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Going to the Sun Road: Everything You Need to Know About Glacier National Park's Most Famous Road

No visit to Glacier National Park is complete without experiencing the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun Road! This scenic highway offers outstanding views across the Crown of the Continent and is designated as a National Historic Landmark and National Civil Engineering Landmark. Considered by many as the most scenic roadway in America, this must-visit destination is sure to be a notable highlight of any Glacier National Park adventure.

The narrow two-lane highway follows sparkling lakes, and cascading waterfalls, and traverses through the glacier-carved landscape, providing breathtaking views and access to numerous hikes and countless activities.

Whether it be a rainbow of colorful rocks along the shore of Lake McDonald or the dramatic views from atop Logan Pass Going-to-the-Sun Road is a worthwhile bucket-list item for many. With an expanse of dense cedar forests and hemlock groves, serene lakes, flowing waterfalls, breathtaking mountains, and hanging glaciers... so where do you begin?

A shuttle van driving along Going-to-the-Sun Road

A true marvel of engineering the road is not just a simple route to get from one place to another, but rather, was built with the belief that the epic drive itself should compliment the natural beauty and become a destination of its very own.

Their vision was a success and Going-to-the-Sun Road opened to the public when a staggering 4,000 visitors attended the commencement ceremony in Logan Pass on July 15, 1933.

This is the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about Glacier National Park's most famous road. We'll help you prepare with expert tips and top activity suggestions from experienced and knowledgeable locals.

We’ll cover:

  • What (and where) is Going-to-the-Sun Road?
  • When does Going-to-the-Sun Road open?
  • Vehicle Requirments & Entry Reservations
  • Things to do along Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Places to Stay and Where to Eat
  • Cycling & E-biking along Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Best Practices & Bear Safety

What (and where) is Going to the Sun Road?

Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only throughway route traveling east-west from one side of Glacier National Park to the other. The road is 51 miles and runs between the gateway communities of West Glacier and St. Mary while crossing over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

In a campaign to increase accessibility in the park, engineers began building the road that would take nearly 2 decades to complete before it was completed in 1932. By today's standards, we can only imagine how difficult it was to construct this engineering masterpiece in such exposed and difficult terrain.

It was a massive project, and three people lost their lives building it. With a long history of blood, sweat, and tears came a truly remarkable and iconic symbol of Glacier National Park.


Historic photo of Going-to-the-Sun Road from 1933

The now paved narrow two-lane road spans the width of the park, crossing the Continental Divide, and connecting the West Glacier and St. Mary entrances. As the main thoroughfare in the park, it closely winds alongside and hugs the exposed mountain face for a truly exhilarating drive that offers travelers unmatched access to outstanding sights.

From May 24 - September 8, 2024, you will need a reservation to enter through the West Glacier entrance between the hours of 6 a.m. - 3 p.m. Alternatively, you do not need a reservation when entering through the eastern St. Mary entrance. Either way 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 more detailed information.

Going-to-the-Sun Road by the numbers

visitors and cars in Logan Pass parking lot

The entire road spans 51 miles and takes 2-3 hours to drive depending on traffic and the number of stops made. We'll be honest here, the highway is narrow, travels along soaring cliffs, and is frequented by many other vehicles, cyclists, and wildlife, so safety precautions should be taken.

The road has one switchback located at 'The Loop' where it begins to climb at a grade of 6% to its summit at Logan Pass. On the lower elevations, the speed limit is 40 mph, and at the alpine section, the limit is 25 mph.

It's important to familiarize yourself with park information and policy so be sure to also check out the official webpage for Going-to-the-Sun Road General Info

How did Going-to-the-Sun Road get its name?

The road gets its name from the Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which sits to the east of Logan Pass and is visible from the visitor center. The legend comes from the native Blackfeet Nation that 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.

When Does Going-to-the-Sun Road Open?

Access to the road is dependent on weather and opens in stages alongside seasonal snow removal. Typically the entire road is accessible to vehicle traffic from late June to mid-October. Before the road opens to vehicles in the summer, "hiker/biker season" allows pedestrians and cyclists a unique opportunity to enjoy the same epic roadside views without the traffic of cars and busy parking lots.

If you'd rather stick to what's accessible by car then there are still plenty of sights to see along the lower sections of the road. From West Glacier beginning in late spring, you can drive about 16 miles to the Avalanche Campground.


A waterfall along Going-to-the-Sun Road

If you're visiting before the snow starts to melt, you can travel as far as the Lake McDonald Lodge year-round. Check out our guide to visiting Glacier National Park in the winter.

From the eastern entrance in St. Mary, similar conditions apply and vehicle access is allowed as far as the Jackson Glacier Overlook until the route is opened in full.

Always check the current conditions before you visit, especially if visiting earlier in the season. The National Park Service provides up-to-date information on conditions and road closures.

How long does it take to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road?

people driving in their cars on going to the sun road in Glacier

If you plan to drive the full 51 miles of The Sun Road, you can do so in about 2-3 hours. However, you’ll likely want to plan on making stops for numerous scenic points or trailheads as well as expect delays with traffic.

Local Tip: Logan Pass is a notoriously difficult place to find parking. Expect the parking lot to be full between 7-8 a.m. so don't be afraid to start your day early!

Is Going-to-the-Sun Road plowed?

snow plow launching snow in Glacier Park

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.

detailed map of Going-to-the-sun Road

Check out the NPS plowing status page and up-to-date conditions!

Vehicle Restrictions & Entry Requirements

There are vehicle restrictions in place along Going-to-the-Sun Road for a variety of safety reasons. You won’t be able to drive past Avalanche Creek from the west side or Rising Sun Campground from the east side with a vehicle longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 ft.

image of different vehicles like campers and trailers not allowed on road

Additionally, if your vehicle is over 10 feet high you'll 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.

Either way, make sure to 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.

In addition to vehicle size restrictions, from May 24 to September 8, 2024, a vehicle reservation is required to enter the park at the West Glacier entrance from 6 a.m. - 3 p.m. Vehicle Reservations can be only made through the recreation.gov website and are released 120 days in advance, additional tickets will be released again at 7 p.m. the night before the ticketed date. There is no reservation required for entry through the St. Mary entrance.

Things to do along Going-to-the-Sun Road

Hikers in glacier national park

Going-to-the-Sun Road offers a plethora of activities for visitors, ranging from scenic driving tours to full-day hiking trips or even half-day whitewater rafting. Here are some of our must-do activities and top recommendations:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road Guided Day Tour: Don't miss out on any of the must-see highlights with a Going-to-the-Sun Road Guided Day Tour. Perfect for the whole family with minimal hiking and maximum views this trip covers everything you need for the ultimate tour.

  • Avalanche Lake Guided Day Hike: Visit one of the most popular alpine lakes in Glacier National Park with a knowledgeable expert on a Guided Hike to Avalanche Lake. Learn more on an educational hike with a local guide to make the most of your family hiking experience.

  • Top 3 Hikes: Going-to-the-Sun Road provides access to numerous trails from fan favorites such as The Highline Trail and Avalanche Lake, as well as some of our favorite hidden gems. Here are the top three hikes you need to do from Going-to-the-Sun Road:

  • Lake Rentals: Enjoy a relaxing float on Lake McDonald with a paddleboard or kayak rental from Apgar Village. The perfect way to end a full day of adventure or kick back and enjoy a laid-back day on the water

  • Whitewater Rafting: Headquartered just outside the park along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River head out on an epic Half-Day Whitewater Adventure before or after your Going-to-the-Sun Road journey.

There are also three park visitor centers you’ll come across as well that each have restrooms, water, maps, and exhibits. You'll find them in Apgar Village, 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 between 7-8 a.m. so we always recommend having a backup plan or opting to take the shuttle.

Wildlife Viewing in Glacier National Park

A young bear crossing the road in Glacier ParkGlacier National Park is home to a diverse set of wildlife and you’re likely to come across something during your drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road. While wildlife viewing is never guaranteed, here is a list of some of the animals that inhabit the park and where you might see them.
  • 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.
goat looking down on car in Glacier Park
  • 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.

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 and best practices with our bear safety guide.

Places to Stay and Where to Eat

Lake McDonald Lodge hotel lobby from above

Accommodations in and around Glacier National Park range from historic lodges to cozy cabins and campgrounds. When planning your trip to the park one of the most important aspects to consider is where to stay and where to eat. Fortunately, the park offers a range of accommodations to fit every budget and preference.

For those who prefer a more traditional lodging experience, several historic lodges within the park offer comfortable accommodations and stunning views such as the Lake McDonald Lodge, Rising Sun Motor Inn, and Belton Chalet.

  • Lake McDonald Lodge is located on the north shore of the park's largest lake. This rustic hunting lodge offers a variety of room types, from cozy guest rooms to spacious suites with simple yet modern amenities.

  • Rising Sun Motor Inn is found on the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road and offers a more rustic experience. This lodge features simple and comfortable rooms, as well as a restaurant and gift shop.

  • The Belton Chalet is a must-visit for those looking for a unique stay. This historic railway hotel was built in 1910 and has been beautifully restored to its original glory. The hotel offers both guest rooms and suites, as well as an excellent restaurant and lounge.

If you prefer tent poles to room keys there are several campgrounds located throughout the park that offer both RV and tent camping options. Many of these campgrounds also have picnic areas where you can enjoy your own packed or camp-prepared meals.

Cycling & E-biking Going-to-the Sun Road

Cycling and e-biking have become a popular way to explore Going-to-the-Sun Road, especially in the spring and fall when vehicle traffic is lighter.

E-bikes are allowed on the road as long as they meet the National Park Service's regulations which do not allow for throttled e-bikes, only pedal-assist so be sure to check your manufacturer settings if bringing your own e-bike. The more popular approach is from the west side to Logan Pass where you can expect challenging climbs and outstanding views.

Between June 15th and Labor Day, the road is closed to bicyclists between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. from the Apgar turnoff to Sprague Creek Campground, and eastbound (uphill) from Logan Creek to Logan Pass. It's only recommended for experienced cyclists to consider bicycling on the Going-to-the-Sun Road during the peak summer season.

map of the areas limited to cyclists during the day in Glacier

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.

two bicyclists view a river along going_to_the_sun road in Glacier Park

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.

Best Practices & Bear Safety

When exploring Going-to-the-Sun Road and Glacier National Park, it's essential to practice Leave No Trace principles and be bear aware. Carry bear spray, store food properly, and maintain a safe distance from wildlife and check out our guide to bear safety. Additionally, always check the park's website for current road conditions, weather forecasts, and safety alerts.

After this ultimate guide, there should be no doubt that Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Glacier National Park. With its stunning scenery, diverse activities, and rich history, it offers an unforgettable experience that showcases the natural beauty of the park. Plan your visit, respect the environment, and enjoy the journey along this iconic road.

Written by: Hunter

Hunter grew up in Whitefish, Montana, and loves his home with a passion for sharing it with others. A childhood spent exploring Glacier National Park and a full career in the travel and hospitality industry he's always happy to answer your questions and help you plan your next exciting adventure. Currently based in Nashville, TN with his fiancé they take frequent trips back to the Flathead to visit family, friends, and to spend time in Glacier.

All of our content at Tourbase is written by experienced travel writers who have visited all of the locations we recommend. And our review board of local tourism experts ensure that all the information we provide is accurate, current and helpful

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