The rugged landscape of Glacier National Park in Montana is crossed by the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, a beautiful route between the Apgar Visitor Center and the Saint Mary Visitor Center. This road is perhaps one of the most beautiful scenic routes in America and introduces you to a range of highlights of Glacier National Park.
Along the route you will find a lot of natural beauty, such as glaciers, rugged mountain cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, lush cedar forests and meadows. Driving the route is already a challenge in itself. The road reaches an altitude of 2036 meters at Logan Pass and parts of the road meander through the mountains, giving you a beautiful view from extremely steep slopes. There are viewpoints and stopping points along the route where you can stop to view the surroundings and take photos. Along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road you can also encounter beavers, otters, snow goats, bighorn sheep and elks. This national park is one of the few places in the US where grizzly bears live, but the chance that you encounter one is not that big.
Sightseeing along the Going to the Sun Road
If you enter Glacier National Park through the south-west entrance (at the Apgar Visitor Center), the Sun Road will take you past Lake McDonald. There are a dozen large lakes and hundreds of smaller lakes in the park, of which only 131 have been given a name. Lake McDonald is the largest lake, with a length of 9 miles (16 km) and a width of 1750 Yards (1.6 km). The lake fills a valley created by a combination of erosion and glacier activity. At the south-western point are the visitor center, stops for the shuttle buses and accommodation and dining options. Here is also the Discovery Cabin, where you can learn all about the plants and animals in the park. Below the other points on the Sun Road are discussed, in order from west to east.
Trail of the Cedars
This is a paved and wheelchair-accessible walking path of about one kilometer long, along cedar trees of 24 meters high. You can walk around, but also take the exit to Avalanche Lake. Halfway through the round you can see a beautiful waterfall that has worn through colorful rocks. The path can be reached from the Sun Road just past Lake McDonald. If you follow the Sun Road further to the east, you will pass the only hairpin in this road. Here you have a very nice view of Heaven’s Peak.
Bird Woman Falls
There are about two hundred waterfalls in the park. Bird Woman Falls, which plunges 152 meters into the north of Mount Oberlin, is visible from a distance of three kilometers when you follow the Sun Road. The waterfalls are fed by higher snow fields and remains of glaciers. The waterfall is the largest at the end of spring and the beginning of summer. In autumn there is only a small stream left. McDonald Falls in the McDonald Valley and Swiftcurrent Falls in the Many Glacier Area are some of the largest waterfalls.
This special waterfall is located just after Bird Woman Falls Overlook. The Weeping Wall (literally: crying wall) flows down from the often green rock face from scratch. A lot of wild flowers bloom in the summer.
A little further on is Logan Pass, the highest point on the Sun Road, at 2,025 meters. This point is a popular starting point for hiking trips or backpack trips. The most famous hiking trail is the Highline Trail, which runs along the highest peaks. The mountain pass is also a suitable location for spotting wild animals, including the mountain goat. East of the pass is an area known as Big Drift. Thirty meters of snow fall annually in this area, which means that the mountain pass is often closed in winter due to avalanche danger. As a result, the entire Sun Road is only open from late May to mid October. Just after Logan Pass you come to the Siyeh Bend. This point marks the transition from the higher sub-mountain vegetation in the west and the forests on the eastern side. Different hiking tours begin here.
High Line Trail
After every step, you will have an even more impressive view with rugged mountain peaks, glacier meadows and Lake McDonald far below you. Although you are high in the mountains and follow the Continental Divide, the High Line Trail is mostly flat. You have a good chance to encounter bighorn sheep and mountain goats along the way, but also be aware of bears. Make regular noise to not suddenly face to face with a bear. It is a good idea to park at the Loop, in a hairpin bend on the Sun Road (12 miles/20.8 km from McDonald Lodge). From here you can take the shuttle bus to Logan Pass, where you start the walk. Then you walk back to the parking lot. When you do the walking route in this way, it is more than 11 miles (19 km) long. This route usually only opens in July. Be well informed at the visitor center before you set off. Take plenty of food and drink. Also keep in mind that the shuttle buses are sometimes full and you have to wait.
The Jackson Glacier is the fifth largest glacier of the nearly thirty glaciers in Glacier National Park with a length of more than 1100 Yards (1km). The glacier is on the north side of Mount Jackson. In 1850 this glacier was still part of the Blackfoot Glacier, which is now about 1 mile (1.7 km) long. On the Sun Road is Jackson Glacier Overlook: here you have by far the best view of the glacier. Jackson Glacier overlook is located on the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, between Logan Pass and St. Mary Lake.
St. Mary Lake
This second largest lake in the park (after Lake McDonald) covers an area of 16 square kilometers. The Sun Road runs along the north bank. The lake lies at an altitude of 1,367 meters, which makes the water ice cold. In the winter it is often frozen and there is ice of a meter thick. At the lake one of the most popular hikes starts: a 2 miles (3.8 km) long circular walk along the foot of St. Mary Falls. The walk can be made 1 mile (2 km) longer by visiting the Virginia Falls. On the lake are the Sunrift Gorge, a gorge carved by water and the Sun Point, where the Sun Point Nature Trail begins. During this walk of a total of 1,2 mile (3 km) you can very well see the effect of water, wind and ice on the landscape. You also have beautiful views of Baring Falls and St. Mary Lake.
The Rising Sun is an area along St. Mary Lake where the prairies and mountains meet. Especially the sunrise is very beautiful here. In the area are facilities such as a camp store and restaurant. There is also a jetty for boats and you can view St. Mary Lake from here by boat. The next stop is the St. Mary Visitor Center and also the terminus of the Sun Road in the park.
The following pages list hikes by district. Area maps are included on each page.
- Due to snow and avalanche danger, the Sun Road is only fully open during the summer – often between late June / early July and late September / early October; the exact dates depend on the weather. If the road is snowed, you can drive into the park from the west and east entrance, but not reach all the sights. View the current road condition.
- Go early in the morning to avoid parking problems (especially at Logan Pass Visitor Center). Please note: vehicles longer than 21 feet and above 10ft are not allowed on the Sun Road, they must travel with the free hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus.
- Motorhome travelers can best reserve a campsite at the east or west entrance of Glacier and explore the park by shuttle bus. If you travel by camper or if the Sun Road is closed, you can also choose to travel from St. Mary’s Lake to Lake McDonald via Highway 2 (travel time: 2 hours). Lake McDonald is accessible via one access from the Sun Road, St. Mary Lake through the other.
- Shuttle buses: The free shuttle buses run from the beginning of July through Labor Day (beginning of September) between the Apgar Visitor Center (east) and St. Mary Visitor Center (west) and depart every 30-60 minutes. The buses run only every 30-60 minutes, so when a bus is full, the waiting time increases considerably. This can be the case – especially at weekends. Therefore go early! You can step back and forth at all major attractions. Ask the visitor center for more information about the exact departure times.
- Paid bus tours: Glacier NP red bus tour You can also opt for a paid bus tour. These buses usually run as long as the Sun Road is open. With a sightseeing tour of Sun Tours you depart from East or West Glacier and make a round trip of more than half a day through the park. A native guide will teach you more about the indigenous culture and history and you will stop at major sites to take pictures. You can also buy a ticket for Red Bus Tours. They provide both shuttle services from the east and west entrance to the nearest visitor center and excursions of a full or half day. The buses on the west side sometimes run from half / end of May until the beginning of October.
- Speed Limit For safety reasons, 45 miles per hour is the speed limit in the lower elevations of the road and 25 miles per hour in the alpine section. Please be careful around blind curves as animals and pedestrians do cross the road.
Climate of the Going to the Sun Road
Glacier National Park has two different climates because it extends around the Continental Divide. This separation runs over the highest peaks of the Rockies from north to south and marks the separation of water streams, which end up in the Atlantic on the one hand and the Pacific Ocean on the other. As a result, the warm and humid Pacific wind blows in the west, causing a lot of precipitation. The weather in the east is dominated by cold, dry polar winds. Although the climate on the west side is milder than on the east side, the maximums in the winter are almost everywhere in the park below or around the freezing point
Best travel time for the Going to the Sun Road
Summer is the best season for a visit to Glacier National Park. The maximum temperature is then between 16 and 21 degrees Celsius, while it can cool to around freezing point at night. In the valleys on the west side, however, the temperature on a hot summer day can rise to over 30 degrees Celsius. Snowfall occurs throughout the year, even in the summer it can snow in the higher areas. The campgrounds in Glacier are usually open from the end of May to the beginning of September. The campgrounds Apgar (west) and St. Mary (east) are open all year round.
Along the Road
- Gas is not available anywhere in the park or on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- Food and lodging can be found along the road at Rising Sun, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Apgar Village.
- Picnic areas may be found at Rising Sun, Avalanche Creek, Sprague Creek, and Apgar.
- 5 out of 13 campgrounds in Glacier are located along the road: Apgar, Sprague Creek, Avalanche, Rising Sun, and St. Mary. Please see this Camping section for more information.
- There are three visitor centers located along Going-to-the-Sun Road: Apgar Visitor Center, Logan Pass Visitor Center, and St. Mary Visitor Center. All have restroom facilities, trip planning information, bookstores, drinking water, and exhibits.
- For information on specific points of interest along Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit the Shuttle Stops page.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada
Do you also want to visit Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada? Then keep your passport and cash ready for the border crossing. You do not need travel documents to cross the border per vehicle. At the entrance of the Canadian park you can get brochures and route maps. Highlights in Waterton Lakes National Park are the Prince of Wales Hotel and Red Canyon.
In recent years, dozens of hotel booking sites have come to let you book hotels online in regions like Going to the Sun Road. Do you want to compare all providers in one go and find the cheapest room? Then go to Booking.com Glacier National Park. Here you can find & book the cheapest rooms for your travel dates!
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