Situated in Glacier National Park, the Crown Jewel of America, Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most impressive feats of engineering marvel in the United States. Spanning 50 miles west-to-east and crossing the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,646 feet, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is truly a marvel to behold.
The National Park Service park rangers do an amazing job maintaining this historic road for all the visitors who come to the park. Plenty of pull-offs and parking areas provide amazing photography opportunities along with great ways to make a memory or two.
Be sure to obtain a park pass ahead of time! The only way into Glacier is with a park pass.
Where is Going-to-the-Sun Road?
While the road can be started off either at the west glacier entrance or the east glacier entrance, the west glacier entrance is by far the most common way. West Glacier is also considered the more scenic of the two sides too.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Is in Glacier National Park Flathead County, Montana
This is where the west entrance to Glacier National Park is located. Going-to-the-Sun Road connects west glacier to east glacier so it does cross into Glacier County on the St. Mary side also.
What is Special About Going-to-the-Sun Road?
I always heard about this “special” road in Montana. But what’s the big woop? What’s so great about some mountain road in the middle of BFE?
Going-to-the-Sun Road Is Special Because It Is The Most Scenic Road In America And Some Say The World
Well, the big woop is that this is not just any ordinary road. Going-to-the-Sun Road is a construction marvel that crosses one of the most scenic national parks in America. The fact that this road even exists is mind-boggling, not to mention all the prep the NPS of Glacier National Park puts in to make this drive possible every year.
3 men died during the 35 years of construction tells that humans should never have laid eyes on this modern marvel.
But with that being said, I am so grateful for the hard work that was, and still is being put into such a masterpiece. Without this road, most of the park would be inaccessible to anyone not willing to hike miles on end.
Do I Need Vehicle Reservations For Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Starting on May 27th through September 11th of 2022, vehicle reservations for Going-to-the-Sun Road will need to be made in order to be able to experience this drive. Please note that vehicles over 21 feet and vehicle combinations over 21 feet are prohibited on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Yes, You Do Need A Reservation For Going-to-the-Sun Road
Unfortunately, the vehicle reservation system means that a ticket is needed to be able to drive this incredibly scenic road. However, it is well worth the effort of going through the process.
Why does Going-to-the-Sun Road Have A Reservation System?
As popular as Going-to-the-Sun Road is, you will be happy there is a reservation system. Before the reservation system was in place, the road was packed and parking was a nightmare. Not to mention if there was an emergency, crews had a very hard time accessing the location of the accident.
Having a system like this helps cut down on all of the traffic, and keeps the ecosystem safe.
How Long Is Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Knowing how long a trip is going to be is half of the battle. The other half is knowing what to see! And trust me we will get to everything to see soon. Depending on if you come from the east entrance or the west entrance, the times will be a little different due to traffic.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Is 50-Miles Long
At just under 50 miles long, Going-to-the-Sun Road is the longest road In Glacier National Park. The west-to-east road traverses the Rocky Mountains, winding its way through forests, meadows, and glaciers. Incredible sights are going to be seen and if you’re lucky, plenty of wildlife too.
How Long Should I Plan For Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Planning is crucial for a drive that can take this long. All things considered, the west entrance is the most used making some difficulty driving west on the road. Although the time difference is not much, definitely take it into consideration if you’re on a time crunch. Be sure to load up on the snacks, pack a lunch, and have plenty of fuel for the ride, it’s going to be a long one.
Be sure to look up if there will be any road construction while you are visiting the park. This can add a lot of time to your travel plans.
You Should Plan 5 Hours For Going-to-the-Sun Road
Truly, the trip only takes about 1.5 hours to complete. However, this is just going one way. Plan on another 1.5 hours back for a total of 3 hours. This isn’t even taking into account any stopping for pictures or hiking that can be done along the way. And trust me, you will be stopping quite a bit. With all of this taken into account, plan for about a 5-hour round trip.
Now, this may seem like a long time for a scenic drive, and it is. However, the time will fly by, broken up by all the sights and stops, the drive does not feel as long as it is.
When is Going-to-the-Sun Open 2022?
Being so high up in the mountains, Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed for most of the year due to snow. But trust me, you would not want to drive this road with any amount of snow on it.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Is Open From Late June To Late October.
This timetable varies a little bit depending on when Going-to-the-Sun Road can be cleared of the snow, and when the snow decides it’s time to fall.
Generally, a good rule of thumb for when the road is open is between late June/early July through the third week of October.
If you need a live update on if Going-to-the-Sun Road is open, check out here.
What Is The Best Time Of Year To See Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Considering the road is only open for around 4 months a year, there isn’t a huge difference in times of year to go. However, there are a few things to consider. One is, what do you want to see? And the other is, do you mind crowds?
The Best Time Of Year To See Going-to-the-Sun Road Is August
Considering this is peak busy season for Glacier National Park, it would surprise a lot of people that the recommended best time to visit Going-to-the-Sun Road is August. Before you click away, let me explain.
August is the best time to visit because the weather is immaculate during this time, all the wildlife is out, and this is the best time to see wildflowers in full bloom in the meadows.
The ambiance of an August drive is out of this world. Crisp mountain air, animals strolling about, and the weather all play a huge factor in this being the best time to visit. The only downside is, that the crowds know this too.
If fall color is more your thing then mid-September would be the time to go drive Going-to-the-Sun Road. The temperature can be chilly but the amazing array of colors is stunning. Most of the wildlife is still out around this time too.
When Is The Best Time To Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Planning on when to start driving Going-to-the-Sun Road is an integral part of your day. Choosing the right time of day can mean the difference between crowds and getting in for free.
The Best Time To Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road Is Early Morning
By far the best time to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road is in the morning. The crowds will not be out in full force during this time, and the parking lots will still have plenty of parking areas to see everything the road has to offer.
If you are a sunrise type of person you are in luck! Not only does Going-to-the-Sun Road offer the second-best sunrises in Glacier National Park, but if you enter before 6 AM, entry is free! No reservations are needed.
What Is The Best Part Of Going-to-the-Sun Road?
If you’re already on the most scenic drives in America, you might as well experience the best it has to offer. There are a ton of places that could be considered the best. However, in my opinion, there is one place that outshines them all.
The Best Part Of Going-to-the-Sun Road Is Logan Pass
There is no doubt in my mind that Logan Pass is the best place to visit while on your adventure. The views here are absolutely stunning.
Is Going-to-the-Sun Road Scary?
For a lot of people, driving on a road that has sheer cliff sides that go down thousands of feet, can be daunting. If you get vertigo or have a fear of heights, definitely have someone else drive this road.
Some Parts Of Going-To-The-Sun Road Are Scary
While it’s certainly one of the most beautiful roads in America—if not the world—it’s important to remember that it is also one of the most scary and dangerous.
Every year, there are reports of rock slides and accidents. In fact, just a few years ago a hiker was killed after being hit by a falling boulder. Even though this incident involved a hiker, there is always a possibility of it happening to a car too.
Another aspect of Going-to-the-Sun Road, some parts of the road only have a small 6-inch ledge separating you from the side of a mountain. Looking down the side while driving can give someone vertigo and potentially cause an accident. Now accidents like this are rare. There are 4,600 cars allowed on the road every day and only two fatal accidents have happened in the last 25 years. The possibility of a fatal accident happening is statistically negligible coming in at .0000001%.
So while it’s definitely worth taking a drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, it’s important to be aware of the risks involved. Just be hyper-aware of your surroundings if you are driving, and always drive defensively while on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
What Is There To See On Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Beginning on the west side of Glacier National Park, this list will take you through everything that needs to be seen on your drive. The drive will start and end with the visitor centers at the park boundaries. If you feel you already have a good understanding of the road, these spots can be skipped.
Depending where you are staying will determine which way to travel Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you are staying at Many Glacier Hotel, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn, or Rising Sun Motor Inn, You will enter from the east side and should read this list from the bottom up.
If you are staying at Lake McDonald Lodge, Cedar Creek Lodge, or Village Inn at Apgar, you will enter from the west entrance and should read this list from the top down.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Map
Apgar Visitor Center
Starting off the journey, just inside the west entrance and on the south end of Lake McDonald, is Apgar Visitor Center. It is the perfect place to start, as it provides an introduction to the park’s history, geology, and wildlife.
Parking is usually a breeze here as the parking lot is a nice size and isn’t full most of the time. From here, you can also pick up a map of the park, which will come in handy as you explore its many trails and attractions.
Once you have a better understanding of the park, you can start your journey in earnest and see all that Glacier National Park has to offer.
Lake McDonald is one of the most popular destinations on the west side of the park, and the panicle of West Glacier. The lake is over ten miles long and nearly 500 feet deep, making it the largest lake in the park.
Its crystal clear waters are surrounded by towering mountains, and its shores are dotted with lodgepole pines and huckleberry bushes. The spectacular scenery never gets old.
While here, take into consideration all there is to do here, including a boat tour provided by the Glacier Park Boat Company, loads of hiking trails, and best of all, swimming!
Lake McDonald is also a great place to camp. The campgrounds include Sprague Creek Campground, Apgar Campground, and Fishcreek Campground. The only campground on this list to have access to Going-to-the-Sun Road, however, is Sprague Creek Campground. All that means though is free access to the most scenic road in America!
Lake McDonald is also the natural starting point for the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road, which winds its way through the park for over 48 miles.
The lake is particularly popular for sunrise watching, as the sun rises directly over the mountains, casting beautiful reflections on the water.
Whether you’re looking for stunning views or a chance to escape the crowds, Lake McDonald is sure to disappoint.
Lake McDonald Lodge is one of the most iconic places to stay in Glacier National Park and by far the most popular on this side of the park.
The lodge is situated on the shores of Lake McDonald, so you know the scenery will be amazing. There will never be a dull moment with so much to do.
The lodge was built in 1913 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, adding to the overall ambiance of the whole experience.
Lake McDonald Lodge is a popular destination for visitors to Glacier National Park, as it provides stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
The lodge also has a restaurant, bar, and gift shop for all your traveling needs.
Visitors can access Lake McDonald Lodge via Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is the only road that crosses east to west in Glacier National Park.
McDonald Falls is one of the most popular attractions in Glacier National Park.
The falls are located on McDonald Creek, a major tributary to Lake McDonald.
The falls were named after an early trader, Duncan McDonald, who decided to carve his name into a nearby tree around 1878.
McDonald Falls is a tiered cascade waterfall spanking the lower length of McDonald Creek. The upper tier of the falls is known as the Sacred Dancing Cascade, while the lower tier is known as McDonald Falls.
The falls are accessible via Going-to-the-Sun Road, and there is a viewing platform at the base of the falls.
The falling water creates a mist that often cools visitors on hot summer days.
The best time to view McDonald Falls is in late July or early August when water levels are typically high and the floral is in full bloom. However, due to its popularity, McDonald Falls can be crowded during peak season.
For those looking for a less crowded experience, it is recommended to visit early in the morning or later in the evening
Trail Of The Cedars
Trail of the Cedars is one of the most popular trails in Glacier National Park. This is also where Avalanche Creek and Avalanche Campground are located.
The loop trail is located on the east side of Going-to-the-Sun Road and is accessible from the pullout at mile marker 14.5.
The trail is known for its pacific northwest feeling landscape. The massive western red cedars that grow along the trail are usually not found in this part of the country. However, the high humidity in Avalanche Creek Valley is the perfect environment for these trees to flourish. These trees can reach up to 100 feet tall and 7 feet wide and are some of the largest trees in Glacier National Park.
Halfway through the loop, there is a bridge that crosses Avalanche Creek on its way to drain into Avalanche Lake. This is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the views of the creek and surrounding mountains.
If a hike to Avalanche Lake sounds like the type of thing you would want to do, you’re in luck. the trailhead can be accessed from Trail of the Cedars, making this a two-for-one stop!
Trail of the Cedars is an easy trail that is perfect for all ages and abilities and is a great way to see some of the amazing plant life that Glacier National Park has to offer.
Heavens Peak is one of the most popular mountains in the Livingston range. Its 8,991-foot peak can be seen from Going-to-the-Sun Road
Heavens Peak is a popular destination for hikers and climbers, and its dramatic views are sure to take your breath away. The mountain is home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Heavens Peak is also one of the most photographed mountains in the range, due to its stunning views and easy accessibility. If you’re looking for an unforgettable mountain experience, make sure to add Heavens Peak to your must-visit list.
Haystack Creek is a beautiful waterfall located in the Haystack Creek drainage on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is one of the most popular destinations for photographers and sightseers alike. The Haystack Creek Bridge, which spans over the waterfall, is carved out of local boulders, made to look like it is a part of the environment. It is truly a one-of-a-kind and only found in Montana. Haystack Creek Falls is approximately 492 feet tall and 20 feet wide. The falls flow over a bed of boulders and plunge into the creek below. Visitors can enjoy absolutely stunning views of the falls all from the comfort of their cars.
This area is a play on words that has to do with how Going-to-the-Sun Road makes a hairpin turn. Please note that this is not a scary part of the drive. There is more than enough room to make the turn and a parking lot for anyone who wants to stop and enjoy the scenery.
One of the major reasons people stop at The Loop is to hike Loop Trail. This is the trail that leads to Granite Park Chalet, a large hut-style building, built in 1914 to accommodate backcountry hikers in Glacier. To this day reservations can still be made to stay at this unique place.
From the Granite Park Chalet, Highline Trail can be accessed. Highline Trail is one of the hardest trails in the park. However, the elevation on this trail is so high that some of the best views in the entire park can be seen from it. If you are an avid hiker, defiantly hike Highline Trail.
The Weeping Wall is one of the most iconic features of Glacier National Park. The wall is a series of rock overhangs that rise from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and it gets its name from the numerous waterfalls that cascade down its face. The Weeping Wall is a popular spot for both hikers and photographers, and it offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Whether you’re hiking to the top of the Weeping Wall or simply admiring it from below, this unique feature of Glacier National Park is sure to take your breath away.
Big Bend is one of the most popular places to stop along Going-to-the-Sun Road. As the name implies, Big Bend is a large curve in the road that offers an amazing view of the valley below and the towering peaks above. This is a major photography spot and a perfect place to stop and enjoy the scenery. There is a parking lot along Big Bend where you can park and take in the view. This is also a great place to have a picnic lunch and soak in the incredible scenery.
From the pullout, Bird Woman falls is in full view. The falls are about two miles away but with them falling over 560 feet, it is fairly easy to see on a clear day. If you want to see these falls be sure to go before early autumn as the falls generally stop running around that time.
Whether you’re looking for a photo opportunity or just want to enjoy the incredible views, Big Bend is definitely worth a stop on your Going-to-the-Sun Road trip.
So Triple Arches is actually the name of a bridge on Going-to-the-Sun Road that, you guessed it, has three arches! Don’t let that fool you though. Triple Arches has an amazing sightline that looks over a series of valleys and even a few peaks.
This is a great place to see how all the surrounding mountains come together and how all the water flowing down the mountain meets at the bottom, converging into Logan Creek.
However, there is not a pull-off here. All this means is that your passenger needs to have their camera ready to capture this amazing view.
Logan Pass: The Highest Point on Going-To-The-Sun Road
Starting off the mini adventure at Logan Pass has to be the Logan Pass Visitor Center. This is a huge part of Going-to-the-Sun Road. If you were to fall asleep for the entire drive and only got to experience one thing along the way, Logan Pass is it. Logan Pass Visitor Center has several features that make it worth visiting. These features include interpretive ranger programs, exhibits on the park’s flora and fauna, a gift shop, and restrooms.
Being the highest point of Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass is at a staggering elevation of 6,646 feet (2,026 m). The parking lot at Logan pass is quite big so finding a spot to park and explore should not be a problem.
The Logan Pass is situated on the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, specifically on the divide between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean watersheds. This is a unique spot that can only be seen in a few places in America.
The ranger-led programs are offered several times each day and cover topics such as the geology of Logan Pass, wildlife in the area, and survival tips for being in bear country. The exhibits provide information on some of the park’s most iconic wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and mountain goats, as well as smaller creatures like pika and marmots.
The Logan Pass Visitor Center is also a great place to pick up souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home.
Situated right behind Logan Pass Visitor centers, Hidden Lake Overlook Trailhead is a must-hike when you’re here. The hike leads to one of the most amazing views in Glacier National Park. Even if you are not the hiking type, attempt to take this trail. You will not be disappointed.
The trail itself is a raised boardwalk type of trail that makes access easy, even for those who are in a wheelchair. This style of walkway is to better protect the environment and keep people on track to their destination.
While on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook, expect to see some wildlife along the way. Some very common sights include mountain goats and bighorn sheep. These creatures love the high elevation and like to stay in the vicinity of people. They know that bears and other predators usually stay away from people, so when the mountain goats and bighorn sheep hang around people, their chances of being hunted drop dramatically.
It is highly recommended to bring bear spray with you on this hike and any other hike in the park, just to be safe.
Once at the overlook, take in the vast sights that are in front of you. I can tell you from experience that a sight like this is very hard to take in all at once. There is so much to look at! From Hidden Lake below to the trees, to the massive Bearhat Mountain in the background, the view is truly incredible.
If Your really adventurous, take a dip in the ice blue waters and experience what most people never even think of doing!
After the east side tunnel, Being so high up in the mountains, it is hard to comprehend just how high you are at Siyeh Bend. The landscape looks more like the foothills of the Appellations. Don’t let this fool you though. The sights here are still amazing. Siyeh Bend is a great place to take in the ever-changing landscape of Glacier National Park and puts into perspective how even though you’re over 6,000 feet up in the mountains, the landscape can make you feel completely different.
This one is another must-stop location on Going-to-the-Sun Road. What is the point of going to Glacier National Park without ever seeing a glacier? Well now is your chance! Jackson Glacier Overlook provides a stunning view of the entire Jackson Glacier area as well as an amazing view of Mount Jackson.
Jackson Glacier is the 7th largest glacier in the park and is shrinking fast. But don’t let that fool you. This glacier is still an amazing sight. The caveat is that you need to get to Glacier soon before it all melts away!
St. Mary Lake
You’re almost done! and some would stay if you saved the best for last. Located on the east side, Saint Mary Lake is the second biggest lake in Glacier national park behind Lake McDonald. St. Mary Lake is a gorgeous lake situated along Going-to-the-Sun Road, making it easily accessible to visitors. St. Mary Lake is known for its clear water and stunning mountain views. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, and camping near the lake. St. Mary Lake is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the park.
Sun Point Picnic Area
The best place by far to sit down and enjoy some grub by St. Mary Lake is Sun Point Picnic Area. Take in all the beauty this pristine lake has to offer all while chowing down on some amazing food. Honestly, what’s better than food and a mountain lake? I can tell ya, it’s not much.
Wild Goose Island
This is the best spot by far to get that amazing photo of St. Mary lake. Wild Goose Island can be pretty hard to get to with the trail not being very clearly defined, but once in you get to the spot, your mind will be blown. The trail is very short, so if you’re up for the challenge definitely check this spot out.
Rising Sun is a small spot on St. Mary Lake that is home to the Rising Sun Motor Inn. The Rising Sun area has a ton of cabins and amazing views. The prices to stay here are very reasonable too. Although Rising Sun is not a huge spot on Going-to-the-Sun Road, it is still a neat historic place to stop and visit while on your journey.
For those that want to stop and enjoy their time here, the Rising Sun Picnic Area is an option to fulfill that wish.
St. Mary Visitor Center
You made it to the end! For the very last stop on the trip, welcome the east entrance, St. Mary Visitor Center. The visitor center is the perfect place to stop and learn about the National Park Service, history, geology, and wildlife of Glacier National Park.
Located at the east entrance of Going-to-the-Sun Road, the visitor center offers stunning views of St. Mary Lake and the surrounding mountains. Inside, visitors can view exhibits on the park’s flora and fauna, watch a short film about the history of the area, and pick up a map of the trails. The friendly staff is always happy to answer questions and offer suggestions for hiking, camping, and other activities in the park.
Whether you’re just starting your visit to Glacier National Park or you’re looking for a place to rest on the east side of Glacier, St. Mary Visitor Center is the perfect place to stop and enjoy all that this beautiful park has to offer.
Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most amazing experiences out of all the national parks that everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. Although the road does not cover all of the park. So be sure to check out other areas too. Recommended areas include Bowman Lake, Many Glacier Valley, North Fork, Two Medicine Lake, and Iceberg Lake.