Glacier National Park is home to over 1,500 square miles of glacier-carved mountains and valleys, heart-pounding waterfalls, alpine lakes, and dense forests. Dubbed the “Crown of the Continent”, the park offers countless options for adventure including biking Going-to-the-Sun Road where you can pedal to the top of the Continental Divide. The ride down, with sweeping views of the park’s raw wilderness, is nothing short of legendary. Because the road isn’t quite the well-kept secret that it once was, this trip takes a little planning. I promise it’s worth it.
Looking to have a unique experience in Glacier National Park? Here’s everything you need to know about biking Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Going-the-the-Sun Road Map
Going-to-the-Sun Road Basics
Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana along the Canadian border. Waterton Lakes National Park is on the other side of the border in Canada and together the parks make the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The region is the ancestral homeland of the Blackfeet and the Kootenai tribes and many of the landmark names reflect the heritage.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile paved gateway connecting the east and west sides of Glacier National Park. The west side includes areas like Polebridge, the North Fork, and Apgar Village. The east side includes Two Medicine, St Mary, and Many Glacier. The road connects Apgar Village with St Mary.
Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road in summer usually requires reservations that are difficult to obtain. If you can snag reservations, the drive is gorgeous, but areas to pull over to enjoy the views are limited.
If you opt for biking, you can avoid any car traffic at the right time and no reservations are needed. This also allows you to stop and explore any of the road’s famous landmarks and at your own pace.
How much elevation gain is on Going-to-the-Sun Road?
The elevation that you gain will depend on where you decide to start pedaling. Most people start the ride on the west side at Lake McDonald Lodge or the Avalanche Lake Trailhead. Both locations clock in at just over 3,000 feet of elevation. I started my ride at the Avalanche parking lot to avoid any car traffic. If you decide to begin your ride here, get an early start as the parking lot fills up quickly.
If you prefer the topography of the east side of the park, you can start at the St Mary Visitor Center. Beginning here will also reduce your climb, as it is a little higher than the west side at 4,400 feet.
Regardless of where you start, most cyclists head to the Continental Divide and turn back around to enjoy a long downhill ride. The Divide’s Logan Pass is the highest point on the road at 6,646 feet.
For those biking Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west side, Logan Pass is 16 miles from the Avalanche Lake Trailhead. Alternately, it’s a 21-mile ride from the Lake McDonald Lodge. If you start to the east in the St Mary area, it’ll take 18 miles of pedaling to arrive at Logan Pass.
Where are the best places to stop on the ride?
With a long, uphill pedal, scenic points to stop are a welcome sight. If you ride the west side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll come across the West Tunnel. Riding a bike is the only way that you’ll get to walk under the arches on the side of the tunnel to see a unique view of the park. If you drive the road, there is not an area to park to experience this view.
On the west side ride, you’ll also catch a view of Heaven’s Peak, at nearly 9,000 feet, when you hit the road’s famous hairpin turn, The Loop. Other recognizable sections that you’ll be able to check out along the ride are Bird Woman Falls and the Weeping Wall.
The east side of the park is not without its picturesque views, however. When riding through the east, you can stop at the Jackson Glacier overlook to see the seventh-largest glacier in the park. Bring binoculars to catch a better view of this landmark.
You’ll also ride through the East Tunnel and Siyeh Bend, where you can see a near-instant change in vegetation. Wild Goose Island in St. Mary Lake is another noteworthy site that you’ll spot on the east side.
Best Time to Bike Going-to-the-Sun Road
There is nothing quite like biking Going-to-the-Sun Road in spring. If you plan your trip just right, you can bike the entire length of the road without competing with vehicle traffic. The work of plowing the few roads in the park typically begins in early April and takes several months to complete.
While the plowing operation is active, hikers and bikers are allowed on the road. Cars are not permitted past the Avalanche Trailhead parking lot on the west or St Mary on the east.
When does Going-to-the-Sun Road open to cars? The date varies each year depending on the snowpack. The road opens to cars only after plowing is completed in late June or early July.
While you can usually start biking portions of the road in May, you should target mid-June for your trip if you’re looking to reach Logan Pass. Avalanches over previously plowed sections can delay the work, so keep an eye on the plowing status.
Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road in summer is possible too, but with restrictions. Portions of the road are closed each day between 11 am and 4 pm. This includes the sections between the Apgar turnoff and Sprague Creek Campground. It also includes the area between Logan Creek and Logan Pass. If you opt for a summer ride, keep in mind that the road is narrow and has consistent vehicle traffic.
Going-to-the-Sun Road Bike Rentals & Tours
If you are traveling to Montana to bike Going-to-the-Sun Road, you can ship your bike in advance to be assembled by a local bike shop. However, if you aren’t planning additional bike rides, it’s easier to rent bikes locally.
Glacier Guides and Glacier Outfitters each offer bike rentals as well as transportation. If you prefer to bring your own car and bike at your own pace, both businesses offer bike rack rentals too.
If getting in-person beta is more your style, there are also Going-to-the-Sun Road bike tours that you can book. Glacier Guides offers tours in addition to their rental service. Whitefish Outfitters is a good choice for those staying in or near Whitefish, Montana. They offer any combination of bike rentals, transportation, and tours. They also provide tours for other incredible bike rides in the Flathead Valley.
Tips for the Going-to-the-Sun Road Bike Ride
Even if you decide to ride with a guided tour, biking Going-to-the-Sun Road requires ample preparation. Raw beauty always comes with a few dangers.
Bring layers of clothes
The weather in Glacier National Park can be extremely unpredictable. You’ll want to bring clothes for any season. I have experienced snow in August in the park, so nearly any weather is possible.
Be bear aware
With some luck, you’ll be able to see some incredible wildlife on your trip. Typically, the bears begin coming out of hibernation in April, so be bear aware. Glacier is also home to bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose. Animals like grey wolves and mountain lions also live in the park, but you are less likely to encounter them.
Watch for changing road conditions
You’ll need to keep an eye out for wildlife while also keeping an eye on the road. As the road is still being plowed, you’ll come across rockslides and the occasional ice patch. Avalanches not only slow the plowing progress but on occasion have also blocked portions of the road for cyclists.
Stay a safe distance from waterfalls
Bears may be the biggest fear of many visitors, but drowning has caused more fatalities in Glacier. As you are biking Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll encounter several waterfalls. Biking allows you to get otherwise unseen views of the waterfalls, but be cautious and don’t get too close.
Essential Gear For Your Ride
Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road can take several hours or more, so be sure to pack these essentials:
- A Bike – While the road can get rough in areas, a mountain bike isn’t necessary. A road bike or e-bike will safely get you to Logan Pass.
- Bike Repair Supplies – You’ll be without cell phone service for most of the trip and it’s a long walk down, so bring basic bike tools including a multi-tool just in case. You should also bring along a couple of extra tubes and a hand pump.
- A Helmet – You’ll catch some serious speed on the way down. Because of the ice and rocks you may encounter and the vehicle traffic, you should always wear a helmet. Becky, our behind-the-scenes assistant and avid cyclist recommends the Smith Network Helmet.
- Padded Shorts – The ride will take a few hours, so if you are not used to sitting in the saddle for that long, wear padded bike shorts or tights. Terry makes high quality and comfortable padded shorts for women.
- Warm Weather Clothes – Much of the ride is exposed, so chances are you’re going to get hot. One of my favorite pieces is a long-sleeved shirt from Outdoor Research’s Echo SPF line. The shirts are super light and offer protection on the exposed road.
- Shoes – If you’ve got clipless cycling shoes and pedals, you’ll have an easier time pedaling uphill. The rental facilities will be happy to install your pedals as well. Otherwise, a pair of athletic shoes will get you where you need to go.
- A Pack – I prefer to bring a hydration day pack as it’s a lightweight option to carry water, snacks, and extra clothes. If you prefer to carry everything on your bike, each rental location offers racks. You will need to bring your own pannier, however.
- Sun Protection – Sunblock is a necessity. I always bring along Hurraw SPF Lip Balm too, which is made locally in Whitefish, MT. For more tips on how to protect yourself from the sun, head over to our post on Sun Protection For Hikers. Many of these tips apply to cyclists in the sun as well.
- Cold Weather Clothes – The weather changes quickly in Glacier. Just to be safe, bring along warmer layers and gloves.
- Rain Jacket – The quickly changing weather often includes rain. The road will have runoff in a few areas too, so be prepared to get wet either way. Need recommendations? Find our favorites rain jackets for women here.
- Bear Spray – If you ride the road with a tour, your guide will have bear spray. Otherwise, you can buy or rent it in almost any local store since you cannot fly with it. Keep it somewhere handy like in your water bottle cage so you can access it quickly. Also thoroughly review how to use the bear spray before you set off.
- Camera/Phone – Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road is a trip of a lifetime. You won’t have phone service, but you’ll want to bring home plenty of pictures!
- Food and Water – I prefer a water bladder for longer rides, but a few water bottles will also do the trick. You won’t pass much easily filterable water, so bring everything you’ll need for the long ride. That includes snacks.
Glacier National Park can be an unpredictable place. Between the wildlife and the rapidly changing weather, there is a lot to prepare for. But the sweeping views of valleys, mountains, and rivers makes all of the preparation more than worth it.
Are you planning to drive or bike Going-to-the-Sun Road or have you already been? Share your questions, tips, or comments below!