By Alex Neill, guest blogger
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2022. Links are all active, but entry dates will need to be cross-checked on the Glacier National Park website.
In the months of spring, before cars and tourists embark on Glacier National Park, bicycles and hikers are allowed to travel on portions of the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road. For those curious about this unique way to explore Glacier National Park (and get some great exercise while soaking in the views), we’ve got you covered with the Insider’s Guide to Biking Going-to-the-Sun Road.
I love Glacier National Park. In fact, “love” might be an understatement. In 2016, I published a guidebook to the Park, “Glacier National Park for Families,” and currently curate an Instagram account dedicated to my family’s adventures there. It’s safe to say I’ve biked Going-to-the-Sun Road more than 30 times. Once the ski hill closes for the season, it is, without a doubt, my favorite spring activity in Montana.
When Can I Go?
Going-to-the-Sun Road runs 50 miles, from West Glacier to St. Mary. Due to the amount of snow at higher elevations and over Logan Pass (the Road’s highest point, at 6647′), it takes several snowplows many months to clear out the snow. Along the Road, snowpack ranges from 6′ to 20′! While the actual Road opening for summer vehicle traffic is unpredictable, based on weather and snowpack from year to year, bike and hiker traffic usually begins around mid-April. As of today’s post, bikes are allowed on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Where Do I Start?
Hikers and bikers alike begin their journeys from the parking lot at Lake McDonald Lodge (where the Going-to-the-Sun Road closure begins). Usually in mid-to-late May, vehicle traffic is allowed all the way to the Avalanche Lake Trailhead, where bikers or hikers can then start their journeys.
As parking begins to get crowded (especially once vehicles can travel to the Avalanche Lake Trailhead), Glacier National Park offers a free hiker/biker shuttle that operates from May 7 to June 26 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., running between the Apgar Visitor Center and Avalanche Creek (note: Avalanche Creek is at the same location as the Avalanche Lake Trailhead). The shuttle is first-come, first-served.
How Far Can I Go?
The beauty of this adventure is its simplicity – you can go as far – or as short – as you’d like! It all depends on the snow plows, and how far up the road they’ve plowed!
For the more advanced cyclists, traveling from Lake McDonald Lodge all the way to Logan Pass (and back) is the ultimate, approximately 21 miles each way, for a roughly 42 mile ride. The trip is approximately 3,400 feet of elevation gain on the west side to Logan Pass. Typically, crews have cleared Going-to-the-Sun Road through to Logan Pass by mid-June.
For others, they want to use the Going-to-the-Sun Road vehicle closure as a way to take advantage of less car traffic. Biking to the Tunnel (13.2 miles from Lake McDonald Lodge) to see some of Glacier’s gorgeous views is another great option.
Whether or not I’m trekking all the way to Logan Pass, one of my favorite stopping points is the Weeping Wall (17.9 miles from Lake McDonald Lodge). This is a beautiful sight, as water runs off the cliffs and down onto the road. For adults and kids alike, it’s great fun riding your bike through the water! All around, the views are great and it’s a perfect place to pull out a snack.
What Days Can I Ride?
You can ride every single day of the week, so long as you follow the instructions of the Road Crews. This year, Crews will be plowing Monday through Thursday. Bicyclists and Hikers cannot pass crews plowing the Road. On the days when Crews are not plowing (Friday, Saturday & Sunday), Road Crews will assess the avalanche danger and place signage on the road marking a stopping point for hikers and bikers. Avalanches happen in the Park and on the Road throughout the spring, so hikers and bikers will not be able to reach Logan Pass until the road is free of snow and the avalanche danger has subsided.
In similar fashion, bicycles and hikers will be allowed to travel up the East side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from St. Mary to Logan Pass as plows clear more snow and allow for travel. Currently, the road is open to vehicles from St. Mary to Rising Sun.
Are There Bears?
Yes! Biologists estimate more than 1,000 Bears live within the borders of Glacier National Park. Bears frequent the Road this time of year, as it is an easier way for them to travel. While you should carry bear spray, I encourage you to make noise and give bears their space. Pack out any food or garbage you pack in, and never feed any animal.
One of my favorite memories from riding the Road was from a biking trip with my friend Levi: As we turned the corner at the Loop (13.8 miles from Lake McDonald Lodge), we came upon a Grizzly Bear walking up the Road. While the bear turned around and acknowledged us, he eventually kept on walking. While we stayed a safe distance behind, we kept biking up. It added some excitement to the ride. Occasionally, the bear would turn back and look at us, not minding us at all. Eventually a biker on their way down spooked him off the Road.
What Should I Wear/Bring?
The weather gets cooler the higher you climb, so be sure to pack hats and gloves and layers, especially for the trip down. Snacks, water, and a bike pump are always a good idea as well!
Dogs are not allowed along the Going-to-the-Sun Road during biking season (not even on a leash), as the Road is treated like a hiking trail during this time. For this adventure, be sure to leave your pet at home.
Are E-Bikes Allowed?
E-bikes (low-speed electric bicycles) are allowed on the road, as long as the motor is only used with pedal propulsion. Motor bikes with a throttle are not allowed. E-bikes and bicycles can be rented from nearby Glacier Guides.
How Do I Enter The Park?
From May 27 to September 11, 2022, a road pass is required to access the Going-to-the-Sun Road (in addition to the park entry pass). That means between these dates, even while the entire Road is not open to vehicles, visitors will have to have the Road pass to travel via bicycle. The Road pass is $2, and is available 120 days in advance on recreation.gov. While most of the pre-sale summer tickets have sold out, additional tickets will be released 24 hours in advance of the date you plan to go.
When Does Biking End?
Technically, biking is always allowed in Glacier National Park. However, from June 15 to Labor Day, bicycles are not allowed on a majority of the Going-to-the-Sun Road between 11 am and 4 pm. These areas include:
- From Apgar Loop Road turnoff (at the south end of Lake McDonald) to Sprague Creek Campground
- Eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass
When vehicle traffic does begin, be aware of bikers and make sure to give them plenty of space when passing!
However you choose to enjoy Going-to-the-Sun Road, be prepared for a few hills and epic views. This is an incredible way to get outside and enjoy springtime in Glacier National Park before the Road opens to the busy summer traffic. What are you waiting for? Grab a bicycle, head out and enjoy!