25 Tips to drive the iconic Going to the Sun road | Glacier National Park

7:33 PM

Glacier National Park is known as the Crown of the continent and rightly so, because driving on Going to the Sun road is like transition of camera frames - each frame more beautiful than the other. Whether its watching the mountain goats graze or whether its hiking to several glacial lakes and glaciers or whether its admiring the uncountable waterfalls and trickles that pass you by or whether it’s your car getting an Alpine shower at the weeping wall or whether it’s a snowfield or whether its lush bright green hills or whether its hikes by friendly NPS rangers or whether its Grizzlies grazing next to your campground. It’s rare to find a combination so perfect that even our week’s stay felt less. It’s rare for us to feel that way but there was still so much to do and see! It is wilderness in its truest sense.


 Roll up your car windows or Roll down. Either ways, you would love the gushing waterfalls
that drops on the road @WeepingWall!                
 

You would be traversing through humongous landscape where you’d realize how miniscule we as human beings are in there. Cars look like toys as we drive on the only road that cuts through the panorama of valleys and peaks.

It’s interesting how landscapes in Montana can be. When we were in Kalispell, we had no idea if these low-lying mountains ahead of us in view would change to something so dramatic that we would be spell bound. Nonetheless, this doesn’t come as a surprise, it’s a slow transition from West Glacier entrance to the peaks and the valley and ends again with gradually seeming to relax in the East Glacier exit.

Due to the popularity of Glacier National Park during Summer season (Mid July - Sept 1st week), the airfare prices are usually high to the nearest Airport. What I would suggest is, go during the shoulder season - Fall is beautiful there (Anyone for TBEX Montana this year?) or even if you fly during Summers fly into airports that are 5 hours away - Spokane, Billings etc. to cut down on significant air cost.

Previous posts on Glacier National Park: 
A week in Glacier National Park, Montana
First Come First Serve Camping in Glacier National Park, Montana

Here is the map of Going to the Sun road (Map Reference : NPS Newsletter):




Some of the highlights from Going to the Sun road are:

1. Glacier National Park signboard: Our first selfie has to be with the billboard.

2. Apgar Visitor Center: Just as you enter on your left after a few minutes into drive is Apgar Visitor Center. It does provide information services - I would suggest taking your first stop here. It’s a great place to grab maps, newsletter, know about which trails you can do from the information counter, know about vacancies in the campsites etc. We almost always stop at the Visitor Center in every National park in the US including this one. They are always very helpful and guide you through this.

Plus, with barely any network in Glacial National Park, a newsletter and a map are a very useful resource. Besides that, the Visitor center also serves as a shuttle hub for the west side of the park and houses a Glacier National Park Conservancy Store. We also have some ranger programs there, so we attended one that talked about wildlife in Glacier National Park including Bears that are in significant numbers in Glacier National Park.

3. Apgar Campground: Apgar is the largest campground in the park with 194 sites (cost $20 nightly) and makes a great base for explorations on the West side of Glacier.

4. Sprague Creek Campground: Another campground located within trees in the west with about 25 sites.

5. Lake Mc Donald: As we started driving ahead of Apgar Campground, we saw the big Lake Mc Donald as our friend accompanying us. Lake Mc Donald Valley is the largest of many glacially carved lakes in the past which is 10 miles long and 90 feet deep. Mc Donald Lake is a result of a massive glacier that once filled the valley and carved the deep basin filled with water today. The powerful Glaciers that carved the U-shaped lake also carved the smaller hanging valley with waterfalls accessible by hikes.



Lake Mc Donald also has scenic boat cruises by Glacier Park Boat Company (11:00,1:30,3:00,5:30,7:00). They also do provide small boat rentals such as Kayaks, Paddleboards etc. So, there’s quite a water activity in that area. We saw a few folks paddle board in the lake. The water was pretty chilly in early July and with all the snow melting, we could barely dive our feet in. If you are going on a long weekend, Glacier National Park can be pretty crowded and its advisable to book your boat tour at least a day in advance.







6. Lake Mc Donald Lodge: Along the shores of Lake Mc Donald, lies the national historic mark of Lake Mc Donald Lodge. Constructed in 1913-14 to resemble a rustic hunting lodge with Swiss inspired architecture, it provides a warm stay for overnight guests. It also provides boat tours, horseback rides, groceries and dining etc. Also, do not forget to check out these telephone booths in the area.

                                       Unique Phone Booth outside Mc Donald Lodge

7. Mc Donald Creek Overlook: Past Lake Mc Donald is a small parking pullout at the creek. The creek had a rush of water in it during July as it was hitting on the rocks. All the streams and waterfalls in early July had a rush to it!





8. Avalanche Creek: You can explore the Cedar Hemlock forest by hiking on the trail of Cedar Nature or to Avalanche Lake. You may want to check out staying at Avalanche Creek for this hike. The 4.5-mile roundtrip hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park begins from the Trail of the Cedars Trailhead, located 5.5 miles east of the Lake McDonald Lodge. The trail ends at Avalanche Lake, where waterfalls pour off the Sperry Glacier. It’s a good place to picnic or stay in the West Glacier. There are 87 sites in the Avalanche Creek ($20).

9. West Tunnel: There are two tunnels in Going to the Sun road - the West and the East. As you drive through the West Tunnel, you would wonder on how this tunnel may have been created. Watch the video here.





10. The Loop: The only switchback on the road gives us scenic view of the Heavens Peak and up-close look at the aftermath of the fire in 2003. You can also do a strenuous 4.5-mile hike to Granite Park Chalet from here.




11. Bird Women Falls Overlook: Bird Woman Falls cascades 492 feet from the hanging valley between Mt Oberlin and Mt Cannon.






12. Weeping Wall: This was of our best part of the journey. A series of gushing waterfalls falls onto your car as you drive through. Roll up your windows if you wish to stay dry. We did drive to and fro at this site, we loved getting wet sitting in our car with our heads out...


13. Big Bend: The Big Bend has room to park, and you get great views of Mt Cannon, Mt Oberlin, Heavens peak and the weeping wall.

14. Oberlin Bend: Just a short boardwalk away is a great place to see the landscape but also the mountain goats. We got to see the mountain goat on the edge of a hill surrounded by the panoramic views of the peaks and valleys.







15. Logan Pass: Logan Pass sites on the continental divide at 6646 feet. Forget everything else, but park here the earlier possible you can in the morning, possibly before 8:30am. This place gets jam packed and finding a parking is a hassle after 9am. Since there are two significant hikes that run from here - Hidden Lake and Highline Trail, there are plenty of people in the area. There is also a visitor center in the area - the Hidden Lake trail starts from behind the Visitor Center.


The Highline Trail starts from across the street. Hidden Lake is a great hike we still had the trail all snow covered in early July but hiking on it was fun too, we will talk about it in the next post. Also, we found that there were more Mountain Goats on the start of highland trail than the Hidden Lake. Highline Trail is not for the faint hearted, my husband backed down from it. And I gave up on an attempt to hike alone. Hidden Lake on the other hand is very doable. If you wish to go to Glacier National Park when possibility of snow-covered trail will be little less, would be the month of August and late July.

16. Lunch Creek: Lunch Creek flows down the national rock staircase from the striking backdrop of Pullock Mountain.

17. East Tunnel: East Tunnel was one of the most difficult challenges to create. This 408-foot tunnel through Piegan Mountain has waterfall cascade down it.




18. Siyeh Bend: Siyeh Bend is where the higher elevation meets the forests of the east side. Many hiking trails start from here.













19. Jackson Glacier Overlook: Stop here for the best view of Glacier from the road.



20. Gunsight Pass Trailhead: This strenuous hike trail ascends to the Continental divide and take hikers through Subalpine lakes and historic Sperry Chalet. After the fire of August 2017, hikers will find the walls of the structure and some debris remaining. There are also many backcountry camping sites in the area.

21. St Mary Falls & St. Mary Lake : St. Mary Falls Shuttle stop gives us an access to a short hike into the valley. St Mary Falls and thereafter Virginia Falls can be hiked from here.





22. Sunrift Gorge: It’s a water carved gorge conveniently located just 75-foot walk from the stop.

23. Wild Goose Island: One of the most iconic picture-perfect stops. The peaks, the St Mary Lake and the Island all makes a very painting worthy capture. Come here during sunset. The colors change beautifully.



24. Rising Sun: This is the campground that we stayed in. It’s a perfect location for all the accessible areas in the park. Also, St Mary boat tours run from across the road. Do not forget to check out the ranger programs from Rising Sun. Just next to Rising Sun are flowery meadows where Grizzlies used to come every day at 7:00pm. Two dog flats are a grass land community that provided grassland and habitat for a large number of species.

25. St Mary Campground & St Mary Visitor Center: St Mary is the largest campground on the east side of the park. St Mary Visitor Center is a great place for information services, WIFI, exhibits etc. St Mary is a very small village with a few grocery stores. I would still suggest stocking up from Walmart in Kalispell as not everything is available at these grocery stores plus the prices are cheaper at Walmart. There is also a KOA in St. Mary.

All in all, going to the Sun road provides an ample point of interest to keep you busy. It glues together different landscapes & hikes and make it worth a drive!

However, I felt that Going to the Sun road may be the highlight, but the best part about Glacier National Park was the Many Glacier area. Both the roads from St Mary to Many Glacier & St Mary to Two Medicine aren’t as well-maintained roads compared to Going to the Sun. We will talk about them in our next posts.

Tips: Parking areas through the park will fill to capacity early in the day. This is especially true for Logan Pass, St. Mary Falls Trailhead, Avalanche Creek, Siyeh Bend, Sunrift gorge and the Loop. Most of the popular locations along the road can be accessed by fare-free Going to the Sun road shuttles.

Bicycling: Bicycles are only allowed on specific trails identified on the map. Bicycles must comply with all traffic regulations.

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1 Comments

  1. Great job! it is a nice and helpful content. Thanks for sharing to us.

    ReplyDelete

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