that you are not a threat. If a black bear charges and attacks, then fight back with everything you have especially targeting its face. Do not lie down. For more bear safety you can visit here.
Distance: 13.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,434 feet
While it’s uphill almost the entire way to the lake, don’t let this discourage you. The incline is fairly gradual, and the glacier-fed lake is well worth your effort. Just make sure to bring your bear spray because this trail is known for bear sightings.
Distance: 9.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,450 feet
Named after its year-round icebergs, this lake is the perfect opportunity to practice your polar plunge no matter the season. While it does come with a steep incline, the turquoise waters make it a favorite for many visitors.
Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 730 feet
For a family-friendly trail or if you just don’t have a lot of time, it doesn’t get much better than Avalanche Lake. It begins in the Trail of Cedars just off the road near MacDonald Lake and traverses up into the mountains where a jaw-dropping lake is fed by several waterfalls.
Distance: 11.8 miles one-way (13.5 miles w/ Grinnell Overlook)
Elevation Gain: 1,950 feet (2,850 feet w/ Grinnell Overlook)
The Highline trail is most often hiked as a point-to-point, which means you will need to park your car at either the trailhead or the finish and catch a free shuttle. It’s often called the gem of Glacier National Park and is a bucket list hike for many.
Optionally, you can include the Grinnell Overlook with this trail, which will give you spectacular views of the Garden Wall and add almost 2 miles with 900 feet of elevation gain.
Distance: 10.6 miles (7.2 miles w/ boat shuttle)
Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
A close second to the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier offers one of the most picturesque and beautiful hikes in the whole park. It’s recommended to shave 3.4 miles off the hike by taking the two shuttle boats across Swift current Lake and Lake Josephine.
If camping isn’t your style or you’re just looking for a shower and a four-walled escape from densely populated bear country, we recommend the following cabins all within an hour from the park.
20 minutes to Glacier National Park
30 minutes to Glacier National Park
30 minutes to Glacier National Park
45 minutes to Glacier National Park
50 minutes to Glacier National Park
Leverage agile frameworks
Serenity Homes Enchanting Cabin, Ruby, New York, United States