One of the most spectacular motorcycle rides in North America is referred to as “The Going- To-The-Sun Road.” It is only 53 miles long but the view from the top is amazing. The highway is situated in the Glacier Mountain range, which extends down from Canada.
We started our ride at Whitefish, Montana, which is a quaint, funky town with a blues flavor. Check out the Bulldog Saloon at www.fart-slobber.com for an interesting evening meal. Twenty minutes out of town is the gate to West Glacier. Everyone entering the park is required to purchase a pass, which is good for 7 days and can be used anywhere in the park.
The road is only open during the summer because of the huge snow dump they get in the area each year. Also, the highway is an extremely twisty and narrow road with hairpin turns so vehicles over 21 feet are not allowed to drive over the pass. There is a parking area at the bottom for RVs and other vehicles and a shuttle bus service is available for those who don’t want to drive.
The park’s environmentally friendly shuttle buses have been running since 2007. The transit system provides two-way service along Going-to-the-Sun Road between the Apgar Transit Center at West Glacier and the St. Mary Visitor Center at the other end of the pass. Buses run every 15 or 30 minutes depending on location and time of day. There is no additional charge to ride the shuttle and no tickets are required. Transit stops are clearly marked along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s ideal for hikers as there are a number of day hikes and overnight hikes in the park.
We set aside most of the day to ride the pass and make the return trip to Whitefish that evening. Some people also plan to stay overnight in St. Mary’s at the east gate. The top speed on the highway is 35 miles per hour. In some places it is less than that because many areas have no guardrails.
The scenery is beautiful and there are many places to stop and enjoy the vistas including the interpretive center at Logan Pass. Motorcycle riders have a much easier time of finding a parking place! There you can hike up to the glacier and actually walk on it. The glacier has receded a lot with global warming and scientists predict that it could be completely gone by 2030. It’s common to see mountain sheep at this elevation and even the occasional grizzly is spotted. When that happens, certain hiking trails are shut down.
Mountain bikers can also travel the road at certain times of the day. Check online or at either gate for more information.
MacDonald Lake is another great place to stop as you travel toward the west gate.. At 11 miles long and 500 feet deep, it is the largest lake in the park. You can order a drink and then enjoy it down by the water. There are boat cruises available you can take if you have time.
Montana doesn’t have a mandatory helmet law so it is possible to enjoy the journey by motorcycle with the wind whipping through your hair. I don’t recommend it except going over the pass, where the speed is much slower.