Going-to-the-Sun Road

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:img_5336

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!img_5341

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:img_20160925_110533

Shots from the hike:img_5369img_5376img_5378img_20160925_134253img_20160925_160548

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:img_5383

Wild Goose Island:img_5385

Yellow leaves hinting at fall:img_5386

Climbing up the pass:img_5389

Finally, at Logan Pass:img_5392

Incredible views descending along the west side of the park:img_5396

Beautiful and clear McDonald Creek:img_5402

Pristine Lake McDonald:img_5404

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!img_5411

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.img_5558

But as we approached the pass, streams and glacial lakes appeared.img_5554

View from Siyeh Pass, looking to the north:img_5560

Heading down the pass, toward St. Mary Lake:img_20160929_131754img_5568

Matahpi Peak, with a glacier-stream cascading down its walls to form a river which feeds into St. Mary Lake:img_20160929_143125

One of the many sources of St. Mary Lake:img_5573

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!

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