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Spring operations start-up in Glacier National Park

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | May 13, 2024 12:00 AM

Glacier National Park staff are gearing up for the season, with west-side vehicle reservations about to begin and snow plows nearing Logan Pass.

Vehicle reservations are required for all west side park entrances starting May 24. The vehicle reservation checkpoint on Going-to-the-Sun Road for east-bound traffic will be located at Apgar Loop Road. 

Visitors without a vehicle reservation or service reservation will be required to take a left turn onto Apgar Loop Road and circle back through Apgar Village. Congestion is expected in Apgar Village and Apgar Visitor Center with limited parking. 

Park officials said only emergency vehicles will be allowed to take a left turn from Apgar Loop Road onto the Sun Road. Service reservations originating east of Logan Pass cannot be used instead of a vehicle reservation for access past the Apgar Check Point heading east on the Sun Road.

The park’s free spring hiker/biker shuttle will provide weekend service from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting May 11 and ending on June 30, or when the Sun Road opens all the way (whichever comes first.) The shuttle will run between Apgar Visitor Center, Lake McDonald Lodge and Avalanche Creek. It operates on a first come-first served basis. Daily shuttle operations begin July 1. 

Hikers and bikers can travel on the Sun Road as far as posted closures. Access beyond the closures is prohibited, and visitors who disobey the road closure signage are putting their safety, and that of rescue personnel, at risk. 

Traffic is expected to increase every day at 3 p.m. when vehicle reservations are no longer required for the day. For safety purposes, from May 24 through Sept. 8 the portion of the Sun Road that is open to motor vehicles will be closed to bicycle use between 3 and 6 p.m. from Apgar to Logan Pass.

The Sun Road opened to Avalanche Campground over Mother's Day weekend.

Snow removal on the Sun Road began the first week of April and will continue until open to Logan Pass. In previous years, the road opened between mid-June and early July, but park officials said the road may open a little earlier this year. Typical years see snowstorms and avalanches continuing through May, making it impossible to predict an opening date, according to park officials. The road crew actively works across 40 avalanche paths, making operations highly dependent on avalanche hazard conditions.

Many Glacier, Camas, Quarter Circle Bridge, and Chief Mountain roads are open for the season. The road into Two Medicine remains temporarily closed at the park boundary. The Chief Mountain Border Crossing remains closed until May 15. 

The west side of the Sun Road will undergo the last phase of construction work that began in May 2023. The last 2.8 miles of construction will focus on paving Going-to-the-Sun Road, starting west of Sprague Creek Campground up to North Lake McDonald Road. Construction resumed in April 2024, and is expected to be completed in late May to early June, weather permitting. 

Construction will cause delays, including weekends through Memorial Day weekend. Visitors should anticipate up to a 30-minute wait.

North Lake McDonald Road is closed to public access at the intersection with the Sun Road due to the Upper McDonald Creek Bridge replacement project. Parking at the intersection is also closed. Hikers will be unable to complete the Johns Lake Loop Trail and will need to turn around where trail closed signs are posted.   

The Apgar Wilderness Permit office opened May 1. St. Mary, and Many Glacier offices open May 26, and Polebridge opens May 27. Wilderness Permits will not be available at the Two Medicine Ranger Station this year. The St. Mary, Apgar and Polebridge permit offices are always accessible without a vehicle reservation. 

The Many Glacier permit offices are inside the vehicle reservation area. Once vehicle reservations go into effect for the season, this office can be accessed without a reservation before 6 a.m. and after 3 p.m.  

Most frontcountry campgrounds will operate under a reservation system in 2024. Campground reservations can be made on Recreation.gov. Most campsites are reservable approximately six months in advance and several campsites in each campground can be reserved four days in advance to accommodate visitors with more spontaneous itineraries. 

Visitors with camping reservations within a vehicle reservation area do not need a vehicle reservation to enter that area. For example, a camping reservation for Avalanche Campground counts as a Going-to-the-Sun Corridor vehicle reservation on the days of the camping reservation. The camping reservation may not be used to access other reservation areas including North Fork and Many Glacier.  

As a courtesy to those who wish to camp in the park, visitors are discouraged from making camping reservations solely for the purpose of gaining access to a reservation area. 

Campgrounds in the North Fork area will be assigned first come, first served at the Polebridge Entrance Station.  

Frontcountry campgrounds scheduled to open in May include the following: Apgar Campground (currently open,) Fish Creek Campground (partially open on May 17,) Sprague Creek Campground (opens May 24,) St. Mary Campground (currently open,) Bowman Lake Campground (opens May 24,) Kintla Lake Campground (May 24) and Cut Bank Campground (opens May 31.) 

Private boating will begin on May 12 for Lake McDonald with the opening of the Apgar AIS inspection station. Private boating for Bowman and Kintla lakes will begin on May 24 and AIS inspections will take place at the Polebridge Ranger Station.   

Many Glacier AIS inspections begin May 26 at the Many Glacier Ranger Station and May 25 at St.Mary. The park anticipates an operational AIS station for Two Medicine in 2024. Opening dates are still to be determined.  

 Some concessions such as lodging, tours, food service and retail shops open in May. 

The Apgar Visitor Center began daily operations May 11. The St. Mary Visitor Center will be open daily starting May 24.