It’s great that America’s National Parks are beloved by the public, and it’s fantastic that the number of visitors has been skyrocketing at many of our parks. But, those crowds cause problems, especially in places like Glacier National Park. The centerpiece of this park is the extraordinary drive over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, and of course, everyone wants to drive there. But when they arrive, where do they park? And what if you want to hike a trail?
Glacier Has Some Transportation Problems
Before you go to Glacier, we really need to have a talk about the park’s transportation issues — especially if you’re planning your day around an unforgettable hike on the Highline Trail. It’s the trail that everyone wants to hike, and that means everyone needs a parking spot at the Logan Pass parking area. It’s just not going to work.
Notice the traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Most of these people are waiting to turn into the Logan Pass parking lot.
During my visit in mid-July 2017, I wanted to hike the Highline Trail, and I really wanted to park at Logan Pass. But after 20 minutes of circling the parking lot along with dozens of other frustrated people…
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… I realized it was hopeless. I had a backup plan: drive down to The Loop, and take a shuttle back up to the pass. Ultimately, this is what I did, but it still didn’t work very well.
Glacier shuttle vans operate along Going-to-the-Sun Road. They run every 5 to 10 minutes during the peak season, and they are free. But, they are just as crowded as the parking lot at Logan Pass. When I parked at The Loop, I got in line at the bus stop. Time after time, shuttle vans stopped — but were either filled to capacity or could take just one or two people. I didn’t get a ride until the 5th or 6th shuttle — which meant an extra half-hour was wasted. And that’s on top of the time spent searching for a parking spot at Logan Pass, and at The Loop.
So what are your options?
Park at Logan Pass Parking area:
If you can find a spot, this is still a great choice. There’s only one drawback for Highline Trail hikers – you’ll need to hike out-and-back, in order to end up back at your car. If you’re hiking all the way to Granite Park Chalet, that’s a 15-mile hike, which makes for a very long day. Alternatively, you can do the Highline-Loop combo, which begins at the Logan Pass parking area and ends at The Loop, but then you’ll need to catch a shuttle back to Logan Pass. As of 2017, shuttle service ends at 7 p.m., nearly 3 hours before sunset in July. You’ll need to be sure to end your hike on-time or hitchhike your way back to the pass.
Park at The Loop:
This is ideal for anyone who wants to do the Highline-Loop combo since your car will be waiting for you at the end of your hike. The only downside (and it’s a big one) is catching a ride from The Loop to Logan Pass. If shuttles are full, and there’s a line, you may have to wait a very long time next to some unpleasant-smelling pit toilets.
Park at a Visitor’s Center:
The park operates two shuttle lines: one from Apgar (the visitor’s center on the west side) to the pass, and one from St. Mary’s (the visitor’s center on the east side) to the pass. From St. Mary’s, the trip is about one hour, while the trip from Apgar takes 90 minutes or more. This might be preferable to the hassle of driving yourself, then fighting for a parking space. It might even save you some time, and the ride will be relaxing and scenic. The only problem is, you have to be sure to finish your hike before the shuttles are done for the day, or you’ll need to hitchhike back to your car. Then, if you want to, say, catch a sunset at the pass, you’ll need to drive back up there anyhow.
It’s also worth noting – on one day during my 2017 trip, I turned into the parking lot at St. Mary’s Visitor Center, and made a complete lap around the parking lot, without finding a space. So, parking here isn’t necessarily guaranteed, either.
What’s the solution?
The best way to avoid these headaches is to get to Logan Pass at a painfully early hour. This is a challenge for anyone who likes to sleep in on their vacations — and it’s even more challenging for anyone staying in Kalispell or East Glacier, or other locations farther from the park.
Of course, more shuttles during the peak season would be helpful. But there’s obviously a limit to how many vans the park can afford, and how many drivers it can hire, especially considering that they will only be used for a few months out of the year.
Here’s my suggestion: the park should encourage hitchhiking. I know there are some drawbacks to this idea, probably some liability concerns, and maybe even some safety issues. But it’s tough to watch car after car with empty seats roll by while sitting in the hot sun at a shuttle stop (near the aforementioned pit toilets). Would a pro-ride-sharing campaign on park literature dramatically ease the burden on the shuttle service? Would it ease the rush to end a hike on-time? I think it might.
Here’s a look at the drive over Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road:
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The Bottom Line
Despite the crush of the crowds, Glacier National Park is still well worth the effort to visit. You really do want to hike the Highline Trail, or Hidden Lake Trail – both of which depart from Logan Pass. If you’re visiting at the peak of the season, allow lots of extra time and patience, no matter which option you choose.