When you drive Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, you’re not only taking one of America’s most scenic drives, you’re also driving a National Historic Landmark.
It’s one of the few roads in the country to receive that designation and is an engineering marvel which took more than a decade and two million dollars to build.
The scenic drive is designed to blend into the scenery. The original plan had fifteen switchbacks, but Tom Vint proposed a route that would have only one.
That route is what we have today, and that one switchback is called the Loop.
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers some of the most awe-inspiring views in the country and is one of many unique things to do in Montana. It’s easy to see why more than three million people a year make their way to this remote part of the country.
- Start: West Glacier, Montana
- End: St. Mary, Montana
- Number of miles: 50 miles
- Recommended length of road trip: 1 day
Going-to-the-Sun Road General Info
The lower elevation sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road remain open all year and provide access to many locations and activities. The summer opening date of the alpine portion varies from year to year, based on snowfall and plowing progress. There is no set date for the road to open over Logan Pass. Typically, the road has been fully open by early July.
Portions of the road may close due to weather. It’s typically fully open until the third Monday of October, but that may change due to weather conditions at any point.
Plowing Going-to-the-Sun Road is a monumental challenge each year. Unpredictable spring snowstorms, avalanches, or other weather-related events can slow down progress. It’s common for work crews to need to re-plow sections of park roads when weather events happen. Safety for plowing crews, contractors, and the public is our utmost concern and priority. These unknown factors make predicting the precise opening date of Going-to-the-Sun Road impossible.
Our plowing and road status page provides information on where plows are working. You can also watch the action each spring through an annual Flickr album.
Vehicle Size Restrictions
Vehicles and vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet (including bumpers) or wider than 8 feet (including mirrors), are prohibited between Avalanche Creek and Rising Sun. Vehicles over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass to the Loop, due to rock overhangs. Stock trucks and trailers can access Packers Roost from the west and Siyeh Bend from the east.
From June 15 through Labor Day, the following sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are closed to bicycle use between 11 am and 4 pm:
- From Apgar turnoff (at the south end of Lake McDonald) to Sprague Creek Campground, both directions
- Eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass
Due to ongoing road rehabilitation on Going-to-the-Sun Road, portions of the roadbed may not be paved. Bicyclists should use extreme caution riding on gravel portions.
For safety reasons, the speed limit is 40 mph on the lower elevations of the road and 25 mph on the alpine section. Be very careful around blind curves, as animals and pedestrians often cross the road unexpectedly.
By the Numbers
- Without stopping, it takes approximately 2 hours to drive the full 50 miles of Going-to-the-Sun Road.
- Logan Pass is the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road at 6,646 feet (2,026 m).
- Logan Pass is 32 miles (51.5 km) from the west entrance and 18 miles (29 km) from the east entrance. The parking lot at Logan Pass is usually fills by sunrise and remains very busy throughout the daytime hours, though this can vary based on weather conditions.
- Gasoline is not available in the park. There is an electric vehicle charging station across from the Lake McDonald Lodge camp store.
- Food and lodging can be found along the road at Rising Sun, Lake McDonald Lodge, and Apgar Village during the summer months.
- Picnic areas are found at Rising Sun, Avalanche Creek, Sprague Creek, and Apgar.
- 5 out of 13 campgrounds in Glacier are located along the road: Apgar, Sprague Creek, Avalanche, Rising Sun, and St. Mary. Please see our Camping page for more information.
- There are three visitor centers located the road, at Apgar, Logan Pass, and St. Mary. All have restroom facilities, trip planning information, bookstores, drinking water, and exhibits.
Glacier National Park is wild country, and wildlife may be present anywhere along the road. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are consistently seen near Logan Pass. Grizzly bears are often seen near Two Dog Flats on the east side.
Jackson Glacier Overlook affords the best opportunity to see a glacier from the road. It is located on the east side of Going-to-the-Sun Road between Logan Pass and St. Mary.
There are transportation options if you prefer to leave the driving to someone else. Visit the Getting Around page for more information.
There are also incredibly scenic sections of the park not found along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
What is the Going-to-the-Sun-Road?
The road is famous for a few reasons- its status as both a historical and engineering landmark, the fact that it traverses the Continental Divide, and its breathtaking views. The road was built between 1921 and 1932, as one of the first attractions in the U.S. National Park System to accommodate automobile-borne tourists.
Why is it called the Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Not-so-fun backstory time- Glacier, like most other U.S. National Parks, was originally home to Native people, specifically the Blackfoot nation. The Blackfoot tribe’s land, at one time, spanned more than 28 million acres, but when the United States government became interested in mining the land that is now Glacier National Park in 1895, the Blackfoot nation and the U.S. government struck a deal for the land, which was characterized by the tribe as a lease and permitted its people to hunt and gather on the land.
The U.S. government did not hold up its end of the bargain- the agreement was not treated as a lease, with Glacier being established as a national park in 1910 and tribal members being arrested for hunting in the park as early as 1912. Since the U.S. government took possession of the land, many important names and cultural landmarks from the Blackfeet tribe have been erased by the masses through time, and now, the Blackfeet reservation, which remains on the east side of the park, has shrunk to only 1.5 million acres.
How do I get to Glacier National Park to visit the Going-to-the-Sun Road?
There are no major airports close to Glacier National Park, which is located in the Northwestern part of the Montana state. While there is the tiny Glacier Park International Airport 30 miles away in Kalispell, Montana, you’ll probably be able to get to Glacier much cheaper by either flying into Spokane, Washington (about a 4 hour and 45 minute drive from the west entrance of the park) or Bozeman, Montana (about a 5 hour drive from the east entrance of the park).
Flights into these smaller airports aren’t usually cheap- to score the best fares, I swear by SkyScanner to set flight alerts and compare fares. If you fly in, you’ll also need a rental car to get to and around the park.
Reservations for the Going-to-the-Sun Road
From May 26 through September 10, 2023, you’ll need a ticket to get into the Going-to-the-Sun Road (and other areas of Glacier National Park) between 6 AM and 3 PM.
Tickets will be released for the following blocks of time, four months before the starting date of the timeframe, at 8 AM MDT: May 26 – June 30, July 1 – July 30, August 1 – August 31, and September 1 – September 10. A certain amount of reservations will also be available 24 hours before your visit, starting on May 25. You can make a reservation here.
When we visited the park in summer of 2021, we saw LOTS of people get turned away at the gate for not having tickets, regardless of whether the drivers cried hysterically and told stories about how they’d just driven for over 20 hours to reach the park or screamed obscenities at the rangers.
10 Tips for Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park
1. When to Visit the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
While portions of the road stay open year round, the majority of it is closed for most of the year, due to the heavy Montana snowfall and the long winters. Historically, the road has opened around late June or early July and closed late September to early October. When I visited during the summer of 2020, it was the second latest opening in the history of the park, opening on July 13th (I was biting my fingernails- this was just 2 days before we arrived!), due to resource shortages related to COVID. So, to be on the safe side, I’d recommend planning your visit in mid to late July through early September.
2. Make sure your car is allowed to drive on the road!
Given the amount of sharp turns and overhangs, your car (or your vehicle combination if you have an RV) must be less than 21 feet long, 8 feet wide (including mirrors), and 10 feet high. Therefore, a lot of campervans and other RVers that are too long to drive along the road will need to figure out a different solution to cruise along the road.
Thankfully, for those of us loving that #trailerlife, there’s plenty of spots to drop an oversized vehicle at either the entrance of the park, including the Apgar or Saint Mary Visitor Centers. From there, you can take the park’s free shuttle, which runs the entire length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
3. Be like a Girl Scout and be prepared.
There are no gas stations inside of Glacier National Park and cell phone coverage is spotty, at best. So make sure your gas tank is full, you’re good on snacks, and you’ve downloaded offline maps for the park and the surrounding area on Google Maps.
4. Budget enough time.
You’ll have to drive slowly on the road- 45 mph through lower elevations and 25 mph in the alpine sections. Plan for plenty of time to pull over, gawk at the scenery, and take photos. If you’re literally just driving through the whole thing, budget for at least two hours. However, if you plan on stopping along the way to stretch your legs or better yet, hike (more on that below!), this could easily turn into an all day activity.
5. Drive from the west to the east.
The road stretches for 50 miles from the west side of the park, at Lake McDonald, to the east side, at St. Mary. Therefore, you can generally drive the road either way- west to east or east to west.
While either direction will provide fantastic views, I’d recommend driving the road from west to east, as you’ll be on the outer edge of the road driving through the portions that are carved into the side of the mountains, making the views even more spectacular and with easier access to pull-offs.
If you’re in Glacier for a short period of time, I’d also use this tip to pick your base of where to stay when visiting the park. If you’re driving from west to east, it makes the most sense to stay near the west entrance (given that St. Mary and other towns around the east entrance can be a two hour plus drive from the west entrance) in the quaint town of Whitefish or the funky Columbia Falls.
6. Start early!
Not only is the road itself a huge attraction, but many of the park’s most popular hikes have trailheads along the route. Given that the road is pretty packed between 9 am and 5 pm, I’d strongly recommend getting a head start and hitting it early.
Other benefits of that early morning wake-up call? Watching the sunrise along the road is nothing short of spectacular and you have a better chance of catching wildlife in the park, like bear, moose and mountain goats. The park is usually pretty chilly in the morning, though, so I’d recommend packing layers- I like to bring along a cozy fleece like this one.
7. Pack some binoculars.
Dovetailing on my point above, spotting wildlife in the park isn’t quite as easy as some other national parks, like Yellowstone. So if you are committed to finding some new furry friends, I’d recommend packing a pair of binoculars to help you spot them. Try to plan your visit either first thing in the morning or at dusk, as animals are most active at these times to avoid the heat of mid-day.
Finally, most rangers will be able to provide you tips on up-to-date wildlife spottings and where you’ll have the best chance of viewing the animals from a safe distance. While most wildlife at Glacier tend to be a bit more on the elusive side, a reminder in case they’re feeling particularly friendly during your visit- you should always view bears from at least 100 yards away and all other animals from at least 25 yards away.
8. Plan your route.
As mentioned above, while driving along the road is an activity in and of itself, there are so many stops along the way for you to get out of your car, hike around, and explore. Some favorites are (going west to east):
- Lake McDonald: If you’re starting the drive from the west entrance, this will be the first significant landmark you’ll hit in the park. With plenty of spots to jump in the water or, if you’re less brave, kayak around and enjoy the beautiful scenery, this would be a wonderful place to take a coffee or early morning dip.
If you’re planning on stopping at the lake for a while, there’s plenty of cute little beaches for you to chill ‘til your heart’s content. If this sounds up your alley, I’d suggest packing a swimsuit (here’s an option for men), a travel towel, and a beach blanket– my husband, Justin, and I thought Lake McDonald was so pretty, we stopped here during our second day in the park to have a relaxing lunch while drinking in the views. Highly recommend.
Avalanche Lake: Want a good bang-for-your-buck hike? Stop at this four-mile out-and-back trail, with moderate elevation gain, multiple stunning waterfalls and a heart-droppingly beautiful alpine lake. This is a super popular hike, so if you want to stop here, I’d encourage you to start early.
9. Drive safely.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is truly breathtaking and it’s going to be hard to keep your eyes on the road- but please do! If the driver wants to take a longer look at any of the spectacular scenery, by all means, they most certainly should- please just pull over!
Between the roads being busy, hugging literal mountain sides, and tourists and animals running every which way, it would be extremely easy to get in an accident. Drive slowly and carefully- this is definitely an activity to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace!
10. Pack a cooler.
There are limited places to grab breakfast or lunch along the road and most of the available options are pretty pricey for what you get and can be packed during the busy summer months. If you’re roadtripping to Glacier like we did, I’d highly recommend bringing along a cooler (we picked up one very similar to this for our road trips and have been using it ever since ALL the time!) and packing some sandwiches or wraps to eat on the road instead.