Towing a 16′ trailer meant we couldn’t drive through Glacier National Park via the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, so we took the long route around the park to East Glacier. The plan was to camp at St. Mary; most campgrounds along the Going-to-the-Sun Road were already closed, St. Mary was in primitive status ($10/night!), it served as the perfect base to cycle and explore the trails along the road, and it was the launching point for our next destination at Many Glacier.
A quick photo stop just outside of Two Medicine:
We pulled into St. Mary Campground by late afternoon on a Saturday, but because it was late September, the campground had plenty of available sites. If it had been summer, the campground would have hit capacity by 8am. Views at St. Mary could not be beat!
My original plan for the next day was to bike the Going-to-the-Sun Road from St. Mary to Apgar, but the relentless winds forced me to change plans. Instead, we ended up hiking the popular 12-mile Highline to Loop Trail. Shuttle services had already ceased for the season, so we parked at the Loop Trailhead, hitchhiked to Logan Pass (hitchhiking is easy and completely legal in the park), and began our hike from there.
Driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road:
Shots from the hike:
Tip: The trail took us to Granite Park Chalet, where we had data (AT&T)!
I set out to cycle the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road the following morning in a east to west direction from St. Mary to Apgar. With a shorter climb and lower grade, going east to west is easier. This direction is also safer with its wide lane throughout the climb, saving the windy, narrow lane for the descent. However, the east side of the park is known to be windier than the west, and on the day I rode it, the winds were brutal. Consistent 20 mph winds with gusts of 30 made for a grueling ride and left me wondering if cycling west to east would have been easier. Perhaps.
From June 15 through Labor Day, cyclists are not allowed on the road between 11am-4pm. Thanks to the late season, I could cycle the road any time I pleased. I set out not long after 9am, only to battle gnarly winds for the next 10 miles. At least the views made up for it.
Cycling along St. Mary’s Lake:
Wild Goose Island:
Yellow leaves hinting at fall:
Climbing up the pass:
Finally, at Logan Pass:
Incredible views descending along the west side of the park:
Beautiful and clear McDonald Creek:
Pristine Lake McDonald:
There truly is no better way to enjoy Going-to-the-Sun Road than by bike under sunny skies. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I didn’t find the bike ride to be difficult at all, despite not having ridden over 25 miles in two years. Fortunately I only had to ride one-way, since Chris awaited me at Apgar with the car, and we drove back along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to our campground. Gorgeous views again!
Another beautiful hike we completed along the Going-to-the-Sun Road was the 10-mile Siyeh Pass trail around Going-to-the-Sun Mountain. We parked at Sunrift Gorge, hitchhiked to Siyeh Bend, and began our hike from the Piegan Pass Trailhead.
It took a while to climb out of the alpine valley.
But as we approached the pass, streams and glacial lakes appeared.
View from Siyeh Pass, looking to the north:
Heading down the pass, toward St. Mary Lake:
Matahpi Peak, with a glacier-stream cascading down its walls to form a river which feeds into St. Mary Lake:
One of the many sources of St. Mary Lake:
Within our first couple of days at Glacier National Park, we were already blown away by its vastness and beauty. Both hikes at the Highline Trail and Siyeh Pass were epic, the bike ride on the Going-to-the-Sun Road perhaps even more so, but I knew our next couple of days at Many Glacier would wow us even more. Proper planning was key to our enjoyment at Glacier, followed by spending enough time in each section of the park. Next up–Many Glacier, and then Two Medicine!