GLACIER NATIONAL PARK (Daily Montanan) - On opening day this year, the number of visitors to Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road soared compared to its 2019 season. 

In a news release on Friday, the park said it saw a 41% increase in vehicles on the road compared to opening day in 2019, with the overall number of cars and trucks on the road between Memorial Day and the end of June up 20 percent compared to the same year. The park is comparing the data to 2019 due to closures from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The park said it expects this to be a busy year, and the National Park Service expects a robust tourism season in parks across the country. In Montana just outside Glacier, some businesses are already seeing high numbers of customers.

Sharlyn Reed from the Polebridge Mercantile, a popular shop with a bakery and cabin rentals just outside the remote Polebridge entrance to the park, said it is having a brisk season in the North Fork so far.

“Every year grows a bit, but for sure, we are quite busy this year,” Reed said. “People seem to be coming in waves, unless it’s a weekend. Then it’s just a steady stream of customers.”

On the Going-to-the Sun Road, the increase in visitors follows the implementation of a ticketed entry system, which the park said is designed to decrease traffic on the road and help avoid closures of the West Entrance.

Visitors to the park traveling by car or motorcycle need an entry ticket unless they arrive before 6 a.m. or after 5 p.m. The park said tickets are needed at the West Entrance, St. Mary’s Entrance and for those entering via the Camas road. 

The park advised visitors to expect long wait times around 5 p.m. that can be avoided by arriving closer to 6 p.m. 

“The park is seeing expected changes in visitation patterns, with traffic more spread out throughout the day,” the park said in the news release. The release said this system helps cut down on congestion while the park operates at near-peak capacity.