With endless glacier-carved mountains and valleys, sparkling aquamarine lakes, sweeping alpine scenery, and over 700 miles of gorgeous hiking trails, Glacier National Park is one of America’s most stunning national parks.
The Going to the Sun Road twists and winds its way for 50 miles (80 kilometers) through the mountains and spans the width of the park between West Glacier and St. Mary on the east side of the park with its highest point being at the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. It’s the most scenic drive in the park and is often considered one of the most beautiful drives in the entire United States.
Driving the Going to the Sun Road is not for the faint of heart though. The road is narrow in spots and sections of the road skirt along the edge of a cliff with dramatic drop-offs to the valley below. Along the drive, you’ll find plenty of pull-outs, scenic viewpoints, and hikes and you’ll want to be well prepared before making the drive so you can see as much as possible along the way.
Glacier National Park is located in northwestern Montana, along the United States-Canadian border. The park has seven entrances, but only three of these have access to the Going to the Sun Road. Most visitors reach the Going to the Sun Road via the West Glacier Entrance or the Saint Mary Entrance although it can also be reached via the Camas Creek Entrance.
Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), just north of Kalispell, Montana, is the closest airport to Glacier National Park. It’s 25 miles (40 kilometers) from FCA to the West Entrance of Glacier National Park. The airport is serviced by most major airlines and direct flights are available from Denver, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and other U.S. cities.
Some travelers choose to fly into the Missoula International Airport (MSO), which is 137 miles (220 kilometers) south of the West Entrance to Glacier National Park. Prices and schedules tend to be similar between Kalispell and Missoula but it’s worth checking both options if you’re looking to save money.
International travelers may opt to fly into Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Alberta, and then make the 187-mile (301-kilometer) drive to the St. Mary’s Entrance to Glacier National Park. Before crossing the United States-Canadian border, travelers can stop by Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.
Most visitors arrive at Glacier National Park by car. Most visitors will arrive via U.S. Highway 2 from either the West Entrance or the St. Mary Entrance (East Entrance).
Arriving at Glacier National Park by train is a fun way to visit the park. The Empire Builder route is one of the most iconic Amtrak lines and runs between Chicago and Seattle, stopping at both the East Glacier Park and West Glacier train stations along the way.
The Going to the Sun Road shuttle system begins operation July 1 or when the Going to the Sun Road opens if a high snowpack prevents it from opening before July 1, and runs until Labor Day. Shuttles run from the Apgar Visitor Center and the St. Mary Visitor Center to the Logan Pass Visitor Center with stops in between.
The fare-free shuttle service operates on a first-come, first-serve basis, and reservations are not required.
Considering the Going to the Sun Road’s sharp turns and overhanging rock, vehicles longer than 21 feet (6.4 meters) or wider than 8 feet (2.4 meters) are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and the Rising Sun picnic area. Many RVs, trailers, and campervans are too long to drive the entire road. Thankfully, there are plenty of spots to park an oversized vehicle and then hop on the park shuttle.
Bicycles are permitted on all roads in the park but are limited from June 15 through Labor Day on the Going to the Sun Road for safety reasons. Cyclists are not permitted on the Going to the Sun Road from the south end of Lake McDonald to the Sprague Creek Campground or eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm during this time.
A Glacier National Park Pass is required for all private vehicles traveling the Going to the Sun Road. Visitors can purchase a Glacier National Park Pass good for seven consecutive days at entrance stations or show their America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for free entry.
Annual national park passes are available for purchase online or at the park entrance. The pass covers entry to all national parks, national monuments, national historic sites, and other federally managed lands. Current military members, families of fourth-grade students, and U.S. citizens with disabilities can receive a free annual pass. Seniors can purchase an annual or lifetime senior pass at a discounted rate, which also gets them discounts on campground fees.
Glacier National Park has 13 campgrounds spread out throughout the park. Most campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and you can find updated information on the status of each campground as well as the time campgrounds filled the previous day on the park website. Fish Creek and Many Glacier are the only campgrounds that accept reservations.
Apgar, Fish Creek, Sprague Creek, Avalanche, Rising Sun, and St. Mary campgrounds are all located near the Going to the Sun Road. No RV hook-ups are available at the park campgrounds but several of the campgrounds have dump stations and drinking water.
Private concessionaires operate several lodges within Glacier National Park. Reservations often fill well in advance so book lodging as soon as you know your travel dates. Rooms for July and August often fill in early spring.
Built in the early days of the park, Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier Park Lodge, and Many Glacier Hotel offer a variety of accommodations in a historic setting. The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Rising Sun Motor Inn offer motel-style lodging, and the Village Inn at Apgar offers full kitchen units in addition to standard motel rooms.
Glacier National Park also has two backcountry huts that visitors can hike to. The Granite Park Chalet is more rustic and visitors must bring their own food, cookware, and sleeping bag whereas the Sperry Chalet includes warm bedding and three meals a day.
You’ll find a greater variety of lodging options in the neighboring communities of Whitefish, Kalispell, and Columbia Falls. You’ll find everything here from standard hotel rooms and resort-style accommodations to rugged cabin rentals and lakeside cottages.
There are also several campgrounds and RV parks in the areas outside Glacier National Park. Campgrounds such as West Glacier RV Park and Cabins, the St. Mary KOA Holiday, and Glacier Peaks RV Park and Campground offer tons of amenities including full RV hookups, free Wi-Fi, dog parks, laundromats, and more. There are also numerous national forest campgrounds in the nearby Flathead and Lewis and Clark National Forests.
Most people visit Glacier National Park from July to September, as they want to hike, drive the Going to the Sun Road, and be able to fully explore all that the park has to offer. The summer months of July and August are the best months to visit Glacier National Park, but they’re also the busiest. Autumn colors can be spectacular but you can also experience winter weather as early as September.
The Going to the Sun Road doesn’t fully open until late June or July. Opening dates depend on how much snow fell during the winter months and other weather-related events. You can view a list of past Going to the Sun Road opening and closing dates on the park website.
If you visit before the road fully opens, you’ll only be able to travel as far as the road is open. This means you won’t be able to drive the entirety of the road from West Glacier to St. Mary. Sections of the Going to the Sun Road may close at any time due to weather and it usually closes for the season the third week of October.
July and August are the best times to visit Glacier National Park but they’re also the busiest. To avoid the crowds, drive the Going to the Sun Road early in the morning. The Logan Pass parking lot often fills before 9:00am and it can be difficult to find parking. Heading to the park first thing in the morning also increases your chances of seeing wildlife.
There is so much to see and do in Glacier National Park that many visitors come back year after year and still find new places to explore. You’ll want to spend at least a few days in the park, including at least one day to explore the Going to the Sun Road. At a minimum allow a half day to travel one way along the Going to the Sun Road, combined with a visit to the Many Glacier section in one long day.
To make the most of your visit, ideally plan on spending two days exploring the Going to the Sun Road. This gives you enough time to explore the sights along the road, do one of the longer hikes, and enjoy a boat tour of St. Mary Lake or a paddle on Lake McDonald. Plan on three days or more, if you plan on exploring Glacier National Park beyond the Going to the Sun Road including the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas.
Located at the lower end of Lake McDonald and roughly two miles from the West Glacier Entrance, Apgar offers a visitor center, some gift and camping stores, dining, lodging and boat rentals. The Apgar Campground is the largest campground in Glacier National Park and almost always full.
Flowing down from Haystack Creek, Haystack Falls is a pretty waterfall that cascades directly beside the Going to the Sun Road. Though you won’t see it as you drive over, there is another small arch that allows the water to pass directly under the road.
The emerald-hued waters of Lake McDonald welcomes visitors to the west side of Glacier National Park. At 10 miles (16 kilometers) long, Lake McDonald is the largest lake in the park. The lakeshore is easily accessed from Apgar Village and the Lake McDonald Lodge, and several hiking trails take off from the Fish Creek Campground area. Visitors will find paddleboard and kayak rentals, horseback riding, boat tours, and bike rentals at Apgar Village.
At 6,646 feet (2,025 meters), Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road. It’s located on the Continental Divide, America’s drainage divide, meaning that precipitation that falls on the east side of Logan Pass flows toward the Atlantic Ocean, and rain or snow that drains to the west flows toward the Pacific Ocean.
Logan Pass is where the popular Highline Trail and Hidden Lake trails begin. Visitors can often spot mountain goats and bighorn sheep grazing in the meadows here and enjoy gorgeous mountain views right from the parking area. There’s also a visitor center at the top of Logan Pass where you can find interactive exhibits, hiking maps, and ranger-guided activities.
Just a few minutes drive to the east of the Logan Pass Visitor Center, Lunch Creek has been a favourite rest stop for many Going to the Sun Road visitors. If exploring, please stick to to the paved areas and designated trails to help prevent further erosion to this over-loved area.
Many Glacier is like a park within the park. Just 12 miles off Highway 89, from the town of Babb, Many offers a superb and stunning collection of views and activities. Hiking options vary from rewarding uphill efforts to Grinnell Glacier, or gentler loop walks around alpine lakes. Lake cruising has been a tradition for Many for decades. Use the cruisers for the pure sightseeing enjoyment or to shorten some of the longer hikes. It’s a great wildlife spotting area too! Food services are available and lodging – but reserve early. Remember that reservations are required to enter Many in peak season.
This viewpoint with stairs to an observation platform has superb views of the mountains and the path of the Going to the Sun Road. On a clear day, the view extends far enough to see mountains in Canada. And can often be a lucky place to spot mountain goats.
Siyeh Bend is another section along the where the road bends its ways through a gulch carved into the mountainside by a constantly fast flowing creek. Siyeh translates to “mad dog” or “crazy wolf” – but no need to fear any rabid beasts here. The pullout provides a place to park off the road and enjoy more great views of the surrounding mountains. The trailhead for some serious hikes into the mountains leave from here.
“The Loop” is a wild hairpin-shaped switchback about 24 miles (39 kilometers) from West Glacier. These tight turns would be difficult for an RV to navigate and they’re the main reason vehicles longer than 21 feet (6.4 meters) are prohibited from Avalanche Creek to Rising Sun.
There’s a parking area at The Loop that offers fantastic views of Heaven’s Peak, the highest peak in the park, and this is where the popular Highline Trail begins (or ends) depending on which way you do the hike.
On this section, there was no flat terrain to create a road and allow a creek to pass without affecting the roadway. Engineers and stone masons designed a bridge of three arches to create a culvert that blended into the scenery, using rock that was debris from blasting the road route. Triple Arches is the most used image from for postcards for the Going to the Sun Road.
There are two places along the route where there was just nowhere to bench the road into mountainside rock, so the answer was to bore a tunnel right through. One tunnel is on the east side of the pass. The tunnel on the west side has two observations windows cut into it and is a great place for a photo.
Located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from West Glacier, the Weeping Wall is a series of waterfalls that pour off the cliffs above the Going to the Sun Road. The waterfalls were created when crews blasted through the rock to construct the Going to the Sun Road. The best time to see the Weeping Wall is during peak snowmelt in June and July.
Wild Goose Island is one of the most gorgeous photo locations in Glacier National Park. This tiny island is home to a handful of trees and it sits in the middle of St. Mary’s Lake completely surrounded by mountains. You’ll find the Goose Island Viewpoint along St. Mary Lake near the eastern entrance to the park. Wild Goose Island is best photographed at sunrise.
Located about 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) east of the Lake McDonald Lodge along the Going to the Sun Road, the Trail of the Cedars is a lovely boardwalk trail through an ancient forest of red cedars. This short trail is wheelchair accessible and interpretative signage along the trail points out interesting facts about the forest.
The trail to Avalanche Lake begins from Trail of the Cedars trailhead. The trail follows the same path as the Trail of the Cedars but then continues on through the Avalanche Creek gorge to the picturesque Avalanche Lake. It’s 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) to the lake from the trailhead and gains about 500 feet (152 meters).
The hike to Hidden Lake Overlook begins near the Logan Pass Visitor Center. This 2.7-mile (4.3-kilometer) roundtrip hike travels through an open meadow with mountain views in all directions to an amazing overlook of Hidden Lake and the surrounding mountains. Mountain goat sightings are common near the overlook and more adventurous hikers can continue another 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) to the shore of Hidden Lake.
The Highline Trail is Glacier’s most spectacular longer distanced trail. Beginning at Logan Pass, this 11.6-mile (18.7-kilometer) one-way hike travels along the Continental Divide with scenic views of glaciated valleys and plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities. Hikers can do the entire trail in one day and take the shuttle bus back to Logan Pass from the “Loop” trailhead or hike the trail over two days and stay overnight midway at the Granite Park Chalet.
Waterfall lovers will enjoy the hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls. The hike begins from the St. Mary Falls trailhead located at the western end of St. Mary Lake. It’s 3.8 miles (6.1 kilometers) roundtrip to the falls from the St. Mary Falls parking area and only 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers) from the shuttle stop.
Lake McDonald’s calm waters make it an ideal destination for paddle sports. Rent a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak at Apgar Village or launch your own at the Apgar boat launch. Head out early in the morning or in the early evening to enjoy the best views and avoid choppy water.
Taking a scenic boat cruise is one of the best ways to enjoy St. Mary Lake. Tours are reasonably priced and provide views of interesting lake sights not visible from the road. You’ll enjoy up-close views of Wild Goose Island and other small islands as well as catch a glimpse of the Sexton Glacier and the remnants of a cabin constructed by Louis Hill, one of the early pioneers of Glacier National Park.
In early summer, driving past the Weeping Wall is like getting a free car wash. The Weeping Wall is located on the north side of the road meaning westbound traffic will get the wettest. When heading west past the Weeping Wall, you can also open the windows and give your passengers a free shower.
Layers: Weather can be unpredictable in Glacier National Park. The park can be pretty chilly in the morning, especially in the higher altitude areas of the park such as Logan Pass. Pack plenty of layers and rain gear for afternoon storms.
Hiking Boots Or Comfortable Shoes: A pair of comfortable walking shoes will work well for short hikes but you’ll want to pay something sturdier for longer hikes.
Daypack: Bring along a daypack large enough to fit all the essentials including extra clothing layers, water, snacks, maps, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and a first aid kit.
Refillable Water Bottle or Hydration System: To stay well-hydrated along the trail, be prepared with a refillable water bottle or hydration bladder that you can easily stash in your daypack.
Ear Buds: Bring a pair of ear buds or headphones with you, so that you can continue listening to the tour while on the park shuttle.
Plenty of Snacks: Dining and grocery options are limited at Glacier National Park so you’ll want to come prepared with plenty of snacks like granola bars or trail mix.
Binoculars: For help spotting wildlife, bring along a pair of compact binoculars to stash in your daypack. Binoculars will also help you keep a safe distance from wildlife since you won’t be tempted to get a little closer for a better view.
Bear Spray: Carrying bear spray is an excellent way to be prepared for bear attacks. Glacier National Park is home to both black bears and grizzly bears, and although bear encounters are very rare, it is important to be prepared.
Plastic Bag: A handy item to throw in your daypack, ready to pack out any lunch leftovers or to help clean up a trail during your hike by picking up any trash that you might find along the way.
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