In 2018 Glacier National Park notched its second busiest year of visitation since the park’s founding in 1910.
That’s according to park estimates that also suggest December 2018 was Glacier’s busiest December ever.
The estimates calculated for calendar 2018 tallied about 2.96 million visitors, down from a record of about 3.3 million visitors in 2017 but slightly higher than 2.95 million visitors in 2016.
Lauren Alley, a spokeswoman for Glacier National Park, noted that both 2017 and 2018 were years that included wildfire-related impacts on visitors and the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Alley said December’s high numbers might reflect the month’s comparatively mild weather, which even provided some opportunities for hiking on bare ground in addition to the options of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
She said Glacier’s visitation continues to increase during non-peak periods.
“In general, we’ve seen our shoulder and off-season numbers grow,” Alley said.
She acknowledged those increases likely reflect a growing awareness that Glacier can be very crowded during peak months. But she said the off-peak season growth in visitation probably also demonstrates that more people grasp that the park can be a good place to visit during any season.
“It just depends on how many layers of clothing you’re willing to wear,” Alley said.
In 2018, concerns about the Howe Ridge Fire led to the closure on Aug. 12 of the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Logan Pass to Apgar. The road reopened Sept. 17.
The park’s visitation numbers rely on traffic counters of different types at seven separate entrances and on estimates elsewhere. The traffic counters track vehicle traffic and visitor estimates are calculated with a multiplier of 2.9 persons per vehicle.
Tallies of overnight stays in 2018 showed drops in stays in lodging, tents, RVs and backcountry sites when compared to 2017. Tent overnight stays declined by about 13 percent and backcountry overnight stays dropped by about 4.9 percent.
Overnight stays in lodging dropped only 1.9 percent. There was more group camping in 2018 than 2017, tallies show.
The West Glacier entrance remained the most visited entrance, with about 1.26 million visitors in 2018 and about 1.34 million visitors in 2017.
Visitation through the Polebridge entrance was up in December when compared to December 2017 but down by about 24.6 percent for the year.
The park has worked with the Glacier National Park Conservancy to develop innovative approaches to help mitigate the effects of crowding during the peak season.
For example, a Preventive Search and Rescue campaign aims to educate visitors about potential hazards in the backcountry so they don’t require rescue. And a “Wildlife Jammers” program uses volunteers to help protect visitors and wildlife and also move traffic along when vehicle congestion results from a wildlife sighting near a road.
Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 758-4407.