Going-To-The-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

Just One Road

It’s not easy to get to, it’s not always open, and frankly, it’s not very long. So what makes Going-to-the-Sun-Road such an essential entry on every rider’s bucket list?

Even by itself, you have to consider Glacier National Park a jewel of our National Park System. Add to that spectacular backdrop an amazingly twisting road, and it’s easy to see why one of the Park’s best-loved highlights is a cruise on Going-to-the-Sun. Never mind the complex engineering challenges of building this path (it’s a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark); you’ll just probably appreciate it for some of the most breathtaking vistas in northwest Montana. The road slinks through almost every type of terrain, from lowland glacial lakes to alpine tundra at the summit of Logan Pass.

Going-to-the-Sun Road was the National Park Service’s first trans-Continental Divide road. Because of its remote northern location, a fair amount of the white stuff tends to collect here—up to 80 feet of snow can accumulate atop 6646-foot high Logan Pass. Consequently, it’s one of the most difficult patches of asphalt in North America to snowplow come springtime.

The road officially received its moniker from nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. Local legend has it that the deity, Sour Spirit, came down from the sun to teach Blackfeet braves the basics of hunting. On his way back to the sun, Sour Spirit had his image reproduced on the top of the mountain for added inspiration.

For riders, Going-To-The-Sun Road might as well be the Holy Grail of continental US routes. It lies in a remote part of the United States. It’s only open a few months out of the year. And it has some of the wickedest turns and elevation changes of any paved road in the country.

The road is only 50 miles long, but there’s no shortage of pullouts. Start your trip on the west side, after fueling up in West Glacier. Once you pass the Glacier National Park Headquarters and the Apgar Visitor Center, the road hugs the shore of Lake McDonald. You may want to consider staying at the impressive Lake McDonald Lodge after your trip.

As the road begins its steady ascent, cedars give way to towering clusters of firs. Past The Loop, you might gasp inside your helmet as the Garden Wall comes into view (don’t worry, everybody does it). This sheer ridge shoots more than a thousand feet up, forming a spine that makes up part of the Continental Divide. Water falling to the west of the divide drains toward the Pacific Ocean, while precipitation to the east eventually flows to the Atlantic. At Logan Pass, sheer cliffs command your attention, even as you crane your neck to take in all the scenic majesty. Pull over to take in the views of mountain peaks surrounding you like stoic sentries. You have climbed 3000 feet from Lake McDonald. The valleys spread out below you, and magnificent vistas spread out in all directions.

Slowly making your way down the east side, you’ll pass the Jackson Glacier Overlook, and you can probably take off that extra sweatshirt. Along its eastern end, Sun Road parallels Saint Mary Lake and finally ends at Saint Mary’s Visitors Center.

But for all its scenic wonders, Sun Road is not without a few negatives: The road is undergoing a multi-year rehabilitation project, so construction delays can be torturous. The speed limit is a buzz-killing 40mph (and Park Rangers are sticklers).

So yeah, it’s challenging. But that’s probably what makes Going-To-The-Sun Road such a good target destination.

Glacier is about nine hours east of Seattle on I-90 and about ten hours north of Salt Lake City on I-15. From Sturgis? Hey, only another 700 miles....