Take A Mountainside Road Trip Through This Beautiful Western US National Park

Glacier National Park holds the title of "Crown of the Continent," and it's easy to see why. Located in Montana, this national park boasts an abundance of mountains, forests, and glaciers that are simply breathtaking. To top it off, the park teases road trippers with a mountainside drive akin to entering a picture-perfect postcard.

The iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile stretch that winds through Glacier National Park, connecting this natural wonder's east and west sides. Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed in 1933 and is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Today, the road takes visitors to some of the park's most popular attractions — Lake McDonald, the West Tunnel, and the Triple Arches.

The speed limit on the road ranges from 25 to 45 mph, allowing for a leisurely and safe two-hour drive without stops. But with so much to see, driving straight through wouldn't do the trip justice. Instead, be prepared for frequent stops at roadside turnouts and trailheads that offer stunning views and opportunities to see Glacier National Park's iconic wildlife. Plan this road trip at the right time of the year, and you'll be rewarded with stunning colors from the fall foliage and even the occasional glimpse of the elusive grizzly bear.

Planning a Going-to-the-Sun route

The Going-to-the-Sun Road can be taken from the park's main West Glacier entrance, open year-round, near West Glacier, Montana. This route, however, will put you closest to the edge of the road near intimidating cliffs and drop-offs. If you're a more timid driver or are transporting anyone with a major fear of heights, take the route from the east side of the park at St. Mary Visitor Center. This direction will give you all of the outstanding views of Heaven's Peak but keep you closer to the rock walls along the inside of the road.

To make the most of your Going-to-the-Sun Road experience, plan your trip during the summer months when the road is fully open. The St. Mary Visitor Center on the east side is only open from May to early October, with the Apgar and Logan Pass visitor centers also closing. During the winter, the only maintained area is 11 miles from the west entrance to Lake McDonald.  No matter the season, ensure your vehicle is in good condition and check weather conditions before your trip, as the road can be challenging in adverse conditions.

Before you plan your trip on Going-to-the-Sun Road, there are a few vehicle restrictions due to narrow roads and rock overhangs. Vehicles longer than 21 feet, wider than 8 feet, or taller than 10 feet are prohibited along the route. Visitors with large RVs, buses, or tall truck-bed camper vehicles should plan ahead and opt for Glacier's free shuttle service instead.

Stops along the way

From West Glacier, the road gradually climbs for 32 miles, offering mesmerizing views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountains. As you continue, the vegetation changes from dense forest to alpine tundra, and after a 3,431-foot elevation gain, you'll reach Logan Pass at an elevation of 6,646 feet. Logan Pass is a popular stop along the route where you can stretch your legs and explore the Visitor Center or take a short hike on the 3-mile (out-and-back) Hidden Lake Trail.

Starting your journey at the St. Mary Entrance, the road ascends for 18 miles, most of which is at a 6% grade, up to Logan Pass. If you're driving your vehicle rather than taking the shuttle, be mindful that most services are in the communities near east or west entrances, aside from a retail and book store at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and a few lodging options along the route. There are no fuel options along Going-to-the-Sun Road, but an EV charging station is available at Lake McDonald Lodge.

Further along the road, you'll come to an intense, hairpin turn known as the Loop. The area offers panoramic views, restrooms, and a shuttle stop to allow for hiking, a chance to take in the views, and more. As you continue, you'll reach the Weeping Wall just a few miles west of Logan Pass. The wall is a popular spot for photographers, as the melting snow creates beautiful waterfalls cascading down the rock face.

Going-to-the-Sun Road bus tours

Glacier National Park Lodge offers a unique way to experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road with their iconic red bus tours. These historic buses, known as "red jammers," have operated since the 1930s and offer a scenic and informative tour of the park's most popular spots. The iconic vintage buses have an open-top structure, allowing you to have unobstructed views of Glacier's breathtaking landscapes.

Red bus tours depart from various accommodations in the park, including Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Rising Sun Motor Inn, as well as spots along the east and west entrances. You can take the tour from east to west or vice versa. The bus tours typically operate between late June and September, running varied routes along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The longest, Crown of the Continent route, runs the full length of the road, taking 8-9 hours on the west route or 6-8 hours on the east route. The route starts at $110 for adults and $55 for children (west route) or $78 for adults and $35 for children (east route), depending on the pickup location within the park. Shorter three- and six-hour tours are also available, providing a more budget-friendly option for those who may not have a full day to spare.

Aside from the scenic views and comfortable ride, the red bus tours offer knowledgeable guides who share interesting facts and stories about Glacier National Park. The guides often have personal connections to the park and provide unique insights into its history, geology, wildlife, and more.