Glacier Park’s one primary thoroughfare, Going-to-the-Sun Road, is a global icon that attracts millions of visitors each year and consistently garners praise for its awe-inspiring views and connection to pristine recreation opportunities.
The famed two-lane road, which was built over 12 years and dedicated in July of 1933, is covered with snow for most of the year until plow crews clear the way for traffic in spring. The road is typically open for vehicles to Logan Pass by late June and stays open through fall.
Logan Pass, which sits atop the Continental Divide along the Sun Road, is perhaps the most crowded location in the park with the parking lot regularly filling to capacity early in the morning.
Logan Pass is 32 miles from the west entrance and 18 miles from the east entrance. The drive to the top provides breathtaking views and winding adventure along one of the nation’s most remarkable engineering feats. The Sun Road is a National Historic Landmark and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Because of its narrow route along the high country of the park, the Sun Road has vehicle restrictions. Vehicles and vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet or wider than 8 feet are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and the Rising Sun picnic area parking. Vehicle and vehicle combinations over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass to the Loop, due to rock overhangs.
Here’s a breakdown of getting around Glacier Park:
By Shuttle or Bus
Looking for a break from behind the wheel? The National Park Service offers free shuttles along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Your entrance fee into the park provides free and unlimited access to the shuttle system, which offers transportation at various points between the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center. The shuttles operate July 1 through Labor Day, weather permitting.
On the west side from the Apgar Visitor Center to Logan Pass, buses run every 30 minutes and every 40 to 60 minutes on the east side. For more information, visit nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/shuttlefaq.htm.
One of the most popular and prominent modes of transportation in the park is inside the iconic Red Buses. The famous buses, originally built in the 1930s, offer tours of the west side and east side of the Sun Road. The tours range in time, from a few hours to nine hours. Each tour includes great commentary and history from seasoned drivers. The vintage 1930s Red Buses were the first authorized motor transportation utility in any National Park. For more information, visit glaciernationalparklodges.com/red-bus-tours.
There are also Native American cultural tours offered daily from East Glacier Park, Browning and St. Mary. The Sun Tours provide valuable insight into the cultural past of the land that is known to the Blackfeet people as the “Backbone of the World.” The tours last roughly 7.5 hours.
For more information on the Sun Tours, visit glaciersuntours.com or call 800-786-9220.
Looking for a ride to Glacier Park? The Glacier Express provides transportation from Whitefish to Glacier four times daily from July 1 through Sept. 5. The Glacier connector goes directly from several locations in Whitefish to Glacier Park’s Apgar Transit Center, allowing visitors to get on one of the park’s free shuttle buses. Each bus is equipped with a bike rack to carry up to three bicycles. The shuttle requires a ticket and does not cover entrance to the park.
For more information, visit bigmtncommercial.org/glacierparkexpress.
For one of the most awe-inspiring rides of your life, pedal Going-to-the-Sun Road as it ascends into the sky. Biking the famed road is frequently described as one of the best rides in America. The iconic road winds through the majestic glacier-carved scenery, along lakes and creeks and the rocky ridgeline for 52 miles in total. The ride gains roughly 3,300 feet elevation at a relatively gentle grade. It’s a rewarding workout, especially on a full-moon night, when groups of bikers converge on the road for an illuminated ride that should be atop everyone’s bucket list.
During summer, the road is frequently congested with vehicles traveling up and down to Logan Pass and restrictions are in place for bicyclists. The best time to pedal the road is in May and June and in the late fall.
Of course, motorcyclists love traveling the Sun Road for the same reasons. There are not any restrictions for using motorcycles during summer.
This year the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Glacier Conservancy, is offering a free bike-shuttle service starting in May. The shuttle will run on the west side from Lake McDonald Lodge to the gate at Avalanche Creek. The goal is to offer bikers a chance to get to Avalanche once the parking lot fills up. The agency plans to offer two shuttles on weekends and one during the week.
The soaring mountains of Glacier Park get all the attention, but don’t forget about the idyllic, crystalline lakes that are among the clearest and cleanest in the world. Glacier Park Boat Co. offers relaxing yet riveting trips with their historic wooden boats, including the flagship of the fleet, the classic “DeSmet,” which travels Lake McDonald at various times throughout the day. Hour-long tours of Lake McDonald embark daily during summer. The boat company also offers several daily scenic tours at St. Mary Lake at Rising Sun (1.5 hours), Two Medicine (45 minutes) and Many Glacier (1.5 hours). Each of the tours offer an option for a day hike at stopping points. If you would rather take your own tour on the water, the boat company rents paddleboards, kayaks and other vessels.
For more information, visit glacierparkboats.com or call (406) 257-2426.
A truly Montana experience and tradition dating back to the early days of Glacier Park, horseback riding is still a popular mode of transportation.
Swan Mountain Outfitters, a family owned local business, provides a variety of classic horseback rides, ranging from one-hour day trips to overnight adventures. Professional wranglers lead the interpretative trail excursions for riders of skill levels and ages. Trips take off from four locations: Apgar Corral near the main entrance on the west side; Lake McDonald corral across the road from Lake McDonald Lodge; Many Glacier corral across from the Many Glacier Hotel on the east side; and the West Glacier corral.
For more information, visit swanmountainoutfitters.com/glacier or call (877)-888-5557.