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Glacier National Park

Exploring America's Crown Jewel
Article Date: November, 2014


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Going to the Sun Road

Naturally, wildlife viewing is always high on everyone's bucket list. Everyone wants to see a grizzly bear. Unfortunately, not everyone does. The majority of the grizzlies are in the back country and you'll need to hike in to see them so you should be properly versed in bear etiquette and carry bear spray. For those who really want to experience Glacier at its fullest, overnight hiking chalets are available for longer backpacking trips. But one unique feature that everyone can see is Going to the Sun road.

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Small streams, like this one along Trail of the Cedars, are found all over the park

Going to the Sun road spans the park from east to west. It travels through valleys, alongside lakes and streams, climbs peaks, hangs to the side of cliffs, and crosses the continental divide at Logan Pass. Snow melting from the surrounding peaks creates beautiful rushing waterfalls and streams that will take your breath away. One summer we were standing on the edge of the road as it clung to the side of the mountain and looking down at the top of a bald eagle, who was soaring far above the river below. That's the kind of spectacle you'll see on Going to the Sun Road.

If you begin your journey at St Mary on the east side of the park you'll travel along the shores of St Mary Lake. An Osprey nesting platform is located right at the visitors center and you'll undoubtedly see these amazing fishermen in the streams that feed St Mary Lake. Numerous pullouts and parking areas afford the chance to explore the many cascades on the St Mary River as it passes through the valley. One popular point of interest is Sunrift Gorge where a creek passes through a narrow slot in the rocks on its way to Bearing Falls. As you continue you'll pass Jackson Glacier on your way to Siyeh Bend, where the waterfall passes through a tunnel cut beneath the road to allow unimpeded travel without restricting the stream. Eventually the climb culminates at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. At Logan Pass the most popular hiking trail takes you around Clements Mountain and on to Hidden Lake. There is heavy snowfall at this altitude and it melts slowly so chances are you'll need snowshoes unless you wait until the end of July to take this trail. Those who do will be rewarded with an amazing view that few ever see.

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Snowfall at Glacier is substantial. The Big Drift is the last area to be cleared and requires a crew of dozers and snow blowers to ready Going-to-the-Sun Road for through traffic every spring

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Traffic jams are common whenever wildlife choose to cross the road. Allow plenty of time when traveling Going-to-the-Sun Road and be sure to bring your camera

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The St. Mary River rushes alongside Going to the Sun in its lower elevations

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Mountain Goats range Glacier's high peaks and can be seen around Logan Pass

Continuing on down towards the west side you'll pass by the garden wall. When you leave Logan Pass keep your eye open for Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats who tend to hang out between Logan Pass and the Garden Wall. They may traverse down from the steep slopes to the valley below for water. Whenever they do, it's common to have a traffic jam as tourists block the roads hoping to get a photo. Be sure to allow plenty of time for sightseeing and delays when traveling Going to the Sun.

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The constant water flow at the Weeping Wall can give you a free car wash

Shortly after you'll approach the Weeping Wall, which is where water from above penetrates the ground until it reaches an impassible slab of rock. It then runs laterally until it washes out of the side of the cliff, directly next to the road. You can get a free car wash if you pull over to one side. However, if you have a convertible I would suggest staying on the other side of the road. Traveling farther brings you to the Big Drift, which is the very last place that the snow is removed from every spring. Removing snow from Going to the Sun is a monumental task and many times the road does not open up to through traffic until the first week in July. The actual date varies according to how heavy the winter snowfall was but the Big Drift is the last to get cleared.

After passing through The Loop the road begins its run down into the valley. The Trail of the Cedars is an excellent stop. This interpretive trail takes you across a boardwalk path through a cedar forest. Various streams and fallen trees and mosses illustrate the ecological effects of climate in a temperate rain forest zone. It's a short, flat walk that is wheelchair accessible. Nearby is Avalanche Creek. This creek runs down from the mountains to the south and empties into Lake MacDonald. A hike up along the creek will take you all the way to Sperry Glacier if you decide to venture that far while a short hike will take you to the shores of Lake MacDonald.

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A large number of waterfalls will be found in Glacier due to the constant runoff from snow covered peaks. This waterfall, near Siyeh Bend, is routed through a tunnel that allows it to pass through beneath the road

Last, but not least, you'll find Lake McDonald Lodge, which is situated on the shore, overlooking the lake. You can take a tour boat tour of the lake from here or rent your own small outboard if you so desire. The lodge was built in 1914 and features a rustic charm common to the Swiss Chalet styling common to most facilities in Glacier National Park. Continuing on the road will take you to Apgar Village and then West Glacier.

Other Tips and Hints

Winter is severe at this altitude and latitude and it tends to stay a long time. Snow removal at Glacier takes some time so Going to the Sun road may open around the 25th of June or it may open July 10th. You never know so it's best to plan your trip accordingly. Early fall snows can close areas of the park in October so that leaves a small window of opportunity to visit the park. July and August are the biggest tourist months at Glacier while September brings the fall season and smaller crowds but you always run the risk of an early snow messing up your plans.

It's best to have an open schedule when visiting the park. If you have enough time, consider staying on the west end of the park for a few days and then shuttle over to the east end for the remainder of your visit. If your time is limited consider staying at one area. In that case the east end is closer to the best scenery and will be the best choice for your base camp.

It really doesn't matter when you go, where you stay, or who you go with. You'll find Glacier to be a unique experience and one that you'll always cherish in your memories.

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Mount Clements is located near Logan Pass, which is the summit for Going-to-the-Sun Road . Trails to Hidden Lake pass through this area as they leave the Logan Pass visitor's center

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Avalanche Creek runs through the forested slopes on its way to Lake McDonald

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Fishercap Lake is a short hike from the Swiftcurrent Inn parking area. Moose are typically found at this location

Source

Glacier National Park
(406) 888-7800
www.nps.gov/glac

San-Suz-Ed RV Park
(800) 630-2623
www.sansuzedrvpark.com

Glacier Park, Inc. (Lodging)
(406) 892-2525
www.glacierparkinc.com

West Glacier KOA
(406) 387-5341
www.koa.com/campgrounds/west-glacier

Granite Park and Sperry Chalets
(888) 345-2649
www.graniteparkchalet.com

Johnson's Campground and RV Park
(406) 732-4207
www.johnsonsofstmary.com

Kalispell Chamber of Commerce
(888) 888-2308
www.kalispellchamber.com

St. Mary KOA
(406) 732-4122
www.koa.com/campgrounds/st-mary

Glacier Campground
(888) 387-5689
www.glaciercampground.com

 


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