I had the opportunity to bike up Going-To-The Sun Road on a rented mountain bike this past summer. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had! I will never forget the views, the challenges and triumphs, or my companions who shared in this adventure with me.
Hitting an all-time high altitude of over 7000 feet was a true test of my body’s limits. The first day of biking was the hardest for me. I had never biked more than two miles in my life and as we were climbing uphill, it felt like a mountain bike marathon to me!
The first unforgettable moment happened when this view opened up:
It won’t be easy but there are some parts that will make you say “This is worth it, I’m glad I came.”
Unarguably, one of the most unique bike trails
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is an American treasure. It ranks high on bucket lists of most cyclists and the ride dishes up a challenge along with a heavy dose of big scenery. Biking offers a way to intimately savor all of the detail that created this country’s only road that is both National Historic Landmark and National Civil Engineering Landmark. Arches and tunnels access natural wonders, like waterfalls, wildlife, and glacier carved peaks.
I had never been so close to a mountain before and I was not only humbled but also felt very proud of what we accomplished. We cycled up Going-to-the-Sun Road, something that would have taken at least four hours by car or many more days on foot!
Going-to-the-sun road open season
GTSR Road remains open all year and provides access to many locations and activities. The opening of the alpine portion varies, based on snowfall and plowing progress. There is no set date for the road to open. Typically the road has been fully open in late June or early July.
Going-to-the-Sun road is the most scenic drive in the United States
The route traverses some of North America’s best scenery and offers a challenge for the best cyclists. The best scenery is not without a price: stay alert and be prepared to take care of yourself on this iconic route with one-way traffic, heavy tourist volume, long steep climbs (of up to four miles), high altitude mountain passes, snowfields in summertime, sudden weather changes that can involve thick fog or hail, and limited water.
The scenery was breathtaking and made me want to explore every corner of the park. Watching the animals from close proximity also caused my heart to beat a little faster (especially when I saw this bear!).
I’m proud that we were able to successfully complete our journey without any major injuries or mishaps. We had gotten lost once, but it all worked out in the end. The experience has changed my perspective on the world and I am so glad to have had this opportunity.
It’s a one-hundred-mile journey from Logan Pass to St Mary, Montana
The trail is well-maintained and scenic; it follows the course of the North Fork Smith River for about forty miles until Highway 89 provides access into Helena National Park. In these early stages you can see at least two beautiful waterfalls including Rainbow Falls and St Mary Falls.
St Mary, Montana is a small town of just over 300 residents and it’s surrounded by stunning natural beauty. The Smith River runs through the center of this tiny community with its abundant fishing opportunities in all seasons, little rafting rapids to play on during spring melt-off or when water levels are high enough, and plentiful trout, smallmouth bass, Northern pike and panfish.
One of the most popular activities in this area is hunting with waterfowl season running from September through November. Each year several hundred hunters come to St Mary for its outstanding population of wood ducks, mallards and Canada geese as well as a diversity of other waterfowl.
There are also a variety of other outdoor activities available in the area including fishing, boating and kayaking on beautiful Smith River, hiking opportunities at nearby Helena National Park with its varied ecosystems to explore from lush forest to alpine tundra meadows or perhaps visiting one of Montana’s largest natural stone arches.
Where to rent bikes
Glacier Outfitters is one place in Glacier National Park to rent bikes. Glacier Outfitters also rents other gear like backpacks and fishing poles, so it’s worth stopping by even if you’re not planning on renting a bike. The company has two locations: one near Apgar Village and one at Logan Creek Campground.
The store at Logan Creek Campground has a small café, so you can stop by for lunch or to charge your phone. The Apgar Village location is not open year-round and doesn’t have a snack bar, but it does sell bikes. Glacier Outfitters also offers bike rentals outside of the park in Whitefish.
Your other option would be Glacier Guide Montana Raft. Glacier Guides is based in Hwy 2, Montana near “Lake Five” (11970 Hwy 2 East, West Glacier, Montana 59936). The company offers hiking, biking, rafting, and fishing tours to help you get your Glacier experience started off right! They are around for almost 40 years and have a solid experience behind their services.
Along this route you’ll see amazing views of Glacier National Park and its wildlife. We will also be seeing the stunning views from Logan Pass as well! Along with all these great sights, we can’t forget about the wonderful wildlife that Glacier has to offer! It is likely that we may see bears, moose, coyotes or even bighorn sheep. All these creatures call Glacier National Park their home and we will definitely see some of them on our way to the summit!
So, grab your camera and let’s get started!
You’ll be able to stop at many different places along the way for food, gas, or just some photos
Photography opportunities are all over Montana, including going-to-the-sun road. For example: you’ll be driving along Lake McDonald which has great photo ops for wildlife lovers who want pictures with a reflection in the water.
You’ll also be driving past towns such as Babb, West Glacier or Saint Mary which all have photography opportunities. For example: you can buy food at these places and gas up your car easily while taking pictures of wildlife on Lake McDonald’s shoreline. This lake offers a great opportunity for people who love to take pictures of reflections in water.
Lake McDonald is a great place for wildlife lovers, as there are many opportunities to take pictures with the reflection on the lake’s surface or even just from its shoreline. Wildlife can be seen anywhere along your journey but Lake McDonald offers some of the best photo ops along the way!
Take a break from the bike to eat food
There are also plenty of picnic areas along the way for those who want to break up their ride with food or just have a rest from biking. Pack food that will not spoil, like sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly.
Bring water with you at all times! You can also fill up your bottles at the various gas stations on this route, but it’s advised that you drink plenty of fluids while biking in the first place.
-Keep food in plastic bags or containers to avoid bugs getting into your food, and be sure that any food you eat while biking is thoroughly washed before it goes back into the bag!
-Photography lovers can take pictures of their lunch for social media posts, but they should not bring food too close to a busy road, either.
-This route is perfect for foodies because there are plenty of restaurants to enjoy once you’re done with your bike ride!
The Going-to-the-Sun Highway has multiple campground opportunities where you can stay overnight if you’re looking for more adventure than just one day’s worth of riding. These are the Fish Creek, Granite Park and Apgar campgrounds.
Rising Sun Campground
Beside Saint Mary Lake is a great place to stay if you want to get up early and get out of the park. They have plenty of campsites beside the lake, some with views of Wild Goose Island Lookout which we highly recommend for those who like watching bald eagles fly over as they hunt for breakfast in the morning.
This campground has a 24 hour visitor center, showers and laundry facilities. Campfires allowed in certain areas only (no permit required) – water available for purchase onsite.
Fish Creek Campground
It is a walk-in only site and it’s open from the first Friday of June to late September annually, depending on weather. It has 28 campsites for tents or RVs up to 25 feet in length; all sites are spaced well apart with plenty of shade trees between them so you can enjoy some privacy.
The Granite Park Campground
This one has 83 campsites and is open from the middle of July to early September annually, depending on weather. All sites are spaced well apart with plenty of shade trees between them so you can enjoy some privacy. Sites are available for tents or RV’s up to 35 feet in length; there is a dump station and potable water at the campground.
Apgar is a walk-in only site open from late June to early September annually, depending on weather. It has 112 campsites for tents or RVs up to 35 feet in length; all sites are spaced well apart with plenty of shade trees between them so you can enjoy some privacy.
The Apgar Campground has 112 campsites for tents or RVs up to 35 feet in length; all sites are spaced well apart with plenty of shade trees between them so you can enjoy some privacy. Sites are available from late June to early September annually, depending on weather. There is a dump station and potable water at the campground.
Logan Creek Campground
The Logan Creek Campground has tent and RV sites as well as a group site for larger groups. There is also the Avalanche Creek Campground, which only has one loop of campsites with no hookups or showers but even if your trekking journey ends here it’s always nice to have an opportunity to relax in nature before heading back home.
If you’re looking for an adventure ride, this is it!
There are few roads in America that can rival the Going-to-the Sun Road when it comes to big scenery and a challenging ride. Combine this with an opportunity to experience natural wonders and take in all of the detail that created this country’s only road both National Historic Landmark and National Civil Engineering Landmark, then you have yourself one heckuva bucket list item.
If you want more reasons for why biking is great, join our Facebook Group where we post ideas on how cycling can be incorporated into your life as well as inspiration from others who bike!
I hope you are as stoked about my bike ride up Going-to-the-Sun Road as I was! If you’re looking for other great ways of exploring Glacier National Park, be sure to check out these posts: “The Hidden Gems in Glacier National Park” “Glacier National Park: Top Hikes and Waterfalls to Explore in One Day or Less!”
Regardless of vaccination, visitors to Glacier National Park are required to wear masks and follow the safety guidelines. Read more here