Tips for Dealing with Crowds

Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park. Two images show an instagram version of beauty and the other shows a reality version of crowds. Pack your patience and plan ahead.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”

― John Muir


 

Where and When to Expect Crowds

 
A crowd of people stand in line outside the backcountry permit office at 7:00AM.
Typical summer line outside the backcountry permit office at 7:00AM.

1. In the Summertime

May through September is the busiest time of the year in Glacier National Park. Within that, July and August are the busiest of all. Weekends can be busier than weekdays but not always and not by much. The parking lots at popular destinations, like Logan Pass and Avalanche, begin filling around 8:00AM. Other areas of the park start becoming congested later in the morning.
 
A very full parking lot in the mountains with crowds of people around.
If a lot is full, do not wait for spots to open; move on, and try again later. Never park on vegetation or in a manner that blocks traffic.

2. On the Roads

You are likely to encounter congestion and long wait times around parking lots, visitor centers, and entrance stations. At times of extreme congestion, access to whole areas of the park may be temporarily restricted to allow for emergency vehicles. In the summer of 2018 access to Many Glacier was restricted 26 times and access to Kintla Lake was restricted 52 times and access to Bowman Lake was restricted 68 times.
 
Many people surrounded by alpine trees and mountains.
Expect to encounter crowds on the trails. This image is from the Hidden Lake Trail which averages more than 1,500 hikers per day.

3. On the Trails

In 2017 the Hidden Lake Trail averaged 1,604 hikers per day. The top 10 most popular hikes in the park all average hundreds of hikers per day. However, with over 700 miles of trails many visitors find that by taking a less popular trail they can get away from the crowds after a few miles.
 
A crowd of people wait in a long line to board a shuttle bus.
Shuttles run frequently but by the time a shuttle reaches your location it may only be able to take on one or two new passengers.

4. On the Free Shuttles

Depending on where and when you board one of Glacier's free shuttle buses you may have to wait an hour or more for an available seat. Shuttles run approximately every 15 minutes but by the time the shuttle arrives at the Loop, for example, it may be only able to board one or two additional passengers.







 

Three Tips for Dealing with Glacier's Crowds

1. Adjust Your Expectations

Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet. Many visitors report sparking new friendships with their fellow travelers on the trail. Don't expect your trip to be all solitude and be considerate to everyone else looking for peace. Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience. Yield to other users on the trail. Avoid loud voices and music near other people. Check the park webcams to see current congestion levels.

2. Have a Backup Plan, or Two

Congestion and crowds close whole areas of the park on a daily basis during the summer (to allow for emergency traffic). Floods, snow, and wildfires also close parts of Glacier every year. Being flexible will allow you to get the most out of your visit. If parking lots are full, don't add to the congestion, just move on to your back up plan or try again later. Visit Glacier's trip planning page to start developing a backup plan.

3. Consider one of Glacier's Neighbors

Thinking of your visit as a trip to Glacier country rather than just to the National Park will open up a whole world of new opportunities. East into Glacier County, West into the Flathead Valley, and even North into Canada, Glacier National Park is surrounded by spectacular scenery and recreation opportunities. We've compiled a list of nearby attractions here.

Last updated: May 23, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936

Phone:

(406) 888-7800

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