Glacier backcountry reservations going to a lottery system; no longer first-come first-serve on opening day, March 15

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A head lamp leaves a trail of light to campsite in Glacier National Park in a timed exposure.

Glacier National Park has announced a key change in its backcountry camping advanced reservation system this year. The system, which will go live on March 15 will now use a “modified lottery system” on opening day that will process requests “in a randomly sequenced order,” the Park announced on its website.

In other words, it’s no longer first-come, first-served for advanced reservations for backcountry campgrounds on opening day, which is defined as 12 a.m. Mountain Standard Time to 11:59 p.m. Mountain Standard Time March 15.

After that, reservations will be taken in the order they’re received.

The Park already started taking reservations for large groups with the same rules back on March 1. Large groups are defined as “9 to 12” campers.

Most backcountry campers in Glacier are not in the large group category.

The changes come after a rush of reservation requests last year overloaded the system at pay.gov and it crashed. Last year 1,500 campers made an attempt to get a reservation in the first hour. The previous year, 1,600 people applied for permits on the first day.

Backcountry camping in Glacier is a popular pastime for the hardy hiker, but a $7 permit per night is required. Reservations take up about half the available campsites, while walk-in campers typically get the rest. But getting a walk-in permit during peak season can be a challenge and sometimes campers line up hours before the offices even open. Last year the Park had to post signs outside the Apgar backcountry permit center warning people that there was no sleeping allowed outside the office.

In another backcountry campground matter, Glacier announced on its website on March 7 that it doesn’t expect the Goat Haunt shelters and flush toilets to be available because it can’t find a water utility operator to run the system.

That may also mean that tour boats won’t be stopping at Goat Haunt either. People can walk through Goat Haunt, but they’ll have to camp someplace else, like Waterton River or Kootenai Lakes.

Learn more at the advanced reservation page at: https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/backcountry-reservations.htm

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