Scenic Driving Overview: Glacier-Waterton National Park

Red Eagle Mountain, Glacier National Park
Red Eagle Mountain, Glacier National Park (courtesy, National Park Service)

Glacier National Park Scenic Drives Travel Tips

  • In addition to the popular "red jammer" bus tours, Glacier now runs along Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar and St. Mary. Though you miss the interpretive narration, you get the same scenery, and regular stops along the route mean you can get off whenever you want for as long you want.
  • Pull over at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, a worthwhile stop—not for the hordes of visitors, insufficient parking, and mediocre natural history displays—for the 1.5-mile boardwalk trail overlooking sparkling blue Hidden Lake.
  • About seven miles west of Logan Pass is "the Loop," a mighty hairpin turn that's enough to make you catch your breath. Take it slow and enjoy feeling like you're really earning your view of the Continental Divide.
  • Four miles east of Lake MacDonald's inland sea, sore butts find relief along the Avalanche Lake Trail. One of the easiest and most popular hikes in the park, the trail gains only 505 feet over three miles to the cliff-hemmed lake, so it's perfect for a scenic stretch that still leaves the afternoon for driving.

It's a don't-look-down-now kind of a road. But do: The views are awesome. And take it slow. Afterall, Going-to-the-Sun Road took 11 years to build, from 1921 to 1932. The road is often hailed as an engineering marvel, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997. Park Superintendent David Mihalic describes it as "majestically scenic but precipitous, narrow, and winding." Going-to-the-Sun is a good example of a road that makes previously inaccessible territory available to more people, without becoming a blight on the landscape in the process.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is open to automobiles, and with restrictions, to bicycling. It travels 50 miles, skirts Lake McDonald—if you start from west to east—then climbs to the highcountry along the Garden Wall, crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass 2,026 meters (6,646 feet), and descends to St. Mary Lake. It is generally open from early June until mid-October. The two segments of the Going-to-the-Sun Road open in winter are the 16 kilometers (ten miles) between West Glacier and the head of Lake McDonald and the ten kilometers (six miles) from St. Mary to Rising Sun.

Vehicle size limitations are in effect between Avalanche Creek and Sun Point. Trailers may be parked temporarily at Sun Point on the east side while you drive over Logan Pass. On the west side, inquire about parking at the West Entrance, Apgar Visitor Center, or at a ranger station.

U.S. 2 is a two-lane highway that winds along the southern boundary of the park for 90 kilometers (56 miles) between East Glacier Park and West Glacier. It follows the route of the Burlington Northern Railway over Marias Pass, 1,591 meters (5,220 feet) high.

U.S. 89 and Alberta 2 connect Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park via Cardston, Alberta. U.S. 89 is the main route along Glacier's eastern boundary and provides a panoramic view of the Continental Divide and Chief Mountain.

The Chief Mountain International Highway climbs over glacial debris and through aspen groves and lodgepole pine forests, providing magnificent views of Chief Mountain. As the road crosses the international boundary, you get a clear view of Mount Cleveland, Waterton/Glacier's highest peak—3,190 meters (10,466 feet). This road is closed from mid-September to mid-May.

If you do not have a car within the park, tours and scheduled transportation are offered on historic red buses between park lodges as well as East Glacier, West Glacier, St. Mary, and Waterton (in Canada). Call Glacier Park, Inc., at 602-207-6000 for information and reservations. Shuttle service is offered daily in summer on the Going-to-the-Sun Road between West Glacier and St. Mary. Call Rocky Mountains Transportation at 406-862-2539 for information and reservations. Interpretive van tours highlighting Blackfeet culture originate from East Glacier and the St. Mary Lodge. Call Sun Tours at 1-800-SUN-9220 for information and reservations.

Driving in Waterton
During the summer season, drives to Cameron Lake, Red Rock Canyon, and the Bison Paddock are popular.

The Akamina Parkway leads from the Waterton townsite and runs for a distance of 16 kilometers (10 miles) along the historic Cameron Valley. Points of interest include the site of Western Canada's first producing oil well, Oil City—the city that never was—and picturesque Cameron Lake. Picnic areas along Cameron Creek offer ideal locations for a rest or family luncheon.

The Red Rock Parkway enables you to enjoy a wide variety of the park's features and provides access to Crandell campground and numerous backcountry trails. This narrow two-lane road crosses over rolling prairie, then meanders through Balkiston Valley before ending at Red Rock Canyon, a distance of 14.5 kilometers (9 miles). Several roadside pulloffs and viewpoints along the route provide magnificent views of Waterton's highest peak, Mount Balkiston, 2,940 meters (9.646 feet).

A short but rewarding drive north of the park entrance on Alberta 6 will take you to Waterton's Bison Paddock. Here, a small exhibition herd of bison is maintained as a reminder of the larger herds that once roamed freely in this area.



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