After exploring all we could on the east side of Glacier National Park, we woke up the third day and discovered that the Going-to-the-Sun road had opened for the season. I have no idea how we got so lucky that it opened up on the day we had to go from Rising Sun Motor Inn to our Airbnb in Whitefish. So, we checked out of the hotel and hit the road much earlier than we expected that day!
Going-to-the-Sun Road is 50 miles long and runs from St. Mary to Apgar Village, crossing the Continental Divide. It is a beautiful drive, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Completed in 1933, the road is a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark complete with stunning vistas, tunnels through mountains, hairpin turns, and bridges over cascading waterfalls.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel and you really have to see it to understand it. Before we drove it, I could not figure out how it could be the end of June and the road was not open yet. Then, we drive the portion of the road that was closed only a few hours earlier, get to Logan Pass and some of the hiking trails were still covered in snow (above). On parts of the road, snow was pushed up to create a wall right next to the road. I’m from Michigan, I’m used to snow and cold winters. This was a new experience for me.
I kept thinking if they started plowing in April or May, how could they still be working on it on June 25? Well, up to 80 feet of snow can be lying on the road near Logan Pass in an area known as the Big Drift. The plows can usually reach this area around mid-May but can often take a month or more to plow it due to avalanche risk. We were talking with a ranger on June 24, hoping that the road would open and she told us that at that point, the plowing was done, they were just making sure the road was safe from avalanche risk before opening to the public.
Now, my description may make this road seem scary, and at times it was a little hair-raising, but the views are absolutely worth it! Due to the nature of the road, vehicles must be less than 21 feet long, ten feet long, and eight feet long to drive between the Avalanche Campground and Rising Sun. If your vehicle is too large or you’re just nervous driving, Glacier Park Lodges offer guided tours on a fleet of historic, red, jammer busses! I was so disappointed that I wasn’t able to score a reservation for one of the tours because the buses are iconic!
In 2021, driving Going-to-the-Sun Road required reservations. Reservations at lodging along the road, the aforementioned bus tours, and boat tours also counted as reservations. If you didn’t have one of those existing reservations, you needed to reserve an entry ticket on Recreation.gov to be able to drive the road during the day. You were also able to enter the road before 8 AM and after 5 PM. A lot of people had difficulty getting reservations. We were able to get them the first day they were available without any problems.
The reduced capacity of the road made for a much nicer driving experience than I had hear about in the past. There was no bumper-to-bumper traffic. A few times, we were able to pull over and take pictures of the road without another car in it! I may be in the minority here, but I really hope they bring back reservations for 2022. They can increase the capacity some, but don’t let it get flooded with cars again. This was a much better way to see this iconic park!
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week as I recount our experience launching a kayak in Lake McDonald! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.