Americas Most Beautiful Drive “The Going To The Sun Road” a brief guide:
This 50 mile stretch of road in Montana’s Glacier National Park is constantly being rated as one of America’s best road trips and has even been proclaimed as “America’s Best Single Day Drive” by Outside magazine. National Geographic stated it is “One of the worlds most spectacular drives”. The articles pour in every summer from publishers around the world depicting this road. It’s appeared in movies such as in “The Shining’s” opening credits as well as “Forest Gump” when Forest compares one of the lakes along this route to his true love Jenny’s beauty. It blew us away and after 49 countries of travel may be the most beautiful drive either of us have ever embarked on. Funny right? It’s in our own backyard here in the USA!
Glacier National Park sits in the Northern most part of Montana and stretches in to British Columbia’s Waterton National Park making it the first multi-national national park. It’s also the worlds first international peace park! Glacier had only 2.9 million visitors in 2016 making it one of the lesser visited national parks. In comparison the most visited National Park is the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee that had 11 million visitors last year.
We began this drive with an entire day devoted to this 50 mile stretch of road. We started at the West Entrance to Glacier National Park and made our first stop at Lake McDonald Lodge. We explored the rainbow rocks that line the shores (refer to our previous post about this, it deserves a whole post) and enjoyed the company of the little ground squirrels that line the sides of the sidewalks and trails.
The next stop was just down the road about 2.5 miles at “The Sacred Dancing Cascades”. Be careful though this pull off is on the left side coming from West Glacier and can easily be passed up. There are no clear signs for this pull off so have your passenger keep their eyes peeled. If you get to the Trail Of The Cedars parking area you’ve gone to far. The short walk to the footbridge that crosses McDonald creek is well worth it. It’s only about 250 yards down the trail. The cascades are in full view and the rocks once again are multi-colored through the turquoise colored water. The water in this creek ranges from emerald blue to turquoise to crystal clear. It is perhaps some of the clearest water on earth.
Back in the car we meandered up the road stopping periodically for photos. The four of us were fixated on the beauty of our surroundings. The whole ride is nothing but “ooohh, WOW, and AMAZING”. We drove through “The Loop” pull off but this is noteable as it’s the only switchback on the entire drive and has water and restrooms available as well as a spectacular view.
Further along the west side we made a stop in one of the many pullouts to take in “Bird Woman Falls”. This is a beautiful 560ft waterfall and can be viewed from multiple vantage points along the west side of the route. It’s hard not to pull off at every pull off to take pictures. I do recommend you do pull off at every opportunity you can as often times there is no room for another car when you decide you’d like a photo at a particular vantage.
The next stop was the “Weeping Wall”. Now we did the drive on July 30th, 2017 and the wall was crying but not weeping as it would be in June. This is a natural waterfall that falls directly on to the road! If your going down the mountain you will literally drive under the falls themselves. Make sure your sunroof is up and you Jeep or convertible drivers better pull off right before hand and throw that top up! Right past the wall is a nice sized area to pull over and walk over to the falls for a few pictures.
After the wall we made two more pit stops for photos and then came upon a large bend in the road. It’s VERY noticeable and has a notably large pull off. This is a MUST stop point. In my opinion this was the most beautiful vista on the entire drive. The purple and yellow alpine wildflowers cover the mountainside in all directions. The flowers stand up to 5 feet tall in some places and make for fantastic photos! There’s also a small waterfall and through July this is usually your first opportunity to roll in the snow! There’s a large snow bank that sits here most of the summer.
Be careful!, this collapsed within hours of this photo being taken!
Our next stop was Oberlin bend. You’ll recognize this one as you approach it about 1.5 miles after the big bend as there’s a large boardwalk overhanging the mountainside off to your right. Be sure to stop here and look for Mountain Goats. We saw a goat right next to the road and they frequent the mountainside next to the boardwalk. It’s a nice place to stretch the legs. There’s also a gushing waterfall about 200 feet past the pull off going up the mountain that you can literally walk up to and stand underneath if you need a cold shower!
Next up is Logan Pass. The highest point of the drive right on the Continental Divide at 6,647′ above sea level. This parking area is often times full due to the abundance of hikers that park here for long day hikes. If you want to stop here as you absolutely should! Plan to get up here before 10am to ensure you get a parking space. Logan pass is the starting point for many of Glaciers most notorious hikes. Be sure to visit the visitors center and speak with a ranger about what hikes are open and what they recommend based on your fitness level. Often times certain hikes are closed due to bear activity in the summer months. There were two Grizzly advisories on two separate trails when we visited. Advisories mean you can still hike that trail but Bear Spray is a must. If your hoping to spot a Grizzly on your trip this is one of two major hotspots. Use your binoculars to scan the alpine meadows behind and to the left of the Visitors Center. The Grizzly bears like to dig up the wildflower bulbs in this meadow and are frequently spotted in that area.
If your feeling ambitious take a quick hike up to the “Hidden Lake Overlook”. It’s a 1 1/2 mile hike to the overlook, it took us about an hit with water and photo breaks. We were lucky enough to spot a Female Mountain Goat and her kid about 30 feet off the trail! The Mountain Goats are regularly on this trail. The overlook is amazing! Make sure you keep going past the group that will surely be gathered right at the top and make your way about 100 feet down the trail as it veers right until you reach the boardwalk section that wraps around to the true overlook. We almost turned around at the false overlook until a Ranger advised us to continue until the trail starts to drop down to the lake itself to reach the true viewing point. Hidden Lake is a true fisherman destination as well! Former President George W. Bush made this hike while in office to fish.
After a nice break from driving we got back in the car and headed down towards St. Mary’s Lake. Along the way there are multiple pull offs and places to take in the views. We spent less time on this side so I can’t give as much insight other than it’s all beautiful! I will note the roadside waterfall about 1/2 mile after the Logan Pass parking area heading down the mountain. It literally pours on to the road itself!
If you are considering a summer vacation this might just be the spot for you! Glacier has so much more than this road, you can easily spend a week exploring the various roadways and hiking trails. The climate here tends to be pretty stable in July and August and the rainfall is far less than a lot of summer destinations.
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