Can I just say "WOW!"? Bucket List worthy? YES! YES! YES! This was absolutely worth every single hour of driving to get there. An incredible, adrenaline-pumping, awe-inspiring (no really, true awe), breathtaking, stop-and-reexamine-your-life, inspiring experience.
Why Should You Go See It?
Why should you not? Oh my gosh, this is something you need to do in this lifetime.
It is beautiful. Honestly, jaw-dropping. It was overcast when I visited, and it was still stunning. The fog made everything very ethereal. People go for the sights. The road was cut into the mountain in the 1930's, and you are very close to nature the entire drive. Walking on the edge of untouched Glacier National Park.
It is easy. Drive to the entrance. Buy a park pass. Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Stop and take pictures. See mountain goats.
It is exciting. Lots of adrenaline! Narrow mountain road with a tiny ledge between you and plummeting drops. Breathtaking views. Nervous about the drive? You can hop onto one of the red buses and leave the driving to someone else while you sit back and enjoy the views.
Where Is It?
You can read about the entire 2,200 mile roadtrip in my post here. For now, I'll focus on the experience itself. We spent the night prior at Devil Creek Campground in Flathead National Forest, just south of Glacier National Park. Freezing to death and subtly worried about bears, the dogs and I ended up sleeping in my car that night! It was cozy (read: tight) but actually really fun. We woke up well-rested and ready to get started on the next big adventure: Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Since we were right off of US 2, we hopped onto the road and headed toward West Glacier. On the way, there were some great photo ops and little trails to explore. The road is very winding and has lots of elevation change. My only complaint were the speed demons who wanted to crowd me from behind. Luckily, there were pull-outs where I could let them pass me. We stopped and took a micro-hike near Bear Creek which was a great start to the morning. Very much a babbling brook, you can hear a quick sample in this video.
After splashing in the creek and trying to keep puppy River from pulling me off the narrow trail up the mountain, we piled back into the car and went to West Glacier, MT. Quick stop for fuel and souvenirs (T-shirt and another sticker for my water bottle), then picking up the park pass from the Glacier National Park entrance and entering the long-awaited Going-to-the-Sun Road.
I went West to East, and you can read hundreds of reviews telling you one way is better than the other. I think both directions are just fine! Considering my drive across Montana state, I would have preferred (and had actually planned) on going East to West. That way, you can see the transition from prairie to lowlands to mountains in a grand progression.
The first photo-worthy stop is at Lake McDonald, a "new" glacial lake with no plant life or microbiology (thank you informational placard!). What makes that cool is that it is completely clear and clean. The still water is bordered by a rock and pebble beach as well as tall pine trees. My guess is fir, but I am no expert. Stop, get out of your car, and walk down to the water. Yes, there will be other people around, but it is absolutely worth it to drink in the view (pun unintended). The stillness of the water brings about a natural hush, and it feels like you should be whispering your conversations. There is something special about this pristine lake, and I wish I could have taken more time to absorb the serenity.
The next stop was a short descending trail down to a small rapids. Gorgeous scenery, and dogs are allowed to a certain point near the water. I stood on the bridge just listening to the water rushing by. Adventurous people explored the rocks below, and an elderly couple posed for a picture. I didn't linger, eager as I was to continue on. It helped build suspense for the views I knew were approaching.
Not long after, the real experience began. Going-to-the-Sun road was carved from the moutainside in the 1930's. The history is really fascinating. The original road itself is quite narrow and winds along the mountains with numerous pull-outs to stop and enjoy the views. There is no shoulder, but instead a low rock wall (less than two feet tall!) to prevent you from straying from the road and careening down the hill. I felt so comforted. Thankfully, the speed limit is 20mph and most people are driving about 10. I never once felt pressured by drivers behind me and was able to slowly pick my way up the path.
Even though it was Labor Day, it was not too crowded. I never felt overwhelmed. Instead, I had some amazing conversations with people from across the world. We took pictures for one another, capturing memories. Everyone was energized by the experience, so positivity and excitement flowed freely at each stop. I didn't see much wildlife, but that in no way diminished my experience.
The adrenaline rush really got to me, and I found myself repeating expletives and profanities over and over as I crawled up the mountain in my little Toyota Matrix. Living on the edge is a thrill! Especially when you can physically look over that edge into the chasm below... It was very exciting, and I felt relatively safe during the drive.
Eventually, I reached Logan Pass, a major hub along the road. Here, I had to circle the parking lot for about 4 minutes until a spot opened up. There is a delightful visitor center and multiple trails leading further up the mountain to glacial views and adventures. I explored, let the dogs walk around in the parking lot, refilled my water bottle, saw some bighorn sheep through a bystander's binoculars, and continued on down the Road. You can see the fancy sticker I got for my water bottle in the picture below.
The final major stop on the journey was Saint Mary Lake. In my opinion, this was far more impressive than Lake McDonald. The overlook was exactly what I needed to take some time absorbing the entire experience. I sat and let the breeze wash over me, gazing over the expansive lake below. Later, I found a picnic area where the dogs got to run and stretch their legs. It was so incredible, I wrote an entire post about it. You can see the stunning vistas and read the details here.
We stopped at the Saint Mary Visitor Center and took in the sunset over the gorgeous golden plains. This is a great place to see some cool informational displays about Native American culture. We ended up staying at Saint Mary Campground, just a mile or so back up the Road. You can read my review of this great site here.
In short, it was amazing. Go do it. Whether you fly there or drive, whether you drive yourself or hop on the red bus, no matter what season you visit (be advised that the road is closed from October - June/July due to snow in the mountains), this will be an incredible experience.
It was the perfect exercise in being present. Here. Now. The only thing I used my phone for was taking pictures. At one point, I stopped and let the dogs out to sit with me on a flat rock and spent a good half hour just contemplating life. It was everything I needed to get away, focus on what is important, and live in the moment. Every day, we should strive to create moments where we are truly present. If you spend all of your time lamenting the past or worrying about the future, you will miss out on the glorious now.
I slept so peacefully that night in the tent with my fur kids. They are so important to me, and I was thankful to have them with me on this adventure. Total troopers during the long day, I think they enjoyed the mountain air as well.
So, thus, therefore, my readers, I leave you with this thought: you do only live once. Make it a good life. Seize opportunities and adventure on!
Danielle, Mica, and River
Pictures from the Road