Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park

There’s nothing quite like paradise here on earth, and that paradise can be found within Glacier National Park.  And the best way to see the park is by Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park! What a breathtaking trip my wife and I enjoyed! And I mean that quite literally, as you will see from our article series. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself here.

 

National Geographic Greatest Landscapes: Stunning Photographs That Inspire and Astonish Hardcover
National Geographic Greatest Landscapes: Stunning Photographs That Inspire and Astonish Hardcover

Glacier National Park is a place that you absolutely must visit, and I have put together some YouTube Videos on Glacier National Park so you can see what I mean. I also wanted to give you a few more details about the park, which is why I am creating a few articles about our experiences.  Check out the article on Planning Your Trip to Glacier National Park to get you all ready.

Let’s explore our trip to Glacier and why driving along Going-to-the-Sun-Road “SLOWLY” is simply a requirement as you build your own adventure around Glacier National Park.

Google Map of Glacier National Park

Find our trip plan on Google Maps.  Best Glacier National Park Map

Best Google Map for Planning Your Glacier National Park Adventure
Best Google Map for Planning Your Glacier National Park Adventure

Starting Our Journey to Glacier

We knew going in that rental cars were expensive (boy is that an understatement!), so we made sure to plan ahead for a reservation. There has also been chatter that rental cars are a little harder to come by sometimes. Combined with the fact that we knew we would need a car for the full two weeks that we were in the park, we decided that renting a car was not our best option.  We drove the trusty Acura TL.

We set out from our home area of Minneapolis, and we made a detour up to Fargo, North Dakota. This way, we could visit our wonderful grandkids. From Fargo, we headed out to Dickinson, North Dakota, and continued all the way on to Glacier from there.

Approaching the Park

Our initial view as we approached the park from the east was magnificent, with wild and angry clouds looming over the mountains. Yet there was also a ray of sunshine, giving us hope. What a welcome!

With this scenery greeting us, we checked into a little cabin we rented just for one night. We rested up a bit and then headed out on our adventure to the magnificent East Glacier National Park Lodge.

Glacier Park Lodge

The Big Tree Lodge Glacier Park Lodge East Glacier Park Village Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
The Big Tree Lodge Glacier Park Lodge East Glacier Park Village

For some context, Glacier Park Lodge is a wonderful lodge situated near Glacier National Park, in East Glacier Park, Montana. It was built way back in 1913, and it happened to be the very first hotel that was developed near the park.

Great Northern Railway’s Glacier Park Company built the place with the intent to provide shelter for people visiting via the rail line.

The Big Tree Lodge Glacier Park Lodge East Glacier Park Village
The Big Tree Lodge Glacier Park Lodge East Glacier Park Village

These days, it is so much more than just shelter. We decided to eat dinner here and it was wonderful. If you get the chance, you should sample their house burger with goat cheese and boysenberry. It truly was delectable.

After we ate our fill of this amazing cuisine, we were gifted with a heavenly sunset. What a way to end an evening and begin our excursion through Glacier.

Two Medicine Lakes

We woke up refreshed the next morning and still thinking about that amazing food and beautiful sunset at the Lodge. Thus fortified, I took some photos of the lodge before we set off.

Iconic Glacier National Park Scene Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Iconic Glacier National Park Scene

We explored a bit on the south east side of the park at the Two Medicine entrance. We actually saw our first bear and moose this first morning.  wow that was fast!

Two Medicine Lake Region South East Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Two Medicine Lake Region South East Glacier National Park

The goal for today was to get to the west side of the park because that is where we were going to be staying for the first week.   To get from east to west or west to east in the park, you have to drive Going to the Sun Road.  The first time we drove the road we were driving it quickly with a purpose of getting to the other side. We were not intending to take it slowly and really enjoy the route. This article is written to encourage you to take the road much more slowly and really explore.

Traveling the Going-to-the-Sun-Road

Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park

After exploring the west side of the park for almost a week, It was time for us to move from the west side of the park to the east side of the park. And there is no better way to do that than to drive the Going-to-the-Sun-Road—slowly! With an eye toward exploration, we spent an entire day on the road.

Pro Tip: One tip I must share with you is that you absolutely should download the app called Gypsy Guide. We purchased the Glacier National Park tour through the app, which is a GPS-triggered, guided tour of Going-to-the-Sun Road. It was absolutely fantastic.

1 West Glacier

West Glacier Village is just outside the park and is super cute, complete with groceries, food, gas, cocktails and ice cream. Our visit brought a 30-degree morning so it was quite brisk, but it was so fun to explore this place.

Exploring West Glacier Rock Point Trail Lake McDonald Views Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Exploring West Glacier Rock Point Trail Lake McDonald Views

On the northwest side of Lake McDonald is Rocky Point Trail. It’s just under two miles so it’s not terribly strenuous, and boy will you get some amazingly beautiful views of Lake McDonald and the mountainous peaks behind the lake.

2 Apgar Village

Another must-see site along the road is the charming and historic town of Apgar Village, just inside Glacier National Park. Apgar is the first visitor center in the park and they have some great information available. You can come here to get on boats on the south side of Lake McDonald if you’d like.

View of Lake McDonald from Apgar Village Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
View of Lake McDonald from Apgar Village Glacier National Park

You will find so many great things at the really cute area of Apgar, from camping to exploring to kayaking. Enjoy a picnic in the bright sunshine or stock up on some souvenirs. (We took home a couple of Glacier National Park sweatshirts!) They even have ice cream.

Exploring Apgar Village Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Exploring Apgar Village Glacier National Park

3 Lake McDonald Lodge

Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park This Way!

After a time, we decided it was time for a little refreshment so we stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge. This is a Swiss chalet style lodge right on the lake so it was simply gorgeous in addition to having some rich history behind it.

Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Swiss Chalet Style Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park

The interior of the chalet shows it’s rich western heritage.

Interior Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Interior Lake McDonald Lodge Glacier National Park

Here we also took in our first views of the breathtaking Lake McDonald. There’s a beautiful stairway at the back of the lodge that heads to the lake, where they offer boat tours. They still had tours available while we were there, but they are seasonal. Just imagine taking a tour of this fantastic place, with the lake and the mountains and pine trees all around.

If you stay here, be sure to make your reservations early. They fill up quickly!

4 Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald is full of beauty but visiting here you can see some indication of a forest fire that happened about 20 years ago. About 13 percent of the park was burned, but it’s really not so terrible—now, you can see that regrowth happening and a renewal of the forests.

Lake McDonald Lodge Boat Ride Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald Lodge Boat Ride Glacier National Park

5 Waterfalls to Visit

This area also offers another great hiking option along the McDonald Creek Trail. This particular trail presents you with an incredibly beautiful, pristine blue waterfall within the first mile or so of the hike. We visited in the fall, so it was extra special to see a hint of fall colors coming through.

Exploring West Glacier Autumn Colors Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Exploring West Glacier Autumn Colors

You can continue on the trail past the waterfall since it’s an easy hike, or you can simply stop and observe the beauty that abounds here.

McDonald Falls

You’ll find that McDonald Falls is another stunning natural beauty if you hike Johns Lake Loop, located just a bit east of the Lodge.

McDonald Falls Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
McDonald Falls Glacier National Park

Sacred Dancing Cascade

And even more special than this waterfall is the Sacred Dancing Cascade.

Sacred Dancing Cascade Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Sacred Dancing Cascade

More waterfalls are mentioned below along the Going to the Sun Road.

6 Trail of the Cedars Avalanche Creek Trail Head

The Trail of the Cedars is a hiking trail accessible from Going-to-the-Sun Road. The trail is short an accessible for all, the .60-mile path is paved and has a raised boardwalk in some sections. Some of the cedars visible are over 80 feet tall. It is quite stunningly beautiful.

Waterfalls of Trail of the Cedars Avalanche Creek Trail Head Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Waterfalls of Trail of the Cedars Avalanche Creek Trail Head

The trail splits into two sections: one loops, while the other continues to Avalanche Lake which can reached after a 2-mile hike with a 500-foot elevation gain. In the middle of the half loop is a beautiful waterfall that has carved through colorful rock to make a channeled stream.

Views from Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Views from Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park

We did this hike as our first hike to start getting our low-lander bodies used to the higher elevation. We did not want to kill ourselves on the first hike.

Views from Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Views from Avalanche Lake Glacier National Park

7 The Loop Switchback

Many of you may know that when they built the park, they decided to do very few switchbacks on the road so there’s just one major one. They had to build the road in a way that kept it hidden, which meant it also got to be longer and more difficult.

The Loop Switchback is the only switchback on this road and it is quite something. It provides glorious valley views, and you can look back and see where you’ve been on Going-to-the-Sun-Road once you reach Overland Overlook. I highly recommend that you take this drive, because you can also see a waterfall and, yes, even a glacier. How great is that?

It is a crazy switchback, and I mean crazy! It was thrilling but it’s a quintessential mountain switchback. Drive slowly—it’s safer, and you can soak in all that gorgeous scenery a little easier.

Watch The Video of the Switchback Here

8 Weeping Wall

Weeping Wall is a geological formation found along Going-to-the-Sun Road. It is a natural waterfall that seeps out from the side of Haystack Butte (where the grizzly bear chased us up to) and the Garden Wall, and is fed by runoff from snowmelt.  Sometimes in the year it can be flowing very heavily and it flows right out onto the road.  In the summer, it is the perfect way for a little refreshment.

Glacier National Park, Weeping Wall

Weeping Wall Glacier National Park – Image by Heather V Hogg Flickr

9 Triple Arches Bridge

One of the most unique bridges along Going-to-the-Sun Road, this three-span, sixty-five foot long bridge was designed in 1927 as an alternative to a large retaining wall. It is constructed of reinforced concrete and was built to span deep rifts in the mountainside where Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses the continental divide, known locally as the Garden Wall.  Just imagine being the people who built this thing.

Triple Arches Bridge Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Triple Arches Bridge Glacier National Park

10 Logan Pass

Logan Pass Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Logan Pass Glacier National Park

Once you navigate the switchback, you’ll be on to areas like Logan Pass. Logan Pass happens to be roughly the middle area of the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, here you will find more Trails and…Grizzlies!

Mama and Baby Grizzlies Glacier National Park. Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Mama and Baby Grizzlies Logan Pass Glacier National Park.

Continental Divide

You will want to stop and check out the Continental Divide. You’ll be about 6,646 feet above sea level, so let yourself stop and catch your breath now and then.

Trails that Start at Logan Pass

Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Glorious Views Hiking Highline Trail Glacier National Park

A few of the trails that start here are The Highline Trail and Hidden Lake Overlook Trail. The Highline Trail, the most popular trail in the park, happens to be where we spotted some grizzly bears, but that’s another story. (Stay tuned!) It’s an amazingly beautiful hike.  Hidden Lake Overlook Trail is also exceeding popular and you will want to check it out.

Hidden Lake Overlook Trail Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Hidden Lake Overlook Trail Glacier National Park

11 Mountain Tunnel

One feature resulting from this construction is the Mountain Tunnel. They wanted to build the road on the ledge going up the mountain but here there was no ledge that could be built. They decided to cut a tunnel through it instead. It was very rough at first, but then they had issues with glacial ice melting through it, so they had to remake it.

Watch The Video on the Tunnel Here

12 Jackson Glacier Overlook

The spectacular Jackson Glacier Overlook offers one of the most stunning viewing spots for the peaks and valleys of Mount Jackson. Jackson Glacier is the 7th largest of 25 total glaciers in Glacier National Park and is one of the easiest to observe within the park.

Jackson Glacier Overlook Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Jackson Glacier Overlook Glacier National Park

13 Saint Mary/ Virginia Falls Trailhead

Here you will find St. Mary Falls trailhead, which is roughly 2.5 miles and provides one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park.

There’s some forest fire damage here too, but it’s another great example of regeneration in progress. Keep your eyes peeled for the lake—it’s a truly fabulous color.

Saint Mary Falls Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Saint Mary Falls Glacier National Park

If you like waterfalls you’ll love the hike to beautiful St. Mary and Virginia Falls. The short, popular hike features mountain views and an ascent up the lovely Virginia Creek Valley, passing multiple smaller cascades before reaching impressive Virginia Falls.

Virginia Falls Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Virginia Falls Glacier National Park

Another reason why this hike is so interesting is because you are hiking in a area that was heavily damaged by forest fires and you get to see the forest being regenerated right before your eyes.  It is an unbelievable almost magical scene.

Evidence of the Reynolds Fire and Forest Rebirth Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Evidence of the Reynolds Fire and Forest Rebirth Glacier National Park

14 St Mary Lake

St Mary Lake Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
St Mary Lake Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake is the second-largest lake in Glacier. Saint Mary Lake’s waters are colder and lie almost 1,500 feet higher in altitude than Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park, which is located on the west side of the Continental Divide. Here, the great plains end and the Rocky Mountains begin in an abrupt 5,000-foot altitude change, with Little Chief Mountain posing a formidable southern flank above the west end of the lake.

Haunting Beauty St Mary Lake Glacier National Park Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Haunting Beauty St Mary Lake Glacier National Park

The opening scene in the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining was shot at Saint Mary Lake.

15 Wild Goose Island

Wild Goose Island Viewpoint Going to the Sun Road Top 16 Tips for Driving Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park
Wild Goose Island Viewpoint Going to the Sun Road

Wild Goose Island may look familiar as you approach it, because it’s one of those iconic shots that you see of Glacier National Park. Try your own photograph here and see how you do!

16 Saint Mary’s

St. Mary’s was our final destination of the day, and what a day it was. Once you reach the St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side of the park, you will know you have made it! And what an amazing road with fabulous adventures.

Conclusion Driving Going-to-the-Sun-Road

If you plan to visit Glacier National Park, you absolutely need to make time to drive the entire Going-to-the-Sun-Road. The scenery and history here is amazing, and you will not want to miss this. If you have any questions about this trip, please Contact Us. And until next time, get out and capture the adventure.

Co Author: Brittany VanDerBill – www.bvanderbillconsulting.com

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Top 16 Tips for Driving the Going to the Sun Road Glacier National Park

Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website
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