Glacier National Park- Crown of the Continent

If you’ve ridden a motorcycle for any length of time, you’ve heard about the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  It’s one of the most iconic named rides in the two-wheeled world.  Construction on the road began in 1919, and ten years later, resulted in a 48.7 mile route that snakes across the Continental Divide in northern Montana from West Glacier in the west, to St. Mary in the east.  The road is famous, not just for its twisty turns and vertigo producing drop-offs with only boulders serving as guardrails, but also for its breathtaking scenery along every mile of pavement.  After all, it runs right through the heart of Glacier National Park, known as the “Crown of the Continent.”

See that white speck, center right of photo?  That’s a car winding its way along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Unlike other National Parks, Glacier only has one road, Going-to-the-Sun, for the public to access the park.  That means traffic control is a big deal, especially lately with the huge influx of folks using the parks.  In addition to a park pass, you also have to have a vehicle reservation pass to access the road.  It’s only $2, but there’s a limited number of passes.  There was a window of opportunity several months ago to obtain one, but I was unable to get a pass online during that time, so I had to wait until 8 am once I was here to try to get a pass for the next day.  After multiple failed attempts, I finally secured a three-day pass and was feeling pretty grateful for the thinned traffic as I wound my way up the mountains in the crisp, clear morning air.

There’s only two real hairpin turns on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and one is on “The Loop,” which provides a spectacular panorama view of Heavens Peak and Flattop Mountain.
View of Clements Mountain really popped with the field of wildflowers in bloom near Logan Pass Visitors Center.  Spectacular!
I had bear spray with me, but I still turned around way before the trail closure on Hidden Lake Trail due to bear sightings :-/
I’ve ridden multiple Continental Divide passes throughout Colorado when I lived there, many above 10,000 ft, but this was my first in Montana!
Even with road registrations to control the number of vehicles in the park at one time, the parking lot at Logan Pass Visitor Center was full by the time I got there, so thank goodness for motorcycle only parking!  Two awesome Park Rangers, Brittany and Jamie, stopped to chat with me for a bit before having to break-away to provide some traffic control.  Awesome, positive ladies!
Just for perspective on the majesty of the surrounding mountains, look how tiny the cars and parking lot of the Logan Pass Visitor Center look!
There was a park ranger at this overlook providing some education about the park’s glaciers.  Jackson Glacier is under the snow pack you see in the valley in this pic.  There was so much snowfall this year that you can’t see the glacier under all the snow.  Unfortunately, it won’t replenish the glacier, but all that extra snow on top will hopefully keep the glacier from melting any more than it already has.  The park had over 100 glaciers when it was established in 1910.  By 1966, 35 named glaciers remained, and in 2015, only 26 met the size criteria to be designated as active glaciers. 
According to the NPS website, of the over 700 lakes in Glacier National Park, only 131 of them are named.  I’m standing in front of St. Mary Lake, a lake that is nearly 10 miles long, at an elevation of 4400 ft, a depth of 300 ft in some areas, and a water temperature that hovers around 50 degrees.  No, I did not get in the water!  At this stop, a group of people with binoculars were observing a grizzly bear and a black bear on the mountain side above us.  They were close enough to see with the naked eye, but not close enough to feel like a threat, so I watched with the crowd for a bit, but I didn’t linger for long!
Even though it is tiny, Wild Goose Island, in the middle of St. Mary Lake, is one of the most photographed scenes along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Folklore claims that it got its name when star crossed lovers from rival tribes across the lake from each other ran away together and returned as geese.  The micro island even made an appearance in the opening scene to the 1980 thriller “The Shining.”
I was super grateful for a healthy salad at the Two Dog Flats Grill at the Rising Sun Motor Inn on the east side of the park.  The fresh lake trout was fitting for the setting and delicious!
Crystal clear, ice-cold creeks were accessible in several places in the park.  I stopped to sit along the side of McDonald Creek to enjoy some solitude for a while.

Back in the winter during the planning phase of this trip, I wasn’t able to obtain a Going-to-the-Sun Road vehicle pass, so I made a one-night reservation for a room at the Apgar Village Lodge in the National Park to ensure I’d actually be able to ride the road (the hotel is on the road, so they have to let you on it if you have a hotel reservation).  Since I had the reservation anyway, I spent one night indoors, instead of camping outdoors, during my time in West Glacier.  As I was sightseeing in the Apgar Village before checking in, I met another female rider. I was riding behind her on an 8-mile section of…you guessed it… ROAD CONSTRUCTION… that was all loose gravel. After talking for a bit, she admitted that she was a novice rider, but by the way she was handling her bike, you never would’ve known it. Like me, Francie had done the ride as an out-and-back instead of as a loop, so we essentially had ridden the Going-to-the-Sun Road twice. Instead of looking frazzled, like I think I did after riding my first mountain passes back in Colorado, she came out the other end smiling from ear to ear. We sat and chatted for a long while- yet another kindred spirit!  I’m truly hoping our paths will cross again someday.

Since my room was right along the shore of Lake McDonald, I got up in time to sit on the shore for sunrise.  Yes, it was really cold!  By the time the sun peeked over the mountains around 7 am, a fairly large crowd had gathered to witness the spectacle.  The event wasn’t accompanied by anticipated pink hues, but the blue tint to the morning world was magical.

Sunrise on McDonald Lake

After sunrise, I joined a few other folks in line at Eddie’s Cafe and Mercantile for breakfast.  I met Dale and Becky, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, and they asked me to join them for breakfast.  They were married in the park 30 years ago and had returned for their anniversary.  How cool!  We shared a great meal and conversation- so many wonderful people on this journey!

Wishing Becky and Dale a happy wedding anniversary at McDonald’s Lake in Apgar Village.

Once I checked out of my room and exited Apgar Village, my ride on Going-to-the-Sun Road had ended.  It was every bit as epic as it is purported to be.  Glacier National Park is definitely worth a visit, and Going-to-the-Sun Road worth a ride!

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