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Riding to the Sun

When we arrived in Glacier National Park in mid-June, we learned that the legendary Going to the Sun Road was not yet open. Apparently, even with most of Glacier’s glaciers melting away, it still takes until late-June to get the road open. They need to clear the snow off the road carefully because if the plow doesn't know where the road ends exactly, then it can be a long ride down. There are also frequent avalanches from the higher elevations coming down onto the road. And finally, they need to replace the guard rails, which with thousand foot drops along the way, we say "thank you." Still, this was a massive disappointment to us since the road connects you to the majority of the hikes and other areas of the park that we came to see. We thought we would have to content ourselves with Lake McDonald and the Eddie’s Ice Cream shop in Apgar Village for a week. But then we learned that the lower portion of the road was open to bicycles and that in the late afternoon, when the crews quit for the day, you could even ride all the way up to Logan Pass which is the highest drivable point in the park. Next step, rent E-bikes, since you have to climb 3000 feet in the space of 16 miles, most of it in the final 8 miles. Not surprisingly, those were already sold out in town, so we had to settle for the old-fashioned style of bicycle that you have to pedal in order to move forward on. And mine was a wreck. The gear shaft sounded like a rock tumbler.

Undaunted, we set out in the morning and rode through the car barrier, and were suddenly delighted rather than disappointed that the road was closed. It was magical to be in one of the most popular National Parks in the country, and essentially have it to ourselves. The day before, we had hiked Avalanche Lake which is already a very popular hike in Glacier. But with so much of the rest of the park off limits, it was like being in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland. Some of the magic of a fairy-tale place is diminished when you are jockeying for position just to get a photo. Now, at just past 8 in the morning, it was like we were the only ones in the park.

After the first 8 miles and 1000 feet of climbing, we reached The Loop (the sharp bend in the road that represents a very large switchback). The road was still closed beyond this point until the crews finished their day's work, and you never knew exactly when that would be. We spent a few hours hiking, eating trail mix, and chatting with the 50ish other riders camped out on the road with us. Then at approximately 2:30PM the word came down from the barrier, the road was open! It was like an incredibly unimpressive Tour de France start as the peloton was off gunning for the summit. Instantly, all the prescient renters that thought ahead and got e-bikes raced by me like I was standing still, as I virtually was. It's quite steep and long. But despite my ire, condescension and outright jealousy for the moped people, to say nothing of a lower body muscle strain that flirted with paralysis – I was loving it. When you drive the road, you can only glimpse at the jaw-dropping scenery because you have Winnebagos barreling down at you in the opposite lane, a Texan in his GMC Yukon pushing you from behind as if he is late for work, and turnouts that are completely full of cars, obscuring the view. On a bike, pedaling at a brisk 3 mph with no cars anywhere, you can really take it in. And by god, if there is a prettier road anywhere on this planet, I would sure love to see it.


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