Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Recreation Management

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Parks, Tourism, and Recreation Management

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Wayne Freimund

Commitee Members

Elizabeth Covelli, Len Broberg


Glacier NP, visitor experiences


University of Montana


Visitor use on the Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTSR) corridor is one of the most critical issues that Glacier National Park faces. According to the park’s General Management Plan, it should be addressed to safeguard the quality of park resources and the visitor experiences. 80% of park visitors travel along at least some part of the road, which is the primary park experience and one of the most spectacular highlights of the park. The road was built in early 1930, and now brings almost 2 million visitors annually into the heart of Glacier NP. Increased number of cars on this narrow historic road caused traffic problems such as crowding at pullouts and traffic jams, as well as safety issues. The situation with traffic worsened also because of the road reconstruction which was aimed to rehabilitate the road and solve traffic problems in the long run. A new 10-year reconstruction project started in 2007; as a part of it a free shuttle service was introduced. It poses important questions about impacts on visitor behavior, visitor use, and visitor experiences in the park. Understanding existing patterns and trends in the current context is important. This exploratory research attempts to identify and describe the nature of actual and desired experiences from the perspective of visitors. It reveals the primary dimensions of the experiences, discusses the factors that influence them, and talks about connections, common patterns and trends. Data collection and analysis for this study were guided by the method of Grounded Theory. Fifty in-depth interviews with diverse Glacier NP visitors in various parts of the GTSR corridor were conducted. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using a system of coding that identifies themes through which interviews can be organized, interpreted and presented. Through this process, three main categories of visitor experiences were identified: “Glacier as a Unique Setting”, “Motivations and Benefits”, and “Human Interactions”. They represent mainly social dimensions of visitor experiences and include some biophysical elements. Aspects that are associated with managerial dimensions are discussed separately with less depth within the forth category – “Managerial Issues”. The results of this study imply that there is a broad range of experiences occurring within this key corridor of Glacier NP. There is no single story and combination of the revealed dimensions; every visitor is different and his/her experience is unique. However, some common patterns exist, and several experience typologies are identified. Using tools such as the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum is recommended to embrace the diversity of experiences, while protecting the setting from changes in the conditions, and better preserving and improving different types of visitor experiences in Glacier NP.



© Copyright 2012 Elena Nikolaeva