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Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park: 11 Things to Know Before You Go

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the most popular attraction in Glacier National Park and for good reason. This awe-inspiring road cut into the side of the mountains carries you into forests, up through cliffs, past waterfalls, over a mountain pass on the Continental Divide, and down toward shimmering lakes and rivers with impressive scenery around every turn.

Because the Going-to-the-Sun Road is so popular, it is important to have a plan and be well-informed so that you can make the most of your time and enjoy the experience.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a 50-mile route between Glacier National Park’s west entrance (West Glacier) and east entrance (St. Mary). Vehicle reservations are required to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but a free shuttle and paid tours are another option. The road is generally open from early July through mid-October, but this changes yearly depending on snowfall and plowing operations. The logistical challenge of planning your trip will all be worth it when you take in the stunning scenery along the road at various parking areas and overlooks.

I grew up in Glacier National Park and have driven over the Going-to-the-Sun Road countless times. There is a lot to know about driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, so keep on reading because I’m going to cover the main things you need to know!

Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road: 10 things to know before you go!

What is the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Nestled within the heart of Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTSR) is a breathtaking scenic drive that winds its way through the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Spanning 50 miles of awe-inspiring landscapes, this iconic road offers travelers a panoramic experience like no other. I used to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road every week for work and the experience never lost its magic.

The road takes you right along the edge of steep cliffs, through dense forests, and past gorgeous waterfalls, providing an intimate nature experience— even from the car! There are many stops along the way for hiking and other fascinating viewpoints.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTSR), was completed in 1933 after nearly two decades of planning and construction. The GTSR was a great feat of engineering because of the many obstacles faced by engineers and laborers during the construction of the winding road. Sheer cliffs, short construction seasons, 60-foot snowdrifts, and tons of solid rock made road building across the Continental Divide a unique challenge.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road that crosses through Glacier National Park and transports park visitors between the East Side and the West Side. Here are some facts at a glance:

Distance50 miles
Speed Limit25-45 miles per hour
Lowest Elevation3,100 feet at Lake McDonald
Highest Elevation6,650 feet at Logan Pass
Open SeasonEarly July through mid-October (varies each season)

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Reservations for Going-to-the-Sun Road

A vehicle reservation is required for each motor vehicle accessing Going-to-the-Sun Road from the Apgar checkpoint (West entrance). Guests entering from the St. Mary (East entrance) do not need a reservation. In 2024, reservations are required from May 24th through September 8th, 6 am to 3 pm.

  • The vehicle reservation is a 1-day pass and costs $2.00.
  • Guests who have service reservations (hotel, campground, boat tour, horseback ride, Red Bus, and Sun Bus) do not need a vehicle reservation. Your ticket for that activity will act as your vehicle reservation.
  • Visit recreation.gov to get your GTSR private vehicle reservation.
  • For details about the reservation system, visit Glacier’s Vehicle Reservations page.

While having to make a reservation may seem inconvenient, the Vehicle Reservation System was implemented to preserve visitor safety and enhance the experience on the Going-to-the-Sun Road by reducing congestion. My personal experience has been that the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a much more pleasant experience now that there is a limit on the number of cars that can drive the road each day. Parking is easier (though still a challenge), traffic is not as bad, and viewpoints aren’t as crowded.

  • Visiting Glacier and need a game plan? Check out our itinerary.

Tours and Shuttles on Going-to-the-Sun Road

Tours and shuttles are great ways to experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road if you’d like to leave the driving to someone else! Tours offer valuable information about Glacier National Park while shuttles provide a cost-free way to travel the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Tours

Two companies operate tours on Going-to-the-Sun Road: Red Bus Tours (Xanterra) and Sun Tours (owned and operated by a Blackfeet family).

I haven’t taken a Red Bus Tour since I was 5 years old and have no recollection of that experience, but I have heard great things about the Red Bus Tours from friends, family, and park visitors. The historic red busses themselves are an iconic feature of Glacier National Park and are a beautiful way to cruise through the landscape. The red bus drivers (called jammers) are equipped with a wealth of knowledge about all you could hope to learn about Glacier.  

I took a tour with Sun Tours during the summer of 2022 and I had a fantastic time. Glacier’s fraught history and relationship with the Blackfeet and their cultural and historical ties to the land is an important but often overlooked aspect of Glacier National Park. While the park’s relationship with the Blackfeet has improved in recent years, it is as important as ever to acknowledge them. Sun Tours offers an opportunity to learn about Glacier’s flora, fauna, geology, and history through the lens of the Blackfeet who have called Glacier home for over 10,000 years. I cannot recommend Sun Tours highly enough.

Chart comparing red bus tours and Sun Tours

Shuttles

In addition to tours, free shuttles are offered on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The free shuttle gives access to the areas between the Apgar Visitor Center (west side) and the St. Mary Visitor Center (east side). The shuttles do not require a reservation and are available to every park visitor. The shuttles run every 15-30 minutes throughout the day, usually beginning at 8 am and continuing until 7 pm, though hours may vary. Check the Glacier National Park Shuttle Service website for up-to-date information.

I have had good and bad experiences with the shuttle system. The primary issue is that the demand for the shuttles is higher than their availability. It is common for the shuttle to arrive with few to no seats available, leaving guests waiting for up to 30 minutes for the next shuttle to (hopefully) show up with availability. If you don’t mind waiting, I recommend utilizing the shuttle system if it sounds like it will benefit your visit.

Map showing shuttle stops on the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Shuttle stops on Going-to-the-Sun Road Map courtesy of NPS

Stops Along the Way

There are many points of interest along the Going-to-the-Sun Road that allow you to leave your car and experience the road and its sights more intimately. Hopefully, the descriptions of the following stops along the way will help you decide where you’d like to stop on your drive. Remember, you can’t go wrong!

Apgar Village

Apgar Village sits at the foot of Lake McDonald and is the primary hub of activity on the west side of the park. All services except gas are available in Apgar Village. There are restaurants, gift shops, and lodging as well as equipment rentals. Eddie’s Restaurant is a popular dining option in Apgar Village. I recommend renting watercraft from Glacier Park Boat Company located on the beach in Apgar Village. The view of Lake McDonald from Apgar Village is an iconic one—make sure you take a look at the colorful rocks on the beach! If you’re interested in taking a boat tour, check out our article Glacier Park Boat Tours: An Expert’s Advice and Helpful Tips.

Map showing pullouts along the Going-to-the-Sun Road
View of Lake McDonald at sunset with mountains behind

McDonald Creek Overlook

The McDonald Creek Overlook is an observation platform that allows a great view of the powerful river charging through the landscape.

Red Rocks Overlook

The Red Rocks Overlook offers the opportunity for another view of McDonald Creek. The rocks in this section of the river are red, as the name suggests! The red rocks contrasted with the white foam of the fast-moving water and the turquoise water in deeper slow-moving pools is spectacular. I love this spot!

Avalanche Creek

Avalanche Creek is one of the most popular spots in the park. The Avalanche Campground is located here, along with a picnic area, the Trail of the Cedars, and the Avalanche Lake trail. The Trail of the Cedars is one of the few ADA-accessible trails in Glacier and is a gorgeous opportunity to experience an old-growth cedar and hemlock forest.

West Tunnel

The West Tunnel was constructed between 1926 and 1927 and features windows that allow a glimpse of Heaven’s Peak and the Upper McDonald Creek Valley. I would always get SO excited to drive through this tunnel when I was a little kid. I’m happy to report that excitement hasn’t waned much in adulthood!

The Loop

The Loop is a 180-degree turn in the GTSR. There is a parking lot here for hiking trails and views of majestic Heaven’s Peak.

Bird Woman Falls

Bird Woman Falls overlook gives visitors an unobstructed view of the 560-foot-tall waterfall. The view from this overlook, especially in the evening, is one of my favorite along the GTSR. It’s a great place to watch the sunset.

Weeping Wall

The Weeping Wall is another feature on the Going-to-the-Sun Road that delights me as much as an adult as it did as a child. Here, waterfalls in the early season cast their spray over the road. When I was a kid, my dad would roll down the windows and make sure that my sisters and I got a good splashing as we drove through on a warm day.

Weeping wall waterfall on Going-to-the-Sun Road

Triple Arch

Triple Arch is a very recognizable feature on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The arches were created to solve an engineering problem in the original construction of the road.

Triple Arch and waterfall along the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Oberlin Bend

Oberlin Bend is a great place to see mountain goats. I can make no promises, but I see goats nearly every time I drive through this area. Keep your eyes open for big horn sheep along this section of road too!

Logan Pass

Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and marks the Continental Divide. This means that the water that falls on the west side of Logan Pass will end up in the Pacific Ocean while the water that falls on the east side will end up in the Atlantic. Logan Pass has a visitor center and is the starting point for the Hidden Lake Trail and the Highline Trail.

Lunch Creek

Lunch Creek is a lovely spot to take a break, located just below Logan Pass. The views and wildflowers here are lovely.

East Tunnel

Another tunnel! There are no windows in this tunnel, but there are often big horned sheep nearby.

St. Mary Falls Trailhead

St. Mary Falls trailhead is a great place to stop if a small hike is on the agenda. St. Mary Falls, Baring Falls, and Virginia Falls are accessible from this trailhead.

Wild Goose Island Overlook

Wild Goose Island is a unique geologic feature that is worth looking at! I’d venture to guess it is one of the most frequently photographed views in Glacier.

View of Wild Goose Island in the middle of St. Mary Lake

Seasonal Dates

The lower elevation sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road remain open all year. Only a few miles of road are open on the east side, and on the west side, the road is generally open and plowed to Lake McDonald Lodge.  

The summer opening date of the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road varies year to year, with the deciding factors being snowfall and plowing progress. Typically, the road opens by early July and closes on the third Monday of October. These dates may change due to weather conditions at any point.

Tractor plowing snow on the Going-to-the-Sun Road
Tractor plowing snow on the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Road Accessibility for Oversized Vehicles

Because the GTSR is extremely narrow, steep, and windy, there are vehicle size restrictions for the safety of everyone traveling the road. Vehicles and vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet (including bumpers) or wider than 8 feet (including mirrors) are prohibited between Avalanche Creek and Rising Sun. Vehicles over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass to the Loop due to rock overhangs.

graphic showing size of vehicles that can drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road

How Long Does it Take to Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road?

Without stopping, it takes approximately 2 hours to drive the entire 50 miles of GTSR. The time it takes to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road varies depending on traffic and weather conditions.

River with snow-covered mountains behind

Parking Opportunities Along the Road

Parking can be a challenge along Going-to-the-Sun Road because the road is narrow, heavily trafficked, and large parking areas are limited. The largest parking lots on the Going-to-the-Sun Road are:

Apgar Village

Parking can be tight here, but people tend not to stay for too long so a spot should open up with a bit of patience.

Lake McDonald Lodge

This parking lot is very large! I have always been able to find a parking spot.

Mountain tops and clouds in Glacier NP

The Loop

Parking here is very limited.

Big Bend

Parking availability varies throughout the day. Most people stop here to use the restroom and to take photos of the scenery.

Logan Pass

The Logan Pass parking lot fills by 7 am and sometimes fills even earlier. If you want to be guaranteed a parking spot, get here very early or come later in the day (after 5 pm). It is possible to get a spot in the middle of the day, but challenging.

Siyeh Bend

Parking here is limited and generally used by hikers.

Sun Point

This large parking lot is relatively underutilized compared to others along the road. There are restrooms here and a nature trail.

Wild Goose Island

Wild Goose Island parking isn’t as competitive as some others, as most folks just stop for a quick photo opportunity.

Little girls standing in front of St. Mary Lake with Wild Goose Island behind

Gas Stations

There are no gas stations on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Do not make the mistake of entering the road with a nearly empty tank! The nearest gas to the west entrance is in the town of West Glacier. The nearest gas to the east entrance is in the town of St. Mary.

Cell Phone Service

Cell phone service in Glacier is extremely limited, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road is no exception. AT&T service does not extend past Apgar Village on the west side and is nonexistent on the east side. Verizon service does not extend past Apgar Village on the west side and lasts until Rising Sun on the east side.

If an emergency arises on the road, notify other drivers, and ask them to inform any National Park Service personnel. National Park Service law enforcement rangers patrol the road regularly and can assist in case of emergency.

Alternatives if the Road is Closed

If Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed, there are other options for traveling from one side of the park to the other or for scenic drives.

Highway 2

Highway 2 is the alternative for getting from one side of Glacier to the other when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. I love driving Highway 2 and often choose it over the Going-to-the-Sun Road when I am in a hurry or when the weather is bad. The mileage from West Glacier to St. Mary using Highway 2 is approximately 100 miles. From West Glacier to the town of East Glacier is 50 miles. The speed limit on Highway 2 is anywhere between 45 and 70 mph. Depending on the speed at which you choose to drive and how many stops you make along the way, it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to drive from West Glacier to the town of East Glacier on Highway 2.

Flathead river with trees on the edge with mountains and rainbow in the distance

Highway 2 follows the beautiful Flathead River, tracing the southern boundary of Glacier National Park on one side and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area on the other. The two-lane highway cuts through rocky canyons, dense forests, wildflower meadows, and stunning peaks as you drive through one of the most beautiful parts of Montana.

As you drive, watch for wildlife and waterfalls on the sides of the road. A good place to stop to stretch your legs is the Goat Lick Overlook. Located along U.S. Highway 2, approximately two miles southeast of the Walton Ranger Station, is an exposed riverbank and mineral lick where mountain goats are often seen licking the mineral-laden cliffs. Park in the parking area and take the short paved path to the observation area where you can view mountain goats along the waters of the Flathead River.

Looking Glass Road

Looking Glass Road (also called Highway 49) is a scenic drive just outside the park boundary on the Blackfeet reservation. You can drive Looking Glass to get from St. Mary to the Two Medicine Valley (another beautiful spot you can access without the Going-to-the-Sun Road). You will see expansive vistas of mountains and plains, wildlife habitat, and unique geology. I often enjoy the Looking Glass Road even more than the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Something about driving where the mountains meet the rolling aspen parklands and wide-open prairie is really special. 

Other Questions

Can you Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Night?

Yes! The Going-to-the-Sun Road is open at all hours of the day. I don’t necessarily recommend driving the GTSR at night because it can be a bit nerve-wracking driving along cliffs in the dark. Wildlife also tend to dart across the road more often in the dark.

Is it Scary to Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask! I do not find driving GTSR scary, but I do not have a fear of heights and have driven the road many, many times.

Because sections of the road are very exposed, others very narrow, and some a combination of the two, it can be scary! The driver shouldn’t expect to take in quite as much scenery as the passengers will. It’s really important to pay attention to the road when the consequence of getting distracted is driving off a cliff!

Is Four Wheel Drive Required?

No. Going-to-the-Sun Road is well-maintained and accessible to any vehicle that meets the size requirements. People drive the road in 2-wheel drive rental cars all summer long.

Road Closures

Sometimes the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed due to weather, rock slides, avalanches, or car accidents. For updates on the status of Glacier National Park roads, you can text GNPROADS to 333111 or check the alerts on the Glacier National Park website.

Can You Drive an RV through Glacier?

It depends. Vehicles and vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet (including bumpers) or wider than 8 feet (including mirrors) are prohibited between Avalanche Creek and Rising Sun. Vehicles over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass to the Loop due to rock overhangs.

Is There Parking for RVs in Glacier?

There is parking for oversized vehicles throughout the park, but not a ton! Getting a parking space in any vehicle is a challenge in Glacier.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Need a game plan so you don’t miss out on the best things to do in Glacier? Check out our itinerary

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid the crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving with over 3-hours of stories about the park!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO
GLACIER


GLACIER TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Glacier National Park, check out our Glacier Homepage

THINGS TO DO: Check out what not to miss and other things to do in Glacier including, hiking, and the amazing boat tours. Find out how to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road with our free printable

WHERE TO EAT: Don’t miss the best places to eat in Glacier National Park

WHERE TO STAY: Learn all about where to stay when visiting Glacier

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out which entrance is best for Glacier National Park as well as what to do when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed and if you need bear spray while visiting or if swimming is allowed

WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Glacier National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Glacier YouTube Playlist

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