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Greatest National Park Drives

Today Park Chasers is sharing another installment in our series on epic drives within the National Parks. Each year, thousands of Americans embark on road trips and driving adventures within the National Park Service. This series showcases the roads and scenic drives you don’t want to miss on your next National Park visit.  Check out our previous post on Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

If you ask a friend or colleague who visited Glacier National Park recently, more than likely you will hear a story about the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Driving the legendary route is always listed on the “Top Things to Do in Glacier.” It’s also the highlight of many vacations.

Not only is it an engineering marvel, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is also the backbone of Glacier National Park travel.  From mid-June to mid-October, traveling on the road over Logan Pass is the most efficient route from the busy West Glacier area to the quieter, Many Glacier area of the park. When the Going-to-the-Sun Road closes for the year, locals and winter enthusiasts have to travel around the bottom of the park. It’s a distance of nearly 50 miles farther to reach the other side.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road as seen from the Highline Trail at Logan Pass

The Going-to-the-Sun Road as seen from the Highline Trail at Logan Pass

About the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Construction on the Going-to-the-Sun Road began in 1921. The road was formally dedicated on July 15, 1933.  The total cost of construction was estimated at $2.5 million. It was one of the first projects of its kind in the National Park Service. It specifically catered to automobile traffic.  Until then, Glacier was mostly enjoyed via train, on horseback, or on foot.

Drivers back then and now enjoy impressive views along the 50 mile roadway.  Hairpin turns, tunnels, and steep drop offs are common.  If you have the option, plan to take one of the Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle buses. During the summer these shuttles operate every 15-30 minutes with stops at all of the major trailheads.  Not only are they free, they also let you do more gawking and less worrying about the road!

Wild Goose Island - Going-to-the-Sun Road - Glacier National Park

Wild Goose Island – Going-to-the-Sun Road – Glacier National Park

Stops Along the Going-to-the-Sun Road

The stops below are listed West to East along the road:

  • Apgar Visitor’s Center – The first stop on the Western gate of the road is at the Apgar Visitor’s Center.  Pick up your passport stamp and a park map. Then check in with the ranger about bear activity, construction or road closures ahead.
  • Lake McDonald – The first section of the Going-to-the-Sun Road travels along Lake McDonald. The pristine waters of this long mountain lake are just the introduction to the vistas ahead.
  • Avalanche Creek & Trail of Cedars – This is one of the most popular destinations in the park and for good reason.  Hiking the Avalanche Lake Trail should be high on your list of pull outs along the road.
  • Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

    Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

  • Logan Pass – At 6,646 feet, Logan Pass is the highest point along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Open only a few short months in the summer, the visitor’s center is the perfect place to stop and stretch, grab lunch, and go for a hike.  Consider the Hidden Lake trail for a chance to see mountain goats and grizzly bears.  Or if heights don’t seem to bother, the Highline Trail is another great choice departing from Logan Pass.
  • Siyeh Bend – As you drive the next section of road, you’ll slowly begin to descend.  Just after you leave Logan Pass you’ll be entering the areas of Glacier National Park that receive the highest snowfalls per year. Some years the snow at “Big Drift” located just past Logan Pass reaches 80-100 feet deep!
  • East Tunnel – Constructed in 1931, this is tunnel is one of the most famous parts of the road.  No power equipment could be brought this high up, so all of the excavated rock had to be carried out by hand.
  • Jackson Glacier – If you’re not planning to hike in the park, the overlook to Jackson Glacier is the best place to see a glacier from your vehicle.  This is the 5th largest glacier in the park.
  • St. Mary’s Visitor’s Center – the first top on the Eastern gate of the road is the St. Mary’s Visitor’s Center.  Pick up more passport stamps and park info here.

Finally, if you’re looking for more Going-to-the-Sun Road resources, check out the links below:

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