Glacier National Park has millions of visitors every year and that number is only increasing thanks to social media and increased awareness of the park. Rightfully so, it is incredibly gorgeous and worth visiting. It is one of our favorite national parks in the United States.
Due to the huge numbers of visitors every year, Glacier National Park has an enacted a reservation system to be able to enter the park. While the reservation system used to only be for part of the park, now you need a reservation to go to any part of the park at peak times in the summer.
As you can imagine, it can be difficult to get a reservation since so many people are also trying to visit during the peak season. However, there are still some ways for you to visit Glacier National Park even if you’re unable to score a reservation. We have done this several times and have the tips and tricks for getting to visit Glacier National Park without a reservation in advance.
About the reservation system at GNP
Glacier National Park originally started their reservation system for the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but as of 2023 they are requiring reservations for all areas of the park. Each area of the park requires its own reservation. There are a few ways to get out of this, which I talk about later in this post below.
The GNP website has all of the official in depth information on the reservation system, but I have included the highlights in this post. For all of the specific nitty-gritty information on the reservation, check out the GNP website.
Highlights of the reservation system
The sections of the park all have different time periods that reservations are needed.
The time of day that reservations are needed is the same for all areas of the park. During the time periods that reservations are needed, the reservation is needed 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Each reservation lasts one day, EXCEPT for Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor which is a 3-day reservation for both entrances of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
|Dates Reservation is Needed
|West Glacier (Going-to-the-Sun Road)
|May 26 to September 10
|St. Mary (Going-to-the-Sun Road)
|July 1 to September 10
|May 26 to September 10
|July 1 to September 10
|July 1 to September 10
Note: Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor will likely not be fully open until July, so to see both sides prior you will need to see the western side then drive all the way around the park to see the eastern side. I discuss this more in my Going-to-the-Sun Road post.
Reservations are all booked through Recreation.gov (the same place you can book national land campsites or permits).
Note that the reservation to visit Glacier National Park is different than having a “park pass” aka the “America the Beautiful Pass.” Even with a reservation to the park, you will still need to pay the park fee or have the annual “America the Beautiful Pass.”
Pros and Cons of the Reservation System
The reservation system makes the park less accessible
I am all for making the outdoors more accessible to everyone. National parks are made for everyone and I think that all people should get to experience national parks. If there is only a limited amount of people that are allowed in at a time, it means that some people are not allowed in. Also, since the reservations are completely sold out 5-6 months in advance, many people are unable to get reservations because many people do not plan their trips so far in advance.
It can be difficult to plan a trip to Glacier National Park
You may want to visit Glacier National Park, but were unable to get a reservation. Do you still book the trip and hope that you’re able to get a last minute reservation? Or do you plan a trip to a different national park (which may also require reservations)? It can be difficult to plan a trip if it is so difficult to get reservations for the park. At the time of writing, reservations are completely booked 5 months in advance.
People that do have reservations are able to have a better experience
Since the reservation system controls the amount of people that enter the park, it is less crowded within the park. This means that it may be easier to find parking spots at the small parking areas throughout the park. It also means that the trails will be less crowded and you won’t have to sit in traffic while enjoying the nature in the park.
Less environmental damage to Glacier National Park
With high volume of people, comes high impact on the environment. National parks are built so that the nature is preserved as much as possible, so there are often small parking areas or less facilities. Lowering the number of people in the park helps control the impact on environment and makes the destruction of nature by overcrowding less likely.
Ways to enter Glacier National Park without a Reservation
Book an excursion or lodging inside the park
This is the main way to get a reservation to get in the park if you were not able to get one through the reservation system. If you have a reservation for an excursion in the park, such as a boat ride, you will get a reservation to enter the park at the nearest entrance on the day of your excursion. For example, if you book the boat ride at Two Medicine, you will be able to enter the Two Medicine entrance and spend the whole day, even if your boat ride only lasts an hour.
Another option is to book lodging in the park, such as a campsite or hotel room. Having a campsite or hotel room at one of the lodges in the park will allow you to have a reservation to get into the parks on the days of your lodging.
If you plan on staying in the park, be prepared to book MANY months in advance as there are not a ton of options for the amount of people visiting the park. Rooms and campsites book up very quickly.
Visit outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Reservations are only required at any of the entrances from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. This means that you can enter the park without a reservation outside of those hours. We have done this previously (both in 2021 and 2022) when we wanted to enter the park, but did not have a reservation. Since the sun sets so late in the summer, even if entering after 3 p.m., you will still have a lot of daylight to explore the park.
*** Note: In 2023, you cannot enter through the West Glacier entrance prior to 6 a.m. due to construction. All other entrances you can theoretically enter prior to 6 a.m.
Visit during the non-peak season
Since reservations are only required between certain dates in the summer, with all need for reservations ending September 10, you can plan your trip on a date that reservations are not required. See the chart above for more about the dates that reservations are required at each entrance.
If choosing to go this route, I recommend planning your trip on the latter end of this, like in mid-September. While reservations are not required in many of the areas for most of June, large portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Road may be closed all the way until the end of June depending on how much snow the higher elevations has.
Alternatively, you could plan your trip in June, but focus your trip on the areas that do not require reservations. Going is an option, but you would likely miss the Going-to-the-Sun Road and it is the most stunning area of the park. If possible, try to visit when you can experience Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Try to get a last-minute reservation
The last option for you is to try and get a last-minute reservation. There is a certain (unknown) number of reservations that are released only 24 hours in advance at 8 a.m. the day prior to the day of reservation. This would allow you to make a last-minute reservation. Last minute reservations can be reserved on Recreation.gov.
One problem with this is that it is hard to plan a trip around knowing or not whether you will be able to go into the park. See the Glacier National Park website and recreation.gov for more information on the last minute reservations.
Planning a trip to Glacier National Park? Check out my different posts on Glacier National Park:
I hope that this guide helps you to visit Glacier National Park, even if you’re unable to get a reservation! Let me know any comments or questions you have below!
Thanks for reading!