NOTICE: This article was original published on February 27, 2020, prior to shelter-in-place and lockdown restrictions. Glacier National Park, as of May 7, 2020 is still closed to the public. I will provide updates as they are released.
Maybe you’ve heard of Glacier National Park through the gratuitously shared photos on social media outlets like Instagram and Pinterest, or maybe you’re a National Park geek like me and you salivate at the thought of this gorgeous park. Either way, this place continues to gain traction in popularity which is great for the economy but maybe not so great for amenities like paved roads. Enter the 2020/2021 Many Glacier Road Construction Project.
I live in Northwest Montana and I’ve been taking trips to Many Glacier for the last three summers, so I can tell you from personal experience that the road construction is much needed. Miles of slumps in the road and deep potholes, from heavy traffic and natural elements, make for a difficult drive into the Many Glacier Valley. The project is estimated to take two years and involves culvert replacement, drainage repairs, and resurfacing to ensure the new road has a greater chance of survival (1).
Arguably some of the juiciest views in Glacier are in the Many Glacier area. The hikes tend to be a bit more strenuous, but the views. Gasp. The views are absolutely worth the aching feet. And this year, the views will be worth the competitive edge needed for securing a parking spot. National Park officials are urging visitors to explore other areas of the park to help reduce congestion during the project, but if you just can’t stay away, they’ve released the following information as it relates to staying and playing in this area of the park:
- Many Glacier Road Construction Schedule:
- April 1, 2020 – May 17, 2020 and September 21, 2020 – December 16, 2020, the road will be closed to traffic. Period. Don’t make that long drive and then complain to construction workers about your lack of ability to plan effectively.
- May 18, 2020 – September 20, 2020, expect travel delays of 40+ minutes each way from Babb, Montana to the Many Glacier Hotel.
- If you find yourself traveling through the construction zone Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 P.M. and 5 A.M., expect delays up to (and possibly exceeding) three hours. The road is obviously the least busy in the middle of the night, so that’s when the bulk of this project will be worked on. Rather than trying to get an early start and visit Many Glacier in the morning, I recommend reserving a camping spot in advance for the night before you want to actually hike in the area. You’ll have less delays on the road and will have a designated parking spot at your campsite once you arrive. See “Camping Information” below.
- On “extremely busy days,” access to Many Glacier will be restricted until parking becomes available. Pack your patience, plan accordingly, and be kind to our hardworking construction crews.
- BACKCOUNTRY INFORMATION. The NPS recommends selecting “alternative hiking routes that don’t begin or end in Many Glacier.” The good news is you can pickup your advanced and walk-in reservations at any of the other four other permit-issuing stations located in Apgar, St. Mary, Two Medicine, and Polebridge.
- CAMPING INFORMATION. The entirety of Many Glacier Campground will be reservation only during this project. You can make your reservation in advance online. Note that they are releasing available sites in “waves,” with the final wave opening on February 28, 2020 at 8:00 A.M. MST. If you’ve been looking for a campsite opening and feel discouraged at the lack of availability, please visit the aforementioned website promptly at the final wave opening.
- BOATING INFORMATION. The park is trying to discourage personal boat use in Many Glacier during the construction project, which is understandable. As of the time of this post, using personal watercraft is not restricted. But I recommend visiting their dedicated boating page, which will be updated as necessary, if you plan on bringing your own watercraft to this area of the park.
- LODGING AND FOOD SERVICE INFORMATION. The NPS has assured us that commercial visitor services like lodging, food and beverage, retail, boat tours, and horseback rides will continue to operate as normal throughout the construction project.
Glacier National Park has been steadily growing since 2008, with visitor numbers continuing to set records year after year. This special place has been discovered. If you’re decently confident that you’ll be making another trip to Glacier in subsequent years, I recommend skipping out on the Many Glacier area until the project is complete. Even when the road is fully functioning, delays happen regularly and finding parking can be a real nightmare, let’s be real. But have no fear, the park still offers an abundantly rewarding multi-hundred-miles of trails to explore outside of the Many Glacier area. You could even take the Highline Trail to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook so you can get a peek into the Many Glacier area without fighting so much congestion. No matter what area of the park you visit, get an early start, pack your patience, and be flexible with your plans.