Montana: Glacier National Park on Going-to-the-Sun Road

St Mary Lake

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One of America’s — if not the world’s — most spectacular drives, Going-to-the-Sun Road comes at you with a bang. One moment you’re making your way past fast flowing blue-gray glacial rivers, the next you’re into the steep inclines and precipitous overhangs for which this road is rightly famous. This 50-mile drive is not one for the faint-hearted, but a firm hand on the wheel is rewarded with the most breathtaking views of this majestic mountain scenery. And if you’d prefer to take in the views without having to keep your eyes on the road, you could always take a ride in one of the park’s historic red buses. The park itself is open all year round for skiing and snowshoeing, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road is generally closed to vehicles from late October right through to mid-June.

This route was first published in 2010 on RoadTrip America. To see this piece in its original form (together with interactive map) and hundreds of other route suggestions covering North America, visit www.RoadtripAmerica.com.

Here are a few highlights to look out for along the way:

It can be driven in either direction but west-east is the recommended direction; here are some of the sites to look out for along the way:

Whitefish (starting point)
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay ahead of your drive, Whitefish is just 25 miles from the West Entrance. Alongside a good selection of hotels, restaurants and the obligatory arts & crafts galleries, Whitefish is also a base for whitewater rafting, golfing, riding, hiking, fly-fishing and winter sports.

Going-to-the-Sun Road (mile 25)
The scenery is what brings visitors here so expect to find many of the turn-out areas busy. However, most people just stop for the views then drive on, so if you do take a hike along one of the 700 miles of trails, chances are you’ll have the place to yourself. Remember though, this is bear country; attacks are relatively rare but do read and follow the advice provided in the park literature. Rangers at Apgar Visitor Center, just inside the park, will be able to offer full advice.

Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail (mile 41)
This trail is one of the most popular in the park and, as its name suggests, passes through old-growth cedar forest. The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk follows alongside Avalanche Creek; for an only slightly more strenuous walk, take the 2-mile side trip to Avalanche Lake. For a map and photos of these and other trails, visit the NPS website.

Logan Pass (mile 55)
Look out for mountain goats. At busy periods during high summer, the parking area can get so full that you’re forced to carry on without stopping, so plan to visit early in the day or late afternoon if you can.

Jackson Glacier Overlook (mile 58)
This turn-out point provides an excellent view of one of the features that give this park its name. It’s also the start of the Gunsight Pass Trail, a 20-mile hike past lakes, glaciers and alpine meadows to Lake McDonald.

Saint Mary Lake (mile 75)
At the eastern end of the lake is the Saint Mary Visitor Center and the small town of St Mary itself, with a full range of services. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, St Mary Lodge is an extremely scenic, if somewhat pricey, option.

Many Glacier Valley (mile 95)
It’s all too easy to stop at St Mary but do make the effort to drive the extra 20 miles to Many Glacier Valley. There’s an extraordinarily scenic drive along the shores of Lake Sherburne, and Many Glacier itself offers guided boat trips, canoe rentals, horseback rides and a whole selection of hiking trails.

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