This morning I drove Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park. If it hadn't been smoky, overcast and slightly drizzly, it would've been astounding. Instead, my drive was like a preview, a fuzzy hint of what could be seen another time. And I will return.
Now that I've had a quick look, here are my recommendations for those thinking of visiting Glaciar National Park.
- Go as soon as Going-to-the-Sun Road is clear of snow. The Park Service posts snow removal status reports. I say to go early in the season because the scenery is more dramatic when there's still snow on the mountains.
- Enter the park from Saint Mary, on the east side. Because things get wonderfully dramatic sooner. Entering from the west means a long, slow-ish drive before things get really interesting. And there's road work in several spots (this year) with lane closures and waits. The tradeoff is that the drive from Helena to Saint Mary is mostly rolling grasslands. It's not terribly interesting, but at least the speed limit is high and there's very little traffic compared to the approach from Kalispell.
- Ride the free shuttles on Going-to-the-Sun Road. It will allow you to gawk at the scenery all you want without needing to watch the road, which gets very narrow and twisty. The lanes are only slightly wider than a van in places. Only crazy people attempt it in anything wider. (There are length restrictions, but why not width restrictions?)
- Probably the best way to experience Going-to-the-Sun Road is as a passenger in a convertible driven by someone you absolutely trust.
- And the best way to experience the park (not just the road) is to backpack it. Head up the trails and away from the crowds. See what most people (including me) won't.
So, having had the preview, I'm off in a different direction. It was a long way to go for less than 24 hours there, but I'm glad I went. You will be too.