It’s June. And that means drivers in Montana are eagerly waiting for the gates of Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park to open. Whether you drive east to west or west to east, it’s been one of the most scenic drives in the United States since the 1930s. The narrow, two-lane road passes by crystal lakes, deep gorges, thundering waterfalls, massive glaciers, and snow-capped mountains. Of course, there are plenty of pull-off spots and animal sightings along the way.
Winter weather–sometimes up to 80 feet of snow–makes this 50-mile road off-limits most of the year. When the temperature starts to warm up in March, the snowplows arrive. It still takes months to clear the huge drifts of snow though, so the road can’t open until June. But when it does, locals and visitors jump in their cars or on the red, open-air jammer buses to hit the road. Don’t forget to pack a picnic lunch to eat along the way.
Driving from east to west, you’ll start in St. Mary and drive along the north shore of trout-filled St. Mary Lake. A short trail leads to St. Mary Falls and views of Virginia Falls across the lake. Drive through forests and flatlands where black bears, elk, and great horned owls roam. Stop at Jackson Glacier Overlook, the best viewing point of the shrinking glacier. Continue through windy, mountainous Siyeh Bend. And approach Logan Pass, the highest point on the road, on the Continental Divide. Hike the Highline Trail, through the wildflower-filled Garden Wall. Watch out for mountain goats, grizzly bears, and moose.
Back on the road, look out over Heavens Peak from the Loop. You’ll descend by Bird Woman Falls Overlook and the glacier-formed McDonald Valley, before taking a sharp turn near McDonald Creek. Stop at Avalanche Creek to walk along the short Trail of the Cedars. At Johns Lake Pullout, walk through red cedars to Johns Lake, another popular spot for moose . And finally make your way along the southern shore of Lake McDonald, the largest lake in Glacier National Park. For many, the journey ends here, but with lodges and camping sites throughout the area, you can still enjoy Going-to-the-Sun Road after the day’s traffic passes by.
Just be sure to arrive by September. The gates close for the winter by the beginning of October.