Going To The Sun Road is the main touring route in Glacier National Park. This long stretch of road is world famous for picturesque views of towering mountain peaks and ancient glaciers. The Going To The Sun Road runs between Lake St Mary on the east side of the mountains to Lake McDonald in the west end of the park. In between are dozens of scenic overlooks, hiking trailheads and picnic areas. In fact there is so much to see and do that an entire vacation can be devoted to just touring this road. Doing the Going To The Sun Road tour upon arrival is the best way to become familiar with Glacier National Park and the knowledge gained will make it easier to plan outdoor events in the following days.
This road goes up and over the mountains, so there are steep ascents and plenty of narrow switchbacks to negotiate. During the summer season, the traffic is heavy early in the day and the traffic does not lighten up till close to sunset. In fact the congestion on this touring route can be so thick on weekends that finding an empty parking spot can be an impossible dream. To top it off, because of the high elevations, the dense fog from an overcast day can result in zero visibility way uphill where the road is very narrow as it runs along the towering cliffs.
If this all sounds like too much, it actually is the reality of touring the Going To The Sun Road in a private vehicle, which can result in a disappointing experience. This road can be a real nightmare for drivers, but there is one way to avoid being frustrated to the point of packing the bags and going home. The very best way to tour the Going To The Sun Road is to just leave the car behind and hop on the National Park Shuttle Bus! The shuttle stops close to every great viewpoint and hiking trailhead along the way, so there is no need to endure hours of fighting for a parking spot or getting stuck behind a panicky driver that is frozen with fear in the dense fog. Just sit back and enjoy the great views while the shuttle takes you exactly where you want to be!
The number of points of interest are endless along the Going To The Sun Road, so it is best to recommend looking at the Glacier Park Brochure Map to find all the details. Glacier absolutely is the hiker's National Park, so carting a trailblazing backpack along for the shuttle bus ride will present options for a short trail excursion or even a back country overnighter. Packing the fishing pole will be necessary for serious anglers, because this road follows some great trout fishing rivers uphill. Of course landscape and wildlife photographers will be kept busy on this road too, because there are so many opportunities to capture a once in a lifetime photo that is worth framing.
The high elevation Going To The Sun touring route is only open during the summer season, which is something to be aware of when making plans. The exact opening date and closing date depend on how early the winter snow can be cleared in June and how early the first snow falls in the mountains toward October. The third week of September is usually the official closing date. However, it is best to plan the trip at an earlier date than this, because the traffic is much thicker during the week that the Going To The Sun Road is officially closed for the winter.
Another thing to keep in mind is the foggy overcast days will be more frequent during the autumn season and there is really no use touring this road if the visibility is zero. Blinding fog ruined my first trip on the Going To The Sun Road and the photos for this article were actually from a second attempt a week later, which was just a few days short of the September closing date.
There certainly is a lot for a visitor to deal with when touring the Going To The Sun Road, but the information in this article will help to make the journey a fun one. Touring this famous road most definitely will provide memories for a lifetime. Needless to say, the experience will be much better if the car is left behind and the tour is done on the National Park Shuttle Bus!
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