Don’t Have an Entry Ticket for Glacier National Park?
Here are 6 Ways to Play in the Park Without One.
*Updated December 15, 2021*
We know there’s been a lot of feelings around the ticketed entry system for Glacier National Park. (In case you missed it, the National Park Service launched a pilot program for ticketed entry in 2021 and will continue it for 2022. From May 27-September 11, 2022 you need to have an entry ticket to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road entrances at Camas Road, West Glacier and St. Mary, as well as the North Fork. More details here and here.)
And believe us when we tell you that we have answered many phone calls, emails and DMs regarding ticketed entry and have heard all sorts of opinions. But the truth of the matter is that whether you like it or not, the ticketed entry system will remain in place for 2022. And while that may seem like a bummer, you can still enjoy Glacier National Park without an entry ticket.
1. Get up with the birds.
While Glacier National Park hasn't officially announced what time ticketed entry will start, one way to see the park is to get up with the birds. During the summer the sun rises in northwest Montana around 5:30 a.m., which means you have lots of daylight for playing in Glacier National Park. Seize the day and drive into the park (be sure you have your park pass, which is different from an entry ticket) before ticketed entry starts for the day (exact time coming soon) to take full advantage of Montana's long daylight hours. Grab breakfast and coffee on the way and enjoy the sunrise from the shore of Lake McDonald. Plan to spend the full day in the park or head back early and go soak up the afternoon sun on Flathead Lake.
2. Catch the evening sunset.
While the park may seem like a place you want to spend all day — and we totally get it if you do — evening hours are some of the best times to visit. Why? Well, we’ll tell ya. Wildlife are more active when the weather gets cooler, there are fewer people and you can catch sweet sunsets over the park’s Livingston Range. And since you don’t need an entry ticket in late afternoon/early evening (NPS hasn't announced times for 2022 yet), it’s easy to soak up a beautiful evening in Montana.
3. Make it a loop tour and hit the road right in late afternoon/early evening.
To drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road in its entirety, it’s a good idea to give yourself about 3 hours. Depart from Kalispell in the late morning and head over to the east side (as it’s commonly called by locals) on U.S. Highway 2. Time your trip right and enter through the St. Mary entrance just after ticketed entry ends for the day (exact time coming soon), which will get you back to West Glacier right around 8 p.m. and to Kalispell around 8:30 p.m. The best part: you’ll be able to see the whole park with lots of daylight left (the sun sets late around here during summer) and you’ll still have time to grab a late dinner in Kalispell.
Highlights along the way: the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Goat Lick Overlook, Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier Park (be sure to pop into this impressive lodge for a cocktail or lunch), the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, Looking Glass Highway and the St. Mary Visitor Center.
There are also some great hikes along this route, including Three Bear Lake Trail (2.4 miles round-trip), Elk Mountain Trail (4.8 miles round-trip), Firebrand Pass (10.7 miles round-trip) and South Boundary Trail (6.8 miles round-trip).
4. Take advantage of the places in Glacier National Park that don’t require an entry ticket.
The cold hard facts are that you need an entry ticket to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor and the North Fork at the Polebridge Ranger Station. The other cold hard fact is that there is way more to Glacier National Park than just the Going-to-the-Sun Road and Bowman Lake. Other areas to explore: Two Medicine, Cut Bank, Many Glacier and Firebrand.
Two Medicine has great hiking trails, a boat tour and water rentals. It’s also a short drive from East Glacier Park, which is worth a visit. Located in the northeast corner of the park is Many Glacier. The area offers hiking trails, horseback trail rides and boat tours. You can also rent canoes, row boats or kayaks and paddle the waters of Swiftcurrent Lake, which will give you great views of Many Glacier Hotel.
If you're heart is set on exploring the North Fork? Head up and spend some time at the Polebridge Mercantile and the Northern Lights Saloon and head into the park after entry tickets are no longer needed for the day (as we mentioned earlier, we'll update those times as soon as we have them).
5. Go with a guide.
There are experienced and knowledgeable guides who can introduce you to some of the wonders of Glacier National Park. Cruise the lakes of the park on a historic wooden boat with Glacier Park Boat Co. (tours are available on Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, St. Mary and Two Medicine). Book a guided hike with Glacier Guides and Montana Raft. Learn about the park from the perspective of the Blackfeet Tribe with Glacier Sun Tours. Or take in the views of the park on a red “jammer” bus with Glacier National Park Lodges. Bonus: if you have a booked activity inside the park, that activity confirmation serves as your entry ticket. Keep in mind that you will still need a park pass. Outside of the park, you can take a guided rafting trip or fly-fishing trip on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which serves as Glacier’s southern boundary.
Continuing for 2022, the Going-to-the-Sun Road Day Program with The Glacier Institute provides a educational guided experience to four popular locations in the Park: Hidden Lake, Highline Trail, Avalanche Lake and the complete Sun Road experience.
Glacier National Park will also offer park shuttles in 2022, with more details pending. Get the full rundown on the Ticket-to-Ride system here.
6. Come in the spring and bike the road.
If you’ve never biked the Going-to-the-Sun Road, spring is the time to do it. Before the alpine section of the road is opened to vehicles you can ride the road without any restrictions. If you can swing it, that’s the best time to do it. After the full road is open you can still ride the road but times are limited. Cyclists do need a park pass but do not need an entry ticket, no matter when they visit. See more here.
Ready to explore beyond the park? Check out these Montana views that will make you think you’re in a national park, take a look at this list of things to do or take a day trip. And if you want even more information or inspiration, call us at 406-758-2811.