Driving the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana
Driving the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana was originally published in 2023
Among the most scenic drives in the world, the Going to the Sun Road that bisects Montana’s Glacier National Park is the best way to see the park if you’re short on time and only have a day or two to dedicate (it’s also a highlight even for those with longer times to play with!).
That said, driving the Going to the Sun Road and visiting Glacier National Park does require a little bit of research to ensure you’re able to maximize your time there and attain the necessary permits for certain areas of the park.
After having visited Glacier National Park, including the scenic drive along the Going to the Sun Road in the fall of 2022, I’m sharing in the following post everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip down the Going to the Sun Road, including
- Info about the vehicle reservation system for the Going to the Sun Road that applies to travelers planning to drive it between May 26 and September 10, 2023.
- My top tips on driving the Going to the Sun Road including the best time to visit, timing, vehicle requirements, and preparation.
- The best scenic stops along the Going to the Sun Road.
- The Best Time to Drive the Going to the Sun Road
- Get a Going to the Sun Road Permit well in Advance
- Start the Drive on the Going to the Sun Road Early
- Make Sure to Allot Enough Time
- Come Prepared for the Road Trip
- Make Sure Your Vehicle is Allowed on the Going to the Sun Road
- Note the Glacier National Park Entry Fees or Purchase the Annual Pass
- Exemptions for the Going to the Sun Road Permit
- St. Mary Visitor Center
- Wild Goose Island Overlook
- Sun Point Nature Trail
- St. Mary & Virginia Falls
- Jackson Glacier Overlook
- Siyeh Bend
- East Tunnel
- Logan Pass Visitor Center
- Oberlin Bend Overlook
- Big Bend
- Haystack Falls
- Bird Woman Falls
- The Loop
- West Tunnel
- Trail of the Cedars & Avalanche Lake Trail
- Sacred Dancing Cascades
- McDonald Falls
- Lake McDonald & Lake McDonald Lodge
- Apgar Village & Visitor Center
- West Glacier Village
Quick Going to the Sun Road Details
- Distance and drive time: 51 miles | 2 hours not including stops
- Open Dates: Typically late May until early October but can vary year to year
- Highest point en route: Logan Pass at 6,646 feet
- Size restrictions for vehicles: Vehicles longer than 21 feet, wider than 8 feet, and taller than 10 feet are not permitted on the Going to the Sun Road
- Visitor Centers to check out: St Mary, Logan Pass, Apgar
- Campgrounds along the way: St Mary, Rising Sun, Avalanche Creek, Sprague Creek, Apgar
- Lodges along the route: Rising Sun Motor Inn, Lake McDonald Lodge, Lake McDonald Motel, Apgar Village Inn, Apgar Village Lodge
Tips & Info for Driving the Going to the Sun Road
The Best Time to Drive the Going to the Sun Road
Driving the Going to the Sun Road is best done between May and mid-September, though some years you might get lucky and the road may stay open through mid to even late October.
The Going to the Sun Road does shut for the season once the snow starts to fly, so plan accordingly.
Get a Going to the Sun Road Permit well in Advance
In all honesty, I got lucky in this category when I drove the Going to the Sun Road last year as I didn’t know about the newly implemented permit for the route- I did the drive on September 25, 2022, and the last day the permit was required for the 2022 season was on September 11, 2022.
Starting in 2022 it became required to obtain a Going to the Sun Road permit in advance due to the growing popularity of the route.
Note that the dates for the upcoming season that Going to the Sun Road permits are required are between May 26 and September 10, 2023. If you plan to visit before May 26 or after September 10 this year you will not need one.
You should apply well in advance as these are becoming more difficult to obtain as Glacier National Park is one of the USA’s most famous parks.
To obtain a Going to the Sun Road permit, visit the NPS reservations website. Note that you will need to pay a $2 fee when making the reservation.
Note that there are a few exemptions to the permit requirement for Going to the Sun which I will cover later in this post.
Start the Drive on the Going to the Sun Road Early
You will be making plenty of stops on your trip along the Going to the Sun Road without a doubt, so it’s best to get an early start to maximize your time here in Glacier National Park. This leads me to…
Make Sure to Allot Enough Time
You won’t want to risk running out of daylight on your journey along the Going to the Sun Road and miss out on the stunning views. Getting an early start will allow you to maximize your time along one of the most scenic and stunning drives in the world.
You should also factor in if you plan to do any hikes along the Going to the Sun Road or if you plan to drive the road one way or both ways.
I made sure to start as early as I could drag myself from bed and I actually drove the Going to the Sun Road from east to west rather quickly to scope it out and then I hit all my stops on my return trip driving from west to east.
Note that speed limits range from 25 mph to 45 mph along the 51 mile long Going to the Sun Road, making the journey about 2 hours of just drive time.
Come Prepared for the Road Trip
Make sure you fuel up, grab some snacks the morning of, or better yet, the night before, and have an offline map downloaded on your phone. There are no gas stations, only a few restaurants mostly located nearer the gates and limited mobile coverage inside Glacier National Park.
Make Sure Your Vehicle is Allowed on the Going to the Sun Road
There are size limits to the vehicles allowed to drive the Going to the Sun Road. These limits are 21 feet in length, 8 feet in width, and 10 feet in height.
Due to the windy nature of the Going to the Sun Road and narrow stretches of the road, I would say the smaller the vehicle the better.
I saw plenty of smaller RVs and campervans en route and to be honest, it looked quite stressful in those larger vehicles.
Note the Glacier National Park Entry Fees or Purchase the Annual Pass
There are national park entry fees for Glacier National Park, like most of the national parks in the USA. Entry fees are as follows (note that they are good for 7 days)
- $35 per vehicle
- $30 per motorcycle
- $20 for entry on foot or by bicycle
- $80 for an annual pass that can be used at most all other national parks in the USA.
Exemptions for the Going to the Sun Road Permit
The following conditions will exempt you from the Going to the Sun Road permit requirement, though note that it only exempts the date of the reservation for activity and the reservation duration for lodges
- You have campground or lodges reservations along the Going to the Sun Road: Note that this ONLY includes campgrounds along the Going to the Sun Road corridor. This exemption DOES NOT include reservations in the area of Many Glacier or Two Medicine.
- You have reservations for a certain activity along Going to the Sun Road: This would include reservations for activities such as the Red Bus Tour and the boat tours of Lake McDonald and St Mary with Glacier Park Boat Company.
- You plan to drive the Going to the Sun Road before 6 AM or after 3 PM. Reservations are only required during the 6 am-3 pm peak hours. Note that there will be construction nightly at the West Glacier Entrance in 2023. If planning to enter before 6 am, you need to enter the Going to the Sun Road from the east of the park at St Mary.
- You’re planning to drive the Going to the Sun Road after September 10, 2023. Reservations are required from May 26 to September 10, 2023. After that date, you are free to drive the road until the route closes for the season due to snowfall.
Best Stops Along the Going to the Sun Road
St. Mary Visitor Center
Either your first stop or your last depending on the direction you decide to take on the Going to the Sun Road, the St. Mary Visitor Center is a great welcome to Glacier National Park with its numerous informational displays.
Those planning to take the Glacier National Park shuttle will hop on at the St. Mary Visitor Center.
Wild Goose Island Overlook
Wild Goose Island on St Mary Lake is one of Glacier National Park and the Going to the Sun Road’s most iconic spots. It’s a great first stop in the morning after the St Mary Visitor Center as it is one of the best spots in Glacier for sunrise.
Sun Point Nature Trail
Sun Point Nature Trail is a gentle short walk that gives panoramic views of St. Mary Lake. You can also access Baring, St Mary, and Virginia Falls from here.
St. Mary & Virginia Falls
St. Mary Falls and Virginia Falls are two of Glacier National Park’s most visited waterfalls owing to the relative ease of reaching them and the access from the Going to the Sun Road.
Jackson Glacier Overlook
Being the only glacier viewable from the Going to the Sun Road, Jackson Glacier is a must-see, though it is quite far away so bring binoculars.
Siyeh Bend is an unmistakable bend in the Going to the Sun Road as you begin to climb higher into Logan Pass.
Those wanting to take on some of the harder hikes in Glacier National Park may want to try out the Siyeh Pass Trail or the Piegan Pass Trail, both of which begin from Siyeh Bend.
Impressively, the East Tunnel was constructed entirely by hand in 1932, so while not a major stop along the Going to the Sun Road per se, it is quite a feat in engineering.
Logan Pass Visitor Center
Logan Pass is the Going to the Sun Road’s highest point as you cross the Continental Divide.
The Logan Pass Visitor Center is a great place to stop in to chat with rangers or hike two of Glacier National Park’s most iconic trails, the 12 mile Highline Trail that ends at The Loop further west, and the breezy 3 mile Hidden Lake Trail.
Something to note is that the Logan Pass parking lot can fill up quite early since the Highline and Hidden Lake trails are two of the park’s most popular hikes.
If you plan to trek, get there early or you may need to wait for a bit to get a parking spot.
Oberlin Bend Overlook
Coming down from Logan Pass, you’ll arrive at Oberlin Bend Overlook. which features a boardwalk that will bring you to the Mount Oberlin Viewpoint.
Big Bend is a spot where the Going to the Sun Road bends around in a big U. There is a pull-off here with great panoramic views which are best at sunset.
Passing under the Going to the Sun Road is Haystack Falls, which is easily seen on your scenic drive. Note that you’ll have the best views of Haystack Falls from the Bird Woman Falls Overlook nearby.
Bird Woman Falls
From near the Going to the Sun Road make a stop to see Bird Woman Falls plummet over 500 feet between iconic peaks Mount Oberlin and Mount Cannon.
Owing to its series of switchback turns is where The Loop gained its name. From here, you’ll have epic views of McDonald Valley and the almost 9,000 foot tall Heaven’s Peak.
Those planning to take in some of the best hikes along the Going to the Sun Road will find the Granite Park Chalet Trailhead here at The Loop as well as the endpoint of the Highline Trail.
Completed in 1927, the West Tunnel gives epic views of Heavens Peak and the Upper McDonald Creek Valley as you pass on through. There is a scenic pull-off just outside the tunnel as well where you can take a moment to soak in the views.
Trail of the Cedars & Avalanche Lake Trail
A popular and easy walk in Glacier National Park is the famous Trail of the Cedars. The Trail of Cedars follows a series of boardwalks in the forest with interpretive signs explaining the flora and fauna of the area.
Conveniently, the Avalanche Campground is located within walking distance of the Trail of Cedars area. Additionally, you can access the Avalanche Lakes Trail from the Trail of Cedars.
The Avalanche Lake Trail will take you 2 miles further into the forest to bring you to the shores of Avalanche Lake.
Avalanche Lake boats glimmering turquoise water and reflections of the surrounding mountains.
Sacred Dancing Cascades
Sat along the Going to the Sun Road you’ll find the path to the Sacred Dancing Cascade. From the road, it’s a short walk over a bridge to a great viewpoint.
If you want to see nearby McDonald Falls additionally, you may want to consider taking the Johns Lake Loop Trail from here to soak in views of Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls.
Just a little further beyond the Sacred Dancing Cascades is McDonald Falls which boasts a viewing platform.
Note that for the best views of McDonald Falls, you may want to opt for the 3 mile long Johns Lake Loop Hike.
Lake McDonald & Lake McDonald Lodge
Glacially carved to a depth of 500 feet and a staggering 10 miles long, Lake McDonald is a must-see stop along the Going to the Sun Road for views of its crystal-clear waters that expose a plethora of colorful rocks beneath the surface.
Luckily there are several pull-offs along Lake McDonald since it is as long as it is, so there are plenty of spots to soak in the views.
Even if you aren’t staying there, you may want to stop at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge for views of the lake. They also provide water equipment rental.
Apgar Village & Visitor Center
Apgar Village, hosts the Apgar Campground, a few lodges, and a small shop.
For those that are planning to take the park shuttle over the Going to the Sun Road, the starting pick-up point for those going west to east is here in Apgar Village.
Just outside Apgar Village, you will find the Apgar Visitor Center. It’s worthy of a stop for those that want to talk with park rangers about things to do in the area or use the toilet.
The Apgar Visitor enter sits quite close to Lake McDonald Beach as well.
West Glacier Village
Congratulations! You’ve finished the Going to the Sun Road (unless you’re taking on the route in reverse!). West Glacier Village is a small town just outside the Glacier National Park West Entrance.
If you’re starting the Going to the Sun Road from the west, then West Glacier Village is the perfect place to fuel up and grab snacks for your journey.
Have any questions about driving the Going to the Sun Road?
Ask in the comments section below.
Need travel insurance for Montana?
Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice, or over at World Nomads.