One of the most scenic roads in the northwest is the Going to the Sun Highway, a winding ribbon of asphalt which makes you feel like your riding to the top of the world. The road takes you on a 49 mile picture post card ride through Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. Whether you start from east entrance at St. Mary’s, just off US 89, or from the west entrance at US 2, you will have one great ride with switch back turns and plenty of turnouts for photographs and rest breaks.
The construction of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway began in 1921 due to the demand for better access to Glacier National Park by the ever increasing number of tourists. Even today, visitors to the park marvel at how such a road could have been built. The final section of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway, over Logan Pass, was completed in 1932 after 11 years of work. The road is considered an engineering feat and is a National Historic Landmark. It is one of the most scenic roads in North America. The construction of the road forever changed the way visitors would experience Glacier National Park. Future visitors would drive over sections of the park that previously had taken days of horseback riding to see.
If you are planning to test the limits of your riding skills on this road, forget it. Due to the low speed limits, mostly 35 and 25 mph, and the traffic volume in the summer, you may as well kick back and enjoy the scenery. Additionally, expect to spend some time stopped for construction zones. The highway is undergoing a major reconstruction which will continue for a few more years.
Upon entering either side of the park, you will find a visitor center with helpful rangers and volunteers. In addition, you can purchase books, souvenirs, shirts, and DVD’s and audio CD’s. The visitor center at Logan Pass will provide some breathtaking views. Be sure to stop there during the ride.
Other highlights along the route include St. Marys Lake at the east end of the park, Lake Mc Donald at the west end, Jackson Glacier, weeping rocks, and Sunrift Gorge. Sunrift Gorge involves a short, easy walk along a trail, but is well worth the time. There is a parking area at the trailhead. Keep an eye out for animals in the area. I had the good fortune spot some bighorn sheep as I left Logan Pass Visitor Center. Your best photo op for Lake McDonald is at the boat launch area near the campground by Apgar Village (See the last photo).
Food can be found at St. Mary’s, on the east side, Apgar Village on the west, and at Lake McDonald. I found a great little grill and pizzeria at Lake McDonald called “Jammer Joe’s”. You can order off the regular menu or enjoy the pizza and salad bar. I opted for the pizza & salad bar and got out for under $15.00, including drink and tip.
Be sure to include Going to the Sun Highway when planning your northwest tour. The road is open to traffic from mid-June to mid-September. Plan on at least one hour and 30 minutes travel time, not including stops to cover the distance between St. Marys and Apgar Village.
Check back with us for our next Great Roads installment. In the meantime, ride safe.