Glacier National Park - Going-to-the-Sun-Road
A visit to Glacier National Park isn't complete without a trip across the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. It cuts through the park from the west side to the east side, going by Lake McDonald, through Logan's pass and all the way to St. Mary. The road is a design marvel. It feels like it is floating at times, cut into the side of such an extremely steep mountain. There is only 1 switchback on the road, making the drive a truly enjoyable mountain experience. At a few points on the west side of Logan's Pass you can look down by the river and actually see the road... thousands of feet below you. At that point you may feel like you are going to be on the road forever but within minutes you are down by the river on the section of tiny road you just saw. The scenery is breathtaking and varied.
The road will take about 2 hours if you drive with minimal stopping, but where is the fun in that? It is 50 miles long and it does have some really strict vehicle limits. Nothing longer than 21 feet long, 8 feet wide or 10 feet high. We saw some heavy duty trucks that seemed to be very close to, if not over that 8 feet wide rule. We drive an Expedition and were fine but it was tight.
If you don't have a car, or you don't feel like driving you can always take the shuttle or pay for a tour in the Glacier Buses.
Recommended stops along the Going-to-the-Sun Road:
Lake McDonald: This is the largest lake in the park and it is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The lake is 10 miles long and according to the NPS it is nearly 500 feet deep! You can go on a boat tour on the lake or rent your own small boat. We rented our own boat and took it out for about an hour. It was nice to get out into the middle and just sit and look. (A happy side note: it also put the baby to sleep pretty quickly.)
Avalanche Area: The Trail of Cedars is at this stop and its a great one! The trail is mostly a boardwalk, wheelchair accessible and pretty much stays along the creek the entire time. They have information signs that tell you about the giants you are walking among. We saw deer right next to the path when we were there. It takes hardly anytime at all (you could walk fast and be done in 15 mins.) You can also get to the Avalanche Lake trail from this stop. We would have done it but the day we walked the Trail of Cedars it was raining pretty hard and we had two little ones with us.
Logan Pass: This is the highest visitors center in the park and is also a great place to access the Highline Trail and the Hidden Lake Overlook and Hidden Lake Trail. Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience the Highline trail because of weather or the Hidden Lake Trail/Overlook because of bears but I have heard they are both amazing! The Hidden Lake Trail and Overlook were closed because a mother bear and her cubs had been spotted along the trail. The fish in the lake were also spawning, which attracts bears.
Jackson Glacier Overlook: Check out this stop to see a glacier with minimal effort. The glaciers are disappearing from Glacier National Park but this one can be seen from a stop along the Going-to-the-Sun road.
St Mary Lake: By far our favorite part of the park! The lake is surrounded by fields of wildflowers. One of the stops along the road has a short path you can follow to get down to the lakeshore. Its really easy and again a quick stop.
All of these stops along the Going-to-the-Sun road could be done in one day, if you start early. We have a 1 and a 3 yr old so that wasn't happening. Pack your lunch if you want to move quickly and bring lots of water. Also, make sure you have a full tank of gas before you enter the park. We did these stops, plus a few more over 2 days. We ate at 2 different restaurants in the park, both were good. I am not going to mention them by names because honestly you shouldn't go out of your way to get to a particular one here. Both restaurants were average, tasty but average.
Overall, Glacier and the Going-to-the-Sun road have been my favorite experiences thus far on our epic road trip. The park is full of natural beauty. I would highly recommend staying on the east side, in St. Mary because it is much less crowded. If you can stay a few days on the east and a few days on the west. The park is vast and very different on both sides.
** Just as in Yellowstone or anywhere in bear country never hike quietly or without bear-spray.