Going to the Sun Road: Everything You Need to Know About Glacier National Park's Most Famous Road
You can’t visit Glacier National Park without experiencing the Going-to-the-Sun Road! This highway across the Crown Jewel of the Continent is designated as a National Historic Landmark and a National Civil Engineering Landmark. It's one of the top scenic drives in the United States, and folks from all over travel here to see it’s glory.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road, also referred to as "The Sun Road", is a true engineering marvel. The narrow two-lane highway cuts through the glacier-carved landscape, providing breathtaking views and easy access to outdoor fun. The road isn’t just a way to get from one place to another, though, as the creators believed the road itself should be the destination. Their vision certainly came to fruition as driving this road is a bucket-list item for many. You’ll see dense forests with huge cedars and hemlocks, serene lakes, flowing waterfalls, breathtaking mountains, and hanging glaciers.
Maybe you’ve seen gorgeous images in National Geographic, or perhaps you found out that the opening scene of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ is actually the Going-to-the-Sun Road! Either way, you’ve discovered this gem and you have to experience it for yourself. We’ll help you prepare with this guide of “must-knows” before you visit Glacier National Park and drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- What and where The Sun Road is
- When the road is plowed and open
- Vehicle restrictions and driving time
- Precautions to take
- Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road
- Hikes, wildlife viewing, and other activities
What (and Where) is Going to the Sun Road?
The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is in Glacier National Park, Montana. In an effort to increase accessibility in the park, engineers began building the road that would take 12 years to complete before it was opened in 1932, and it would be another twenty years before the entire road was paved! We can only imagine how difficult it was to construct in this diverse terrain, and without explosives so that the natural landscape could remain. It was a massive feat, and three people lost their lives building it. All of the blood, sweat, and tears birthed a truly remarkable and iconic highway, where the road is the destination for many coming to Glacier Park.
The narrow two-lane road spans the width of the park, crossing the Continental Divide, and connects the west and east side entrances. As the main road in the park, it winds around and hugs the mountains for a truly exhilarating drive that offers travelers easy access to stunning sights and activities. You can enter through West Glacier or East Glacier (St. Mary Entrance) and plan to spend at least two hours if you want to drive the whole way to the other side.
See How to Get to Glacier National Park for detailed information.
Going to The Sun Road by the numbers
The entire road spans 50 miles and takes 2-3 hours to drive depending on traffic and stops. The highway is narrow, travels along cliffs, and is frequented by many other vehicles, cyclists, and wildlife so precautions must be taken. The road has one switchback at The Loop, where it begins to climb at a grade of 6% to the highest point at Logan Pass. On the lower elevations, the speed limit is 40 mph and at the alpine section the limit is 25 mph.
Glacier National Park continues to break visitation records, with over 3 million people coming to experience it’s grandeur each year. In order to help control traffic on Going-to-the-Sun Road and avoid having to close access to the park, a vehicle entry reservation system was introduced in 2021.
How did Going to the Sun Road get its name?
The road gets its name from the Going-to-the-Sun Mountain which is the large mountain to the east of Logan Pass with great views of it right from the visitor center. The legend comes from the Blackfeet Nation, who have inhabited this region for 10,000 years. Their Sun God came down from the sacred mountain in a time of great misfortune to help them hunt. After returning to the sun, an image of the deity wearing a headdress was placed on the mountain. This was the inspiration for the Blackfeet naming the sacred mountain, which later also became the name of the road.
How long does it take to drive the Going to the Sun Road?
If you wish to drive the full 50 miles of The Sun Road, you can do so in about two hours. However, you’ll definitely want to plan on making stops at scenic points or trailheads and expect delays with traffic. Plan to spend at least three or four hours driving the road from West Glacier to St. Marys and exploring different areas!
When is Going to the Sun Road Open?
Access to the road is dependent on weather. It will open in stages with the removal of snow, and typically the entire road is accessible from late June to mid-October. Check out past opening and closing dates. Before the road opens to vehicles in Spring, bicyclists have access for an incredible experience riding this scenic highway.
When the alpine sections of The Sun Road are closed, you can still access the lower section in West Glacier between Apgar and Avalanche Campground year round. These areas are home to many great recreational activities and historic lodges.
Always check conditions before you visit! The National Park Service provides up-to-date information on conditions and road closures.
Is Going to the Sun Road plowed?
Maintaining the road is no small task. Dozens of bulldozers and rotary plows work to clear the road of the snowpack that can sometimes be 80 ft at Logan Pass and even more to the east. Avalanche experts watch conditions to help keep the workers safe. It’s a monumental challenge every year that is well worth the effort for access to this incredible landscape. Due to unpredictable weather, sometimes crews have to re-plow which is why the Spring opening date is impossible to determine ahead of time.
What are the regulations for vehicles on Going-to-the-Sun Road?
There are vehicle restrictions in place for driving The Sun Road for safety reasons. Remember, this road is narrow with sharp turns, blind corners, and steep cliffs! You won’t be able to drive past Avalanche Creek from the west side or past Rising Sun Campground from the east side with a vehicle longer than 21 ft or wider than 8 ft. Additionally, if your vehicle is over 10 feet high you are likely to have trouble driving west from Logan Pass due to rock overhangs. If you’re traveling here in a vehicle that exceeds these limits, you can get around the park with the shuttle or you might decide to rent a car.
Plan ahead! There are no gas stations inside of Glacier National Park. However, there is an electric vehicle charging station across from Lake McDonald Lodge.
Limit 21 ft (6.4 m) long, 8 ft (2.4 m) wide, 10 ft (3 m) tall
Is it scary or dangerous to drive on Going to the Sun Road?
Even though it might be the most scenic drive you ever experience, many people (especially first-timers) describe the Going-to-the-Sun Road as scary. The two-lane narrow road has tight turns, blind corners, and high cliffs which can be quite frightening for some. The driver will need to take it slow and keep their eyes on the road, pulling over in safe areas to admire the beauty.
There have been a couple of deaths on the road over the past 25 years which have been the result of falling rocks. Taking the necessary precautions and staying alert will help ensure you have a safe adventure.
Cycling Going to the Sun Road
Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road is frequently described as one of the best rides in the United States. During the busy summer months, restrictions are in place so the best time to bike The Sun Road is early May until mid or late June, and in the Fall after Labor Day when the road is open to bicyclists and closed to vehicles.
Between June 15th and Labor Day, the road is closed to bicyclists between 11am and 4pm from the Apgar turnoff to Sprague Creek Campground, and eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass. Only bicyclists experienced with riding along heavy vehicle traffic in two directions should consider bicycling on the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the peak summer season.
Restricted areas highlighted in red.
How difficult is it to Cycle Going to the Sun Road?
The road gains about 3,300 ft in elevation at a gentle grade, offering an incredibly rewarding workout. It’s important to note that there is ongoing road rehabilitation where portions may not be paved, so you’ll need to use extra caution riding on these portions of gravel. There is a bike-shuttle service available to transport riders and their gear from the Lake McDonald Lodge on the west side to the gate at Avalanche Creek.
Make sure to read the biking safety, regulations, and fees and always check the current road status before heading out.
Local Tip: Mark your calendar for a full-moon bike ride! These illuminated night rides are popular among locals for a truly special adventure.
Hikes & other activities along Going to the Sun Road
There are so many fun recreational activities along The Sun Road including opportunities for easy nature walks to challenging hikes, campgrounds, lakes, and educational visitor centers.
There are three visitor centers you’ll come across on the road that have restrooms, water, maps, and exhibits. You can find them at Apgar, Logan Pass, and St. Mary. The Logan Pass Visitor’s Center is also the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, at 6,646 ft. There is a big temperature change here so make sure to wear layers! The parking lot is usually full by sunrise, so we always recommend having a Plan B or opting to take the shuttle.
Check out historic lodges and grab a bite at Apgar Village, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Rising Sun.
Enhance your driving experience on Going-to-the-Sun Road with an audio tour. Make sure to download it ahead of time as you won’t have any cell service! Or, join a guided tour with the Blackfeet Nation or the Red Bus Tour.
Campgrounds - Five campgrounds are located along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and include Apgar, Avalanche, Sprague Creek, Rising Sun, and St. Mary.
A few of the scenic stops and trails:
- Make a stop at St. Mary’s Lake on the east side, featured in the movie Forrest Gump! Enjoy a gorgeous view from the Sun Point Nature Trail and Wild Goose Island Lookout.
- Sunrift Gorge is a stunning glacially-carved channel that can be seen with just a short, easy, out and back hike! The trail is located right off the road, 10 miles west of St. Mary.
- The popular Hidden Lake and Highline trails are right at the Logan Pass Visitor’s Center.
- The Jackson Glacier Overlook offers the best view of the glacier, located on the east side between Logan Pass and St. Mary.
Explore more points of interest along the Going-to-the-Sun Road with short videos provided by the NPS!
Wildlife viewing opportunities along Going to the Sun Road
Glacier National Park is home to many different types of wildlife, and you’re likely to come across some on your drive along The Sun Road. Listed below are some of the mammals that inhabit the park and where you might see them. Keep in mind that these are wild animals, and while spotting them will make for an incredible experience, it is not guaranteed.
Remember to never approach any type of wildlife. Keep your distance, not only for your safety but to ensure the animals do not become habituated around people and cars. Read more about bear safety.
Grizzly Bears: Glacier National Park has one of the largest remaining grizzly bear populations in the lower 48 states. Some grizzlies spend all summer in the lowland meadows of east Glacier.
Black Bears: Black bears are much more common than grizzlies and live primarily in the forests, alpine meadows, and anywhere that berry bushes are plentiful.
Mountain Goats: Look to the cliffs in the high alpine regions to spot a Rocky Mountain goat! They are commonly seen at Logan Pass.
- Bighorn Sheep: Often traveling in flocks, they prefer alpine meadows and grassy mountain slopes. They are often spotted around Logan Pass.
- Elk: In the summer, elk typically stay at high elevations and have been seen in herds around Two Dog Flats on the east side.
- Moose: While moose and elk may look similar from a distance, they are very different! Moose are solitary animals and are not afraid of humans, you should take precautions as seriously as you would with a bear. They prefer forested areas, lakes, and low-lying marshy areas.
- Mountain Lion: Where there are deer, there are mountain lions. They are great at hiding out of sight and are not commonly seen. They prefer wooded areas where they can take cover and the population is dense throughout the park. Read about mountain lion safety.
- Coyotes and Foxes: These animals are all over the park and can usually be spotted in meadows.
- Wolverine: More than 50 wolverines have been documented in Glacier National Park, making it the densest population in the lower 48 states. They prefer subalpine forests in isolated areas with snow cover.
Now you’re ready to experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road for yourself! Make sure to come prepared with a plan on how to spend your time, a back-up plan (or two), and check the road status and conditions pre-arrival. There are endless areas to explore and remarkable sights to see along the iconic Sun Road. Your adventure in this wild and scenic place awaits!