Going to the Sun Road: Driving Through Glacier National Park

100T8779_LUCiDWhen we planned our long weekend in Glacier National Park, we were incredibly disappointed to hear that Going to the Sun road was going to be closed during our visit due to active forest fires.

We had to quickly switch gears and research other things to do and were bummed to miss an experience that is constantly listed as one of the highlights of visiting the park.

As luck would have it, days before our trip Going to the Sun road reopened! A short portion of the road on the western side of the park was restricted to through traffic—you couldn’t stop to park, hike or explore due to smoke and fire—but that was fine with us!

We were thrilled we would get to experience the drive and looked forward to focusing our hikes and outdoor adventures on the eastern side of the park instead.

During our three days in Glacier National Park, we ended up taking Going to the Sun road three times–once from west to east and twice from east to west– and I’m so glad we did. It was incredible and the different directions, times of day, and weather conditions made it a unique experience each time.

However, there are of course some downsides to taking Going to the Sun road, all of which are related to traffic. While the road itself is only 50 miles long, the journey understandably takes hours when you account for traffic and stops along the way. While stopping to enjoy the ride is the whole point of having the experience, the traffic can be frustrating, especially when pullovers are full, your blood pressure is elevated around tight curves with low barriers, or you have to spend precious time fighting for a parking spot at a visitor’s center. And we were there in the off-season!

That said, you just need to accept the experience in its entirely, keep an open mind about the journey, and know that you are going to have an amazing experience no matter which direction you’re traveling, what time of year you’re visiting, or what weather you’re enjoying/enduring.

Brian printed out the national park’s Going to the Sun road guide so I could read a little background at each of the major pullovers.

Rather than detailing each time we crossed the park, here are a few of our favorite spots and pictures of those spots during our different crossings.

West Tunnel

Drilled in 1926, this 192-foot tunnel has several openings with overlooks. It was pouring down rain when we pulled over but we hustled under its cover to look out over the surrounding area!

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Bird Woman Falls Overlook

Approaching from the east, you come around a corner and see this amazing 492-foot waterfall coursing down from the hanging valley between Mt. Oberlin and Mt. Cannon.

To the right you can also see into a layered valley with a river running between a series of other mountains off into the distance.

To the left you can see the Triple Arches bridge work with a waterfall gushing down from above and carrying on below.

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Big Bend

On our final trip from east to west we pulled over at Big Bend for one of the best viewpoints of our trip. The sky had partially cleared and the area was on fire in colors that had been hidden during our previous gray and rainy passings.

Find me standing along the road in the final picture– Brian wanted to show some scale of the mountains all around us!

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Oberlin Bend

It seemed like there was parking each time we approached Oberlin Bend–it’s just around the corner from the Logan Pass Visitor Center so perhaps some people skip it and go over to the much larger parking area. I thought this stop was well worth it. We parked along the road and walked a short boardwalk out to a viewpoint.

You can just make out the traffic inching along the tiny road up the mountain–again, for scale, see if you can find the construction crane along that road to get an idea of how gigantic this area is from our viewpoint.

We walked along the road to a nearby waterfall, and Brian tried his hand packing some of the relatively fresh-fallen snow into a ball. He did NOT lob it at me!

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Logan Pass Visitor Center

The visitor center was packed so we didn’t spend too much time checking out the small exhibit displays and information. There was a small store and bathrooms as well– it’s a much more functional center than the ones on either side of the park, which have a great deal more information.

The visitor center is also home to several trailheads–we saw a number of people setting off to hike back toward the mountains we could see from Oberlin Bend.

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Lunch Creek

Lunch Creek actually flows down into this valley, and while we didn’t hike the area, we did get out twice as we were driving by for the spectacular views. I loved the fall colors as well as the light dusting of snow on the mountain tops from our last trip across the pass.

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Jackson Glacier Overlook

We saw a few glaciers during our time in the park but none quite as pronounced as Jackson Glacier. The clouds were rolling in but we were able to get a good look at this glacier off in the distance while a park employee stationed at this stop helped answer questions from a few other visitors.

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Sunrift Gorge

On the eastern side of the park we drove through an area recently ravaged by wildfires. The charred remains of trees seemed so stark against the exposed rock of the nearby mountains. However, the ground floor was growing back and those colors were made all the more bright against the dark trees and rocks.

We made the very short 75-foot walk to Sunrift Gorge, walking the tunnel under the road to the other side, checking out a few mini waterfalls, and eventually coming to the small gorge. What I found most interesting was how straight the water has carved the gorge–it slices right through the rock toward the overlook and then makes an almost perfect right angle to the left where it flows into the mini waterfalls. I’ve never seen anything quite so precise!

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Wild Goose Island

Brian has an amazing picture of the tiny Wild Goose Island that he took when he rode his motorcycle through Glacier National Park many years ago.

The weather did not cooperate and produce the clear skies he experienced during our trip, but we did see some blue peeking through during one of our windy stops!

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Golden Staircase

Entering the park from the east you are immediately met with incredible and dramatic views of the mountains overlooking Saint Mary Lake as well as several large pullovers so you can stop and enjoy those views!

We saw several bears in the grassy areas around this park entrance but the Golden Staircase area was one of my favorite viewpoints of the mountains and water.

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Park Shuttles

If you’ve weighed your options and decided you want to enjoy the views but don’t want the headache of the drive, you can always take one of the iconic park shuttles from either visitor center!

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If you’re heading to Glacier National Park, make sure Going to the Sun road is on your list!

One thought on “Going to the Sun Road: Driving Through Glacier National Park

  1. Pingback: Things to Do Near Whitefish, Montana – Heather's Compass

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