Sunday, October 18, 2009

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

October 18, 2009 Road Report Update:
Currently 29.0 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open for travel.

Visitors can drive 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche, and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

The section of the road between Avalanche and Jackson Glacier Overlook is closed due to road construction and weather. Hiker/biker access is available to the Loop, approximately 9 miles past the vehicle closure.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was built in 1921. It is such a feat of Civil Engineering that the road is both a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It is also what may be the most nerve-wracking road I've ever driven, on any of the Roadtrips I've been on.

I drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road on a Roadtrip that started by heading across the North Cascades on Highway 20, continuing east on 20 til it became Highway 2 heading into Glacier National Park.

Highway 2 becomes Going-to-the-Sun Road and then turns into Highway 89 when it leaves the park. After the Going-to-the-Sun Road this Roadtrip went on to cross Montana, stopping at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the site of Custer's Last Stand, then on to Wyoming and Devils Tower, then South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Wall Drug Store, Badlands National Park and Wounded Knee, then back to Wyoming through Casper and Yellowstone, then back to Washington.

Glacier National Park and the Going-to-the-Sun Road were definitely one of the highlights of this Roadtrip. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is very narrow and twists and turns, with the portion of the road west of Logan Pass being the most challenging.

Part of what makes the Going-to-the-Sun Road nerve wracking is the lack of guardrails. Due to the amount of snow that piles up, as high as 80 feet at the Logan Pass summit, and numerous rock slides and avalanches, guardrails get wiped out. It takes about 10 weeks to plow the Going-to-the-Sun Road free of snow every year, with the road usually able to be opened by early June with the snow closing it again by mid October.

My drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road occurred in early October. Fall had Glacier National Park's deciduous trees, like aspens, being a brilliant color of yellow.

Due to the narrow winding nature of the Going-to-the-Sun Road there are points on either side of Logan Pass where no vehicles longer than 21 feet are permitted to continue. I imagine that can be a bit upsetting if you are driving an RV and did not know this. That could make for a long detour. I vaguely remember my sister complaining of this when she took her RV to Glacier National Park en route to South Dakota.

For those who are unnerved by the idea of driving a road like this, the park has a fleet of tour buses that will take you over Logan Pass.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is named for Going to the Sun Mountain, which dominates your view as you cross Logan Pass from the west. Going to the Sun Mountain is the peak you see in the picture directly above.

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