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

Going-to-the-Sun Road
The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park winds 52 miles through spectacular mountain scenery

Open-roof touring car
A ride in a vintage open-roof touring car is a great way to experience the route

Logan Falls
Cascade plunges hundreds of feet from a high glacier field

Meadow wildflowers
Wildflowers near Logan Pass

Dall mountain sheep
Snowy white mountain sheep

St. Mary Lake
St. Mary Lake on the eastern edge of Glacier

It was hard to imagine that such a perfect combination of temperature and weather could ever be matched during our recent visit to Glacier National Park in Montana. A happy coincidence of logistics enabled us to travel on the Going-to-the-Sun Road on our way to embark on a Quest RoadTrip that we had planned for Havre, Montana. My dad, Charles Sedenquist, left his home town 61 years ago, and we were headed to Havre to see what, if anything, remained of the town of his memories. The result of that journey of exploration would prove to be bittersweet since most of the places of his youth, including the family farm, his high school, and his favorite fishing holes have been converted into other uses or have pretty much disappeared from view. But before we reached his old hometown, we were awed by the drive that bisects the park from the small town of West Glacier to St. Mary on the western shore of St. Mary Lake.

Montana's official nickname is the "Treasure State," and Glacier National Park is without doubt the state's crown jewel. The Going-to-the-Sun road is only open in the summer months and requires nearly constant maintenance to keep it open. The route is about 50 miles long and climbs and descends steep glacial valleys on a road that features drop-offs of hundreds of feet and stunning views of glaciers and roaring waterfalls. Because of the narrow and winding sections, the maximum vehicle length is 21 feet, and the width of any vehicle should not exceed eight feet including mirrors. We saw at least one or two fractured vehicle mirrors lying in the road, obviously left by people who failed to heed that warning. The park runs shuttles (red open-roof touring cars) complete with guides for those who are either unwilling or unable to drive this extraordinary road. The highway has been designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a Nation Civil Engineering Landmark, and the stone wall workmanship found in the steepest sections are truly beautiful.

The day we drove the road, there was virtually no wind, the temperatures were in the low 80s, clouds danced across the sky providing contrasts, and everywhere we looked we could see spectacular waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet from the glaciers still found in the hanging valleys of the park. Massive glaciers scoured the main valleys of the region while tributary glaciers carved the smaller side canyons. Unable to cut as deeply as the bigger glaciers, these smaller glaciers left behind narrow valleys high up in the mountains when the glacial period ended.

As a result of the abundant water seeping and pouring from fissures in the limestone canyon walls, there are profusions of wildflowers everywhere. Bright yellow, white, pink and red blooms stand in stark contrast to the lush green grasses of the meadows. In addition, we saw mountain sheep, bighorn mountain sheep, black tail deer, lots of eagles, and some very photogenic ground squirrels. A couple we spoke with also saw a large grizzly bear and a bull moose wandering near the stream where we had eaten lunch.

There is a visitor center at Logan Pass which sits atop the Continental Divide at 6,680 feet, and the meadows to the west of the pass were full of thousands of wildflowers all at or near their peak bloom of the season. Leaving the park on the eastern edge we paused for some glorious views of St. Mary Lake. Our drive that day was just about as perfect as a road trip can get.

Mark Sedenquist
July 24, 2005

MORE RESOURCES

Glacier National Park: National Park Service Web Site

Glacier National Park of Canada

 


 

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