For the third time in Glacier National Park's 100-year history, the uppermost reaches of Going-to-the-Sun Road will remain closed to visitors during the Fourth of July weekend.
Visitors can enjoy access beyond the vehicle closure gates at Avalanche Campground, however, as the park began offering limited service on its free shuttle Friday.
Above-average snowpack, combined with a cool wet spring has slowed plowing operations considerably this year, and the frozen obstacles that remain augur a record-late opening of the Sun Road over Logan Pass.
The latest Logan Pass has ever opened to the public was its debut in 1933, when Glacier National Park celebrated the Sun Road's completion on July 15. In 1943, the road opened on July 10 because of war-time staff reductions.
In recent years, the work is sometimes completed by the end of May.
On Friday, crews working on the west side of Logan Pass had reached the Big Drift, the final snow obstacle to be cleared on the Sun Road. This year the drift is estimated to be between 50 and 60 feet, a depth normally seen on Memorial Day weekend, according to park spokeswoman Ellen Blickhan.
Crews from the west side will use excavators to pioneer the Big Drift down to a manageable size so that east-side crews can join them to "punch through" the last section of snow, a project that could take more than a week.
To jump-start the summer season, the park on Friday began offering rides on its free shuttle service, allowing visitors access beyond the vehicle closure gates at Avalanche Campground.
The shuttles run between the Apgar Transit Center and Avalanche Creek every hour from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with stops along the route at Apgar, Sprague Creek Campground and Lake McDonald Lodge.
On the east side of the park, shuttles will operate between the St. Mary Visitor Center and Sun Point at 30-minute intervals from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Beginning Saturday, shuttles will take park visitors beyond the vehicle closure at Avalanche up to the Loop, the Sun Road's signature hairpin turn toward Logan Pass. Shuttles will depart from Avalanche to the Loop every 10 to 15 minutes, with the last shuttle leaving Avalanche at 4 p.m.
Visitors are encouraged to park at the Apgar Transit Center, as parking at Avalanche Creek is limited.
Hikers and bikers can enjoy the lower section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road past Avalanche Creek. Construction vehicles and shuttles may also be using that section of the road, so caution is advised.
Beginning Saturday, the hiker/biker closure will start 11 miles beyond Avalanche Creek, near Bird Woman Falls Overlook. Adjustments to these closures may be prompted by changing weather and road conditions.
For more information about the Going-to-the-Sun Road Transit System, visit http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/shuttles.htm.
Visitors can also call park headquarters at (406) 888-7800 for updates on weather and road conditions.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.