Montana Public Radio


The St. Mary entrance to Glacier National Park, which borders the Blackfeet Nation, remained closed during the summer of 2020 as Blackfeet officials implemented strict measures in an effort to keep COVID-19 off the reservation.
Aaron Bolton / MTPR

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation is opening up for the tourism season as droves of visitors head to Glacier National Park. The reservation was closed to tourists for more than a year, and that’s a big deal because many residents rely on tourist spending. Local residents are more than ready to start greeting visitors again. 

Montana’s state parks are experiencing a surge of visitors with record turnout in the first quarter of 2021.

Most of Montana's state parks are experiencing an influx of visitors as warmer weather settles in and COVID-19 restrictions ease. The Montana State Parks department has recorded nearly 400,000 visitors from January to March this year. That’s a 20% increase from the same period last year and roughly 78% higher than the same period in 2019, when pandemic lockdowns didn’t affect annual visitation.

Yellowstone visitors line up at the park's north entrance outside of Gardiner, Montana, June 26, 2020.
Jacob Frank / National Park Service

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Visitation at Yellowstone National Park last month has increased by 40% compared to 2019, an increase of about 19,000 people and a record for the month, park officials said.

Superintendent Cam Sholly predicted the park would be busier early this year based on the inability of tourists to travel internationally as demand for outdoor recreation increased last year, The Billings Gazette reported Friday.

Airport officials say work on an expansion that will nearly triple the size of Glacier International Airport will resume this summer. 

The airport serving the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park will gain 125,000 square feet, adding additional gates and space for baggage handling areas, TSA staff and passengers.

Tourists at the Apgar Visitor Center in Glacier National Park.
GlacierNPS (PD)

America’s employers added just 266,000 jobs last month. That’s sharply lower than in March and a sign that some businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery strengthens. It’s a problem for Montana’s hospitality industry, which expects tourists to return in droves this summer.

Rental car desks at an airport

The tourism industry on Glacier National Park’s west side expects a record-breaking season this summer, but there’s concern a nationwide rental car shortage could dampen the comeback of visitors flying into northwest Montana.

Cars travel on Glacier National Park's Going-To-The-Sun Road, August 02, 2019.
Glacier National Park (PD)

Glacier National Park is considering a ticketed reservation system for visitors wanting to use Going-To-The-Sun-Road on the park’s west side. Park officials held a virtual meeting Thursday to discuss the idea.

St. Mary Visitor Center near Glacier National Park's east entrance.
National Park Service (PD)

The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council voted Wednesday to reopen roads to and from the east gates of Glacier National Park. The move to reopen roads on the Blackfeet reservation leading to the bordering Glacier National Park comes after a full year of pandemic-related closures.

A rising, though still relatively small, number of Montanans hold negative perceptions toward tourism, according to an update to a University of Montana report released Friday.

UM’s Institute of Tourism and Recreation Research says survey data from November and December indicate a majority of Montana residents believe the overall benefits of tourism outweigh the negative impacts and that tourism promotion by the state benefits their local economies.

The outdoor recreation economy is the second largest sector of Montana’s economy, generating $7.1B in annual consumer spending. 71,000 Montanans are employed in the sector, making its performance essential to the state’s full economic recovery. 

What has been the impact of COVID-19 on outdoor recreation and tourism? What response within the industry has been successful? What does 2021 look like for this essential part of the Montana economy? Learn more now on Can Do.