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Located in the heart of the universally impressive Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park is also called the Crown of the Continent – high praise that’s well deserved, if you’ve ever been fortunate to visit.
If you’re reading this post though, I’m guessing you haven’t visited Glacier National Park… instead, you’re planning your first trip, and have discovered that it’s like, really confusing to figure out when, where, and how to visit Glacier National Park.
See the Glacier National Park reservations system kicks in during the busy summer months when the park is fully open. But it’s not as simple as just getting a single reservation for a day (or number of days) when you want to visit. There are many different access points and entrances to Glacier, and each one has slightly different rules.
Now I’ve visited parks that have limited access and require tours and/or reservations to visit – one of my favorites, Denali, is like this. But the system for Glacier National Park reservations utterly confused me on my first visit, and I wanted to put together a resource to help.
Below you’ll find my best attempt at demystifying the Glacier National Park reservations system for this year. (I’ll update it for 2024 once the new information is released.) Hopefully this helps clarify some of the confusion you’re experiencing (as I did), but I’m always here to help in the comments below, if you still feel stuck. Let’s try and sort it out together!
Areas & Entrances to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park protects some one million acres in northern Montana; it abuts to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, making it the world’s first “international peace park.” (You might also see the two parks called “Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.”)
As such a large park – 12th largest of 63 parks as of 2023 – there are several different areas and entrances to Glacier:
- The West Entrance – Located on the west side (as the name suggests), this is the entrance that gives you access to Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west, as well as the Apgar Visitor Center and Lake McDonald, and is 30 miles from Logan Pass.
- Camas – Also on the west side, this entrance connects North Fork/Camas Road to Apgar Village in a loop.
- North Fork – The third (and final) west-side entrance, the North Fork entrance starts from the community of Polebridge and Polebridge Visitor Center; it doesn’t connect to other parts of the park.
- St. Mary – This is the east-side companion of the west entrance; it gives access to Going-to-the-Sun Road from the east (at the Rising Sun checkpoint) and is 12 miles from Logan Pass.
- Many Glacier – Like North Fork, Many Glacier accesses a different and unconnected part of Glacier, this time on the East Side.
- Two Medicine – The final east side entrance, this entrance accesses a southern part of Glacier National Park and lots of hiking trails in the area but doesn’t connect to other roads in the park.
So there are three west side entrances – the West entrance, Camas, and North Fork – and three east side entrances – Rising Sun, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine. Not too confusing, right?
Unfortunately, each of these entrances has slightly different rules for access and whether/when/how long you need reservations. Now it gets confusing!
Glacier National Park Reservations, Explained
Glacier National Park is open year-round, but many of the roads are unmaintained when the snow flies; this means you need to be self sufficient and check the Glacier NPS site to understand which roads are open if you plan to visit between September and May.
If you’re planning to visit between late May and mid September, you very likely need a reservation to visit some/all roads Glacier National Parks. But, just to confuse things, the dates for different areas vary:
- All west side entrances (West, Camas, North Fork) require a reservation between May 26th and September 10th (2023).
- All east side entrances (Rising Sun, Many Glacier, Two Medicine) require a reservation between July 1st and September 10th (2023).
But – you don’t need a reservation before 6am or after 3pm any day through the summer months. So if you’re an early riser or starting the day late, you can visit without a reservation. If you want to visit between 6am and 3pm though, you do need a reservation.
Additionally, if you’ve booked an activity (like a guided hike) or accommodation in the park (like at Many Glacier Lodge or Lake McDonald Lodge), you don’t need a vehicle reservation – you just need your hotel/tour receipt to show the rangers.
How to Get Glacier National Park Reservations
The best way to ensure you can visit Glacier National Park regardless of whether and when you need a reservation is just to get one – then you have full flexibility.
There are four types of vehicle reservations you can book:
- 3-day reservation for the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor (which gives you access from the West entrance, Camas, and Rising Sun/St. Mary – but remember, Rising Sun has different requirement dates than the West/Camas entraces!)
- 1-day North Fork (providing access only to this part of the park)
- 1-day Many Glacier (providing access only to this part of the park)
- 1-day Two Medicine (providing access only to this part of the park)
So it’s important to know where you want to visit in the park, and get the appropriate reservation(s) for that/those area(s).
To secure a reservation, you have two opportunities: four months in advance, or 24 hours in advance. I recommend trying to get your reservations in that first window, as the 24-hour advance reservations are about as hot as Taylor Swift tickets!
Other Glacier National Park Fees
In addition to a reservation, Glacier National Park is a fee-collecting park; you’ll need to pay admission or show a park pass to enter.
Here are your options:
- The private vehicle entrance fee, good for 7 days, is $35. Motorcycles are $30.
- You can walk or bike into the park for $20 per person, good for 7 days.
- An annual America the Beautiful Pass is $80. This gets you into every national park and all fee-collecting federal lands. I got my first one in 2019 and it’s such a money-saver that the America the Beautiful Pass is totally worth it! You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI.
You can read more about the fees on the Glacier NPS website.
Do I NEED Reservations for Glacier National Park?
To wrap this up, I want to address a common question: can I visit Glacier National Park without a reservation?
- The short answer is yes, you can visit Glacier National Park without reservations, but you’ll need to enter before 6am or after 3pm.
- The longer answer is yes but I recommend securing reservations anyway so that you have the flexibility to visit whenever and wherever you really want to explore.
If Glacier National Park reservations are sold out on the dates you want to visit, you’ll need to adjust your own schedule (arrive early/go late) to access the parts of the park you want to explore.
I hope this helps make a bit of sense of what I personally found to be the most confusing aspect of visiting one of the most impressive national parks I’ve ever visited. Have any questions about Glacier National Park reservations for your trip? I can’t get them for you, but I can hopefully answer other questions you have in the comments below!