Glacier National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only road that bisects the park, climbs through spectacular mountain scenery and over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. Hugging the mountain-side in sections, the road is only 50 miles long, but with all the rugged peaks, waterfalls, wild flowers and wildlife to spot and enjoy, the drive can take several hours.
The itinerary below offers two options for driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road: To the Divide and Back – a half day or more and To the Divide and Beyond – a seriously full day (leaving Kalispell early in the morning and returning late) but both promise a day you’ll never forget. Suggestion: because food and beverage options within the boundaries of Glacier National Park are limited, you might want to stop at Great Harvest Bread or Sykes Diner before heading east on Highway 2 for a day in the park.
TO THE DIVIDE AND BACK
West Glacier — This west side gateway to Glacier is a first or last stop for souvenirs, gas, lunch, dinner or a snack. Take some time to visit the Alberta Visitors Center to learn about our neighbors to the north.
Apgar — Stop by the Apgar Visitors Center for a look at the relief map that gives an excellent overview of the park. Questions? Just ask one of the knowledgeable rangers that staff the center.
Lake McDonald Lodge — This beautiful lodge was designed by Kirtland Cutter as a private hunting lodge. The front of the lodge faces the lake, a reminder of the time when the lodge was accessible only by boat. Check out the huge fireplace and stroll down to the dock for some stunning views of the lake.
Sacred Dancing Cascade — McDonald Creek splashes over rock formations that are more than 1.6 billion years old. A footbridge leads to hiking trails on the other side of the creek.
Trail of the Cedars — Less than a mile long, this meandering but very accessible trail winds through some of the area’s oldest stands of cedar and hemlock. The trail crosses the gorge of Avalanche Creek before looping back.
The Loop — This is the only switchback on the entire road and provides a perfect stopping point for views and information. The Trapper Fire swept through the area in 2003 changing the landscape for the next generation. Take a photo of Heavens Peak before heading east toward Logan Pass.
Logan Pass — Logan Pass sits along the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,646 feet and is one of the best places to spot mountain goats and Bighorn Sheep. The boardwalk to the Hidden Lake Overlook runs through rock terraces and delicate alpine meadows. Take time in the Visitors Center to explore the book store and learn more about the park’s geography, flora and fauna. Make sure you take a photo at the Logan Pass sign to document your arrival on the backbone of the continent.
TO THE DIVIDE AND AND BEYOND
Sunrift Gorge — A short trail leads to the gorge carved by glacial melt-off from Sexton Glacier. Look for water ouzels, or “dippers,” a gray slate-colored bird that dives into fast-moving water searching for aquatic insects. On a hot day, nothing beats a picnic in the shade of Baring Bridge.
Wild Goose Island, St. Mary Lake — This is one of the most photographed scenes in Glacier. The island sits in a lake carved by a glacier millions of years ago.
Sun Point Nature Trail — Along the trail, Going-to-the-Sun Point commands a sweeping view of St. Mary Lake and the mountains that surround it. For a longer hike, follow the trail to Baring Falls.
St. Mary — Once called Old Town, St. Mary started out as a mining settlement. Stop at the Visitor Center before heading into the village. Pick up Highway 89 south to the junction with 49. Take highway 49 to East Glacier.
Glacier Park Lodge — The Blackfeet dubbed this “Big Tree Lodge” and once you enter the lobby, you’ll understand why. Massive Douglas fir columns outline the center of the 200-foot-long lobby. A huge fireplace, large enough for a human to stand in, dominates one end of the lobby with the restaurant at the opposite end.
Highway 2 and Marias Pass — Highway 2 crosses the continental divide at Marias Pass. This pass is about 1,000 feet lower (5,220 feet) than Logan Pass in Glacier. The road follows the original Great Northern Railroad route that opened up this area.
Goat Lick Overlook — From the parking lot, it’s only a short walk to an observation area overlooking steep cliffs and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Look carefully and you’ll probably spot mountain goats and other animals who are attracted to the minerals in the clay cliffs.
Izaac Walton Inn, Essex — Built by the railroad as a hotel for railroad workers, the historic inn’s dining car is the perfect place for dinner or a snack after a day in Glacier.
Let someone else drive — If driving a curvy mountain road is not for you, there are several other ways to enjoy Glacier National Park. During the summer, the park’s shuttle system will take you along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and to other areas of the park. Or choose from a number of tours offered by the historic Red Buses of Glacier.
BONUS: A COOL DEAL FOR KIDS
Fourth graders from across the United States can get into Glacier National Park for free — and bring their families too! That’s just one benefit of the Every Kid In a Park program, helping ensure that America’s youth can experience first-hand the most beautiful places across our nation. Complementing that program, the National Park Foundation is offering travel assistance and other support for families in need through its Open OutDoors for Kids program.