It got cheaper this week to visit Glacier National Park. But not because the National Park Service is rolling back its entrance fees. Not exactly, that is. At Glacier, the fees automatically drop when the park moves into the winter season.
And that move into winter officially occurred this week when a cold front brought a storm that dumped upwards of 10 inches of snow on parts of the park and led to additional travel restrictions on Glacier's roads.
Park roadways now closed to motor vehicle traffic include the entire Inside North Fork Road between Kintla Lake and Fish Creek, Two Medicine Road at the park boundary, and Many Glacier Road at the park boundary. The Chief Mountain Road and Cut Bank Road were already closed to vehicle traffic for the season at the park boundary.
Park officials note that the Sun Road is currently open for vehicle travel going east 10 miles from West Glacier to Lake McDonald Lodge and 5.5 miles between St. Mary and Rising Sun on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.
Most roads will not be plowed and snow will be allowed to accumulate for non-mechanized recreational use such as cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Rehabilitation work on the Sun Road is mostly finished for the winter; however, heavy equipment will be traveling between Lake McDonald Lodge and Logan Creek through mid-December. Sun Road work will resume in spring 2009.
Throughout the winter, the National Park Service plows and maintains the west side Sun Road to Lake McDonald Lodge, a distance of 10 miles from West Glacier to Lake McDonald Lodge and from St. Mary entrance to the gate at the St. Mary campground on the east side. Depending upon local road/weather conditions, it may be possible to travel further into the park.
Winter camping (no water) is available in the park at Apgar Picnic Area and St. Mary Campground. There is no cost for winter camping; however, a valid entrance pass is required.
Winter backcountry travelers are reminded that backcountry permits are required for all overnight backcountry trips. Winter permits are available, at no charge, Mondays through Fridays at park headquarters, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on weekends at the Apgar Visitor Center from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Avalanches are a real danger in the mountainous portions of Glacier. Check this site for the latest avalanche hazard and weather advisory before entering the park’ backcountry.
All park visitors are reminded that even when entrance stations are not staffed, park entrance fees are still required. Upon entering the park, visitors are instructed to follow posted instructions to pay entrance fees at self-pay stations at respective park entrances.
Reduced winter season entrance fees are now in effect (December 1, 2008, through April 30, 2009). Glacier’s winter entrance fee is $15 for vehicles and $10 for single entrants (hiker/bicyclist/motorcyclist) for a seven-day pass. These reduced winter fees recognize the limited park services available during winter months.
Annual park passes, which allow visitors unlimited entry to the park for 12 months from the date of purchase, are available for purchase for $35. This fee will remain $35 for 2009. Annual park passes may be purchased at park headquarters on weekdays and at the West Glacier entrance station on weekends.
The Apgar Visitor Center is open weekends throughout the winter through the end of April 2009. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., visitors may obtain information and assistance at park headquarters in West Glacier.
Traveler climate trivia: November 2008 was tied with November 1949 for the third warmest November on record with an average monthly temperature of 36.1 degrees (F). November 1999 was the warmest November on record since 1949 with an average monthly temp of 37.7 degrees (F). November 1954 was the second warmest November on record since 1949 with an average monthly temp of 37 degrees (F).
Current Glacier road conditions, updated as conditions change, are available on the park’s web site. Road conditions are also available by calling 511, the Montana Department of Transportation Traveler Information System. If your phone does not support 511, call 1-800-226-7623. Both numbers are toll-free. Select “Glacier Park Tourist Information” from the main menu to hear Glacier’s road report.