Heading to Glacier National Park? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, including the best stops, road rules, and more!
Glacier National Park quickly became our favorite US National Park this past summer and a huge part of why we fell in love with it was driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
With 50 miles of glacial peaks, bright blue rivers, roadside waterfalls, gorgeous valleys, and endless views, it’s almost impossible to not smile the entire time you’re on it. Our first morning at Glacier National Park we drove up to Logan Pass for sunset and catching those first glimpses of the park from the Going-to-the-Sun Road is an experience we will never forget.
What we love about the Going-to-the-Sun Road is that anyone can experience it! You don’t need to hike miles and miles to see the beauty, or even leave the comfort of your car. The road makes the park accessible to people of all ages and athletic abilities, which is pretty amazing. And while we definitely suggest hitting the trails to see even more of the beauty that Glacier has to offer, it’s pretty special that you can see so much of it from the road too!
We dedicated the first day of our trip to driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road and seeing as many stops as possible (watch our experience). And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before driving the road, including the road’s rules, when to drive it, and all of our favorite stops on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, plus a handful we couldn’t check out but can’t wait to next time. We hope you enjoy the Going-to-the-Sun Road as much as we did!
Note: During our trip, part of the Going-to-the-Sun road (by Saint Mary Lake) was closed due to COVID-19, so the furthest we drove was Sun Point. This guide will share stops that we weren’t able to visit due to closures, but can’t wait to check out next time. Make sure to check any closures before you go!
Important update about the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Between May 28-September 6, 2021 from the hours of 6 AM- 5 PM MDT, you are required to have a reservation to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can either reserve a pass to drive the road (valid for 7 days) or will have a pass included if you’re staying at certain lodging inside the park or have specific tours booked. If you arrive before 6 AM or after 5 PM, you will not need a permit. You can find out more details on how to get your pass here.
More Glacier National Park Guides:
Looking for where to stay, what to eat, and more things to do at Glacier National Park? Check out our 4 Day Glacier National Park Itinerary!
Want to hike the park’s famous Highline Trail? Check out our Hiking the Highline Trail guide, which includes everything you need to know before completing the hike.
Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About the Going-to-the-Sun Road
One of the first things that intrigued us when we learned about the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the name. There are a couple different stories that explain why it is named Going-to-the-Sun Road and from what we gather there isn’t a consensus.
The road got its name from the nearby Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, which a Blackfeet legend states was named after a deity named Sour Spirit, who came down to teach them how to hunt. On his way back to the sun, his image was reproduced on the top of the mountain, which inspired the Blackfeet.
However, another story claims a white explorer in the 1880s created the legend and named the mountain.
No matter the true origin of the name, the road is absolutely incredible and has made the park accessible to everyone. Before the road was built, visitors would spend days traversing through the park on wagon roads. Construction on the road officially began in 1921 and was completed in 1932, making it one of the first National Park roads built specifically for tourists.
The road spans the width of the park from east, at St. Mary, to west, at West Glacier, with the highest point being at the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646 ft). The road goes along lakes and skirts along cliffs, with drop offs on one side at some points. As you drive it, especially on the cliff portions, it’s pretty crazy to think of the work that must have gone into building it.
We haven’t driven every road in the United States, but we would safely bet that this is one of the most gorgeous drives in the country. In fact, it’s the first road to have been registered as a National Historic Place, National Historic Landmark, and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Note: it costs $35 per vehicle to enter Glacier National Park, which covers 7 days. However, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass, which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.
When is the Going-to-the-Sun Road open?
While Glacier National Park is technically open 365 days a year, most of the park, including the majority of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, is closed during the winter.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road gets up to 80 feet of snow (WOW!) in some areas and with clearing snow along steep mountain cliffs being a dangerous activity, you can understand why the road is closed in the winter! If you’re interested in learning more about how they clear the road check out this video…it’s pretty crazy!
There is no set date for when the road is open, and it normally takes 10 weeks to clear all the snow from the road, but you can see previous open and close dates here to get a better idea of when it typically opens and closes.
It’s typically a safe bet to visit between late June or early July to late September or early October.
However, if you do visit outside of those months, or the entire road is closed for some reason, the portion of the road between Lake McDonald and Avalanche Lake is maintained year round (for the most part), so you can still access some of the road and our suggested stops.
Rules for driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Something that is very important to know before driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, especially if you’re in a van, like us, or an RV, is that there is a vehicle length limit going east from Avalanche Lake.
Between Lake McDonald and Avalanche Lake, any vehicle size can drive, but as soon as you pass Avalanche Lake, vehicles over 21 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 10 feet tall are NOT allowed.
Our van is unfortunately 22.5 feet long, so we had to rent a car to drive the road (the park shuttle, which we will share about soon, was not running in 2020). It was totally worth the extra cost to be able to drive the Going-to-the-Sun road and we were pretty glad we weren’t in the van once we saw how close you get to rocky walls and how windy the road can be.
Tips for driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Before you visit Glacier National Park, here are a few of our top tips to ensure you have a fun and safe time:
- Get to the park early! We always recommend getting anywhere early, but if you want to enjoy some solitude, shoot for arriving by 7 AM. You’ll beat some traffic and have a much better chance to see wildlife!
- Visit during the week. Weekdays are a lot less busy at the park and can be more enjoyable.
- Be bear (and wildlife) aware. Black and grizzly bears (the more aggressive of the two) both call Glacier National Park home. While attacks are very uncommon, there is a good chance you will see a bear at the park (we saw two black bears from the car), so please review what to do if you see a bear. Mountain lions, moose, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep also call the park home, so please keep your distance from them as well.
- Carry bear spray! It is crucial to carry bear spray in the park just in case you encounter a bear and it starts to get aggressive. You can rent this from Glacier Outfitters in West Glacier if you’re flying in.
- Pack food + water and fill up with gas! There aren’t really any food options along the Going-to-the-Sun Road past Lake McDonald, so make sure to pack meals to enjoy during your hikes! If you start near visitor centers, they will have water fountains, but if not, make sure you have enough water on you, or a water filter in case you need to fill up in a stream. There is also only one gas station on the road, right at West Glacier, so make sure you have a full tank!
- Download Google maps beforehand. With little to no service in the park, we highly recommend downloading offline Google Maps and pinning any spots you want to stop at beforehand so you can find them. There is a lot of signage along the road, but it’s good to be prepared!
- Be prepared for variable weather. The temperature at Logan Pass can be 10 degrees cooler than at Lake McDonald, so make sure to pack layers (and sunscreen for sunny days)!
- Dedicate at least a half day to fully experience the road. Without stopping, it takes at least 2 hours to drive all 50 miles of the road.
Check road closures and construction. During our trip, part of the road was closed due to COVID-19 and there was also some construction, which caused a bit of a delay. Keep track of the road’s status here.
Options for driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Glacier National Park is 1,583 square miles, making it a huge park to explore! To truly enjoy the park, we highly recommend renting a car for your time at the park if you’re flying in. However, if you do not want to drive your own car on the road, you have a few other options!
Free Park Shuttle
In a normal year, there are free shuttles that can take you on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, from the Apgar visitor center to St. Mary visitor center, with many shuttle stops along the way. This is a great option if your vehicle is too long and you want to explore the park, without renting a car, or don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking.
However, the shuttles are only open seasonally (usually July 1st through Labor Day) and they do not start running very early, so if you plan to do any long hikes or want to beat the crowds, we’d suggest having your own car.
Note: The free shuttle did not run in 2020 due to COVID-19, so make sure to check if it’s running when you visit.
If you’d rather sit back and enjoy the ride (plus learn some park info!) while someone else drives, there are a handful of tours you can book that will take you around the park.
The Blackfeet Perspective by Sun Tours offers half-day and full-day tours that let you learn more about the park through the Blackfeet perspective. You will learn about history, culture, family, and local knowledge about the area that Blackfeet have long called home for many years. There are tours of the East and West sides, individually, or both.
For a unique experience, check out the Red Bus tours. On these tours, you’ll ride through the park on a vintage bus from the 1930s. The buses have rollback tops that turn the bus into a convertible bus, when weather permits.
However, the vintage buses were not built with today’s standards of comfort in mind, as they have 4 rows of benches that seat 4 across. And they normally sell out daily, so don’t expect to be able to stretch your legs! But despite that, they look like a pretty fun experience.
The red busses offer daily tours that are roundtrip, with varying time lengths and beginning and ending at the same location, with several departure points to choose from.
Different route options
As we mentioned above, the Going-to-the-Sun Road does have some drop offs, rock walls that overhang a bit, and curves. If you’re nervous about driving next to the edge or really close to the rock wall, you can choose to do the road one direction to avoid the feature that scares you the most.
If you drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road west to east, you will drive by the edge of the road, and if you drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road east to west, you will drive by the rock wall. If you do decide to just drive one direction, you can use Highways 2 and 89 to get back to your starting point. But keep in mind, taking these roads outside of the park will add even more time to your route.
Due to the Going-to-the-Sun Road only being partially open during our visit, we drove the road going both west and east and it was amazing to see the different views both ways!
The Best Stops on the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Now that you know a bit more about driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, it’s time to plan your route! While we definitely encourage being a bit spontaneous when driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, it’s good to have a list of spots you want to check out and hikes you want to do so you can make sure you have enough time and don’t accidentally miss something.
Below we’re sharing all of the best stops on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, starting from the west side of the park at Apgar Village all the way through to the east side at St. Mary. Some are quick overlooks, some are hikes, and some are just things to keep an eye out for while driving. There are quite a few stops to choose from, so we’re marking our absolute favorites with an asterisk*.
Location on map
Located on the west side of Lake McDonald, Apgar Village is the main jumping off point for many activities. There is the Apgar Visitor Center, stores, shuttle service, where many tours begin and much more. Also, the largest campground, Apgar Campground, is found here.
The visitor center is where you’ll want to use the restroom and talk to rangers if you have any burning questions before you begin this epic journey.
Location on map (there are many access points)
Not too long after leaving the visitor center you will encounter Lake McDonald. This is the largest lake in the park at 10 miles long, over a mile wide, and 472 feet deep, and is known for the incredible views of the mountains, clear water, and colorful rocks.
At the lake you can take a swim, kayak, and paddleboard (you can rent kayaks or paddle boards at Glacier Outfitters!), or you can just take it easy with a picnic at the day use area (we went to this beach).
Lake McDonald Lodge
Location on map
The Lake McDonald Lodge is a historic lodge built in 1913 on the eastern shore of Lake McDonald. It is a 3 story Swiss chalet style lodge with 82 rustic, but comfortable rooms. How perfect would it be waking up to a view of the lake!?
If you are looking for a spot to view the lake from, this can be a great option! They also have some restaurants if you need to grab a bite to eat before or after driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Location on Map
As you drive east along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll have the gorgeous Lake McDonald to your left for quite some time. And just a few minutes after catching your last glimpse of the lake, you’ll reach McDonald Falls.
You can see these falls from the road, but pulling over to look at them from the official overlook won’t give you the best view.
To get the best view of the falls, take The Johns Lake Loop Trail (1.9 miles and a relatively flat 183 feet of elevation) from the parking lot on McDonald Road just before you get to the falls.
This loop trail will take you onto the other side of McDonald Creek where you will get a much better view of McDonald Falls and see the Sacred Dancing Cascades.
Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake*
Location on Map
If you want a hike with views of a gorgeous gatorade blue river, a cool gorge, and a beautiful lake with a mountain backdrop, look no further than the Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars trail! This trail is 6.7 miles with 757 ft of elevation gain, so it’s not too difficult.
Unfortunately for us, during our trip this trail was closed due to bear activity, so we only got to experience the Trail of the Cedars portion. This was a very nice walk in the woods, but from what we can see, Avalanche Lake looks very worth the additional miles!
Location on Map
It is remarkable that with all the elevation you gain driving through the mountains, The Loop is the only switchback on Going-to-the-Sun Road!
From the large parking lot in the ‘eye’ of The Loop, you can view the massive Heavens Peak in the distance and get on the Granite Park Trail. This trail connects with the AMAZING Highline Trail and takes you to the beautiful and historic Granite Park Chalet or the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. Check out our Hiking the Highline Trail guide for more information about the trail!
Bird Woman Falls
Viewable from many different areas about 27 miles onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Bird Woman Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the park at 492 feet. As you drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the falls will be prominent for about two miles of the drive, especially in the late spring when the snow is melting, making it a hard feature to miss.
While you cannot hike to these falls and only see them from a distance, after about 27 miles into the road you will find a few pullouts to get a better look at the falls and snap some photos!
Haystack Creek Falls
Location on Map
You won’t miss these falls because you will drive over them! Haystack Creek Falls cascade down the mountain and there is an arch built over them to allow the water to continue down the mountain.
Similar to Bird Woman Falls, you cannot hike to these falls, but you can get right next to them from the road at a little pullout right after you drive over them.
Location on Map
Have your windshield wipers ready for this spot along the road! The Weeping Wall is a rock wall along the Going-to-the-Sun Road which during the late spring and early summer, the mountains above it produce a lot of snow run off, which soaks the road, making it look like the wall is weeping.
The wall was no longer weeping during our visit, but from the photos we have seen, this looks like such a cool experience to drive through! Despite the wall being dried up, we were able to explore a little area right by the weeping wall, which still had some water and was fun to hike up to!
Location on Map
This was one of our absolute favorite stops on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, as well as one of our favorite views in the park!
This big bend in the road (hence the name!) has incredible views of the mountain peaks and the valley below. We loved this stop so much that we not only visited it during the day, but also drove back for sunset and it was one of the most incredible and jaw dropping sunsets of our lives!
Watching the golden light fill the valley and give the peaks a gorgeous alpenglow took our breath away. And despite it being the busy season at Glacier, sunset wasn’t too busy at the overlook, with just a handful of groups pulling over quickly for photos, some wedding photoshoots (so magical!), and a deer joining us for some fun.
While we highly recommend stopping here any time of the day, if you can visit during sunset, DO IT! It’s definitely the best and most accessible sunset spot in the park!
Location on Map
The Triple Arches is a really cool feature of the Going-to-the-Sun road that some call an engineering marvel! Since there was no flat ground to build a road, the construction workers built three arches to build a road on top of. This isn’t a stop to make, but something to take note of and marvel at, especially as you drive over it!
Location on Map
Just before you get to Logan Pass, there will be a small pullout for the Oberlin Bend overlook where you’ll not only find beautiful views of Mt. Oberlin, the valley below, and terrific views of the Going-to-the-Sun Road snaking its way up the mountain sides, but you’ll also have a super chance of seeing mountain goats and marmots!
From the parking lot, you’ll walk about 270 feet along a small boardwalk loop to a viewpoint. This is definitely worth a quick stop to get a better view at the road you’ve been driving!
Location on Map
Logan Pass is the highest point reachable by vehicle in the park at 6,646 feet and a must-visit stop when driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road! At Logan Pass you can check out the visitor center, buy some gifts, use the restroom, fill up water, and prepare yourself for even more incredible scenery.
There are two major trails that begin here, the Highline Trail and the Hidden Lake Trail, but the parking lot alone has breathtaking views and became our go-to sunrise spot during our time in the park. We saw lots of bighorn sheep and mountain goats here too!
If you can hike, we’d highly recommend hiking both of these trails! However, the Highline Trail will need an entire day dedicated to it, but it’s 1000% worth the mileage and hours to hike this trail. It has become our favorite hike we have done in the United States! Check out our hiking the Highline Trail guide for more details on this hike, how to prepare for it, and what to expect.
The Hidden Lake Trail, which is 5.3 miles, was high up on our list of trails we wanted to experience at the park, but unfortunately we weren’t able to experience it because it was closed due to recent grizzly bear activity. If it’s closed for you, you can still get a fantastic view of Bearhat Mountain from the hill behind the visitor center, which is a good consolation prize.
Our biggest tip for visiting Logan Pass is: arrive early! If you get to Logan Pass late in the day, you might have to make a few loops around the parking lot looking for a spot. It gets very crowded and we even saw a verbal fight about a parking spot. 😬
Location on Map
Lunch Creek got its name because it was a popular place to stop for lunch for early visitors to the park and it still is today. Here you will find Lunch Creek flowing down the mountain surrounded by fields of wildflowers in the summer.
This is a roadside stop and the National Park Service encourages visitors to please stay on the paved areas, as previous visitors have ventured off and caused significant damage to the area.
Location on Map
While not a stop along the road, the 408 foot long East tunnel is said to be one of the more difficult features to accomplish when they were building the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
A 3 mile trail was needed to be cut out from Logan Pass and materials needed to be hauled up to complete the work. But maybe the most crazy part of building this tunnel was that the workers had to hand carry all of the debris that was blasted to create the tunnel.
As you drive through the tunnel, marvel at its impressiveness and the hard work it took to make it a reality!
Location on Map
Siyeh Bend is where the high alpine terrain shifts to the lower forest areas of the east side of the park. In this spot you’ll be surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks and alpine meadows.
There is parking on the side of the road and if you just want a quick stop you can walk along Siyeh Creek, but if you’re looking for long and strenuous, yet bucket list worthy trails, then look into Piegan Pass Trail or Siyeh Pass Trail.
Jackson Glacier Overlook*
Location on Map
Glacier National Park is home to 26 named glaciers and at the Jackson Glacier Overlook, you can get a great view of the 7th largest glacier in the park with barely having to leave the car.
In 1850, Jackson Glacier, along with the Blackfoot Glacier (which is now separate) covered 1,875 acres. In 2005, it had shrunk to 250 acres. Make sure to stop by this overlook to see the glacier before it one day disappears.
St. Mary & Virginia Falls*
Location on Map
One of our favorite hikes at Glacier National Park was St. Mary and Virginia Falls. These waterfalls are absolutely stunning! St. Mary Falls has this gorgeous gatorade blue water and Virginia Falls has super neat red rocks and is quite a bit taller, making it even more impressive.
To get to the falls you have a couple options, including parking at the St. Mary falls parking lot and doing a 2.9 mile hike to both of the falls. This is a relatively easy hike with only 452 feet of elevation gain, making it a doable hike while driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and still giving you time to check out other stops.
However, we did the hike starting from a different area and would highly recommend going this other way instead. Check out the Sun Point stop a little further down on this list to see our preferred way to hike to St. Mary and Virginia Falls!
Location on Map
In between the St. Mary Falls transit station and Sun Point is a small roadside parking area to see Sunrift Gorge. After parking, you’ll walk a few steps up some stairs to see snow melt off from the Sexton Glacier rushing through a narrow channel. It’s a very quick, but GORGEous stop (get it? 😜)
Location on Map
This is another major stop we highly recommend on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. You have several options of things to see and do here that vary in time and effort.
If you’re short on time, hike the short Sun Point Nature Trail to Saint Mary Lake. In just a few minutes from the Sun Point parking lot, you reach this large rock overlook over the lake, with tons of spots to snag photos of the lake and surrounding mountains.
If you’ve got a couple hours, you must hike to the 3 wonderful waterfalls of Baring Falls, St. Mary’s Falls, and Virginia Falls. The waterfalls get better and better as you go and if you’re lucky like us you might see a moose or other wildlife!
To start this hike, continue going straight after leaving Sun Point, instead of going right back to the car. You will hike along Saint Mary Lake for a while, which is absolutely gorgeous, as well as through a burned forest from a wildfire a couple years ago.
Hiking to all three waterfalls is around 6 miles round trip. We couldn’t find an AllTrails route page for it, but this is the best representation we could find. Our friends, The Mandagies, also wrote a great blog post about the trail too!
If you’d like to just hike to see St. Mary and Virginia Falls there is a parking area before you get to Sun Point where you can make the hike a bit shorter. We shared a bit more about this trail two spots up on this list!
Wild Goose Island Lookout*
Location on Map
As you drive closer to the St. Mary Visitor Center, you may notice a tiny little island in the middle of the lake. This island is called Wild Goose Island and you can get a slightly closer look by parking on the side of the road and walking up to an overlook. While the island may be tiny, it’s pretty incredible and shocking that this small piece of land survived all the glacial activity.
Saint Mary Visitor Center
Location on Map
The final stop on the Going-to-the-Sun Road is the Saint Mary Visitor Center. While closed during our visit, this is a great spot to take a bit of a break, enjoy the views, speak with a ranger, go to the restroom, or fill up water before continuing your adventures in Glacier National Park!
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road?
Pin this guide with the best stops on the Going-to-the-Sun Road