If you’re visiting Glacier early or late in the season, and the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road isn’t open due to snow at Logan Pass, there are still some places worth seeing along GTTS Road on the east side of the park. This page will give you a few good ideas.
In late June, 2014, I had hoped that I would arrive at Glacier National Park, just as Going-to-the-Sun Road opened for the season. I knew I was going to be cutting it close — but I didn’t count on a late-spring snowstorm to hit, just a few days before my arrival. The storm caused a setback for the snow-clearing road crews, and in 2014, the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road didn’t open until around July 4th, after I was already back at home.
The road closure was a good thing, in one way. It forced me to search out some of the less-visited parts of the park — the areas you don’t have time to visit, because you’re concentrating on the Logan Pass area. Granted, GTTS Road is incomparable, and it would have been great to drive the entire thing (like I did in 2006). But on this trip, I spent more time in Two Medicine and Many Glacier, and even Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. I also drove as far up Going-to-the-Sun Road as I could.
The eastern end of Going-to-the-Sun Road begins at Saint Mary Lake. Much like the western end of the road at Lake McDonald, you’ll drive along the edge of the lake for a few miles before starting the climb to the pass. On this particular day, the weather was very dreary. It was so cold and rainy, I decided not to bother with much sightseeing or any hiking at all.
There are several worthwhile trails on the east end of Going-to-the-Sun Road, including the hike out to St. Mary Falls. I took this photo during my 2006 visit, on an equally cloudy day. Baring Falls, Virginia Falls, and some unnamed waterfalls are also nearby, and you could combine or divide up the hikes to match the level of effort you’re willing to exert.
Back in 2014, the grey skies couldn’t take away the magnificence of the glacier-formed mountain peaks that surround you as you head up Going-to-the-Sun Road. You will catch occasional glimpses of the mountains, but the lower portion of the road is often surrounded by trees that block the view.
My drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road ended at Jackson Glacier Overlook. Even though there’s a camera on the sign…
… the actual overlook is somewhat disappointing. Thanks to the ever-diminishing size of glaciers around the globe, this is one of the few places where you can see a glacier in Glacier National Park. And in this spot, trees partially obscure the view — and the glacier is quite a distance away.
Along the side of the road, I caught a glimpse of one of the reasons why it takes so long to clear Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s not just snow that’s in the way — it’s also debris from avalanches and landslides. GTTS Road has to be repaired every year, thanks to the damage left by these slides.
If you don’t want to do the driving around Glacier National Park, consider catching a ride on one of these red “jammer” buses. The classic open-topped buses were built in the 1930’s by the White Motor Company, and recently refurbished with the help of a $6 million donation from Ford. Tours ranged in price from $40 to $86 during 2014.
The Bottom Line
If I had to choose just one area to visit on Glacier’s east side, I’d probably go to Many Glacier. The east end of Going-to-the-Sun Road would fall in second place. If the road isn’t open at Logan Pass, it’s somewhat of a bummer to know you can only drive part-way. However, the waterfall hikes and the views of St. Mary Lake will help make up for it.
Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts through Glacier National Park, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The mid-section of GTTS Road is closed during winter — and around here, winter can last until the end of June or early July.
You can expect the western and eastern end of Going-to-the-Sun Road to be open throughout most of the year — the only question is, how far can you go? The west side usually closes around Avalanche. The east side often closes around Jackson Glacier Overlook, although during the worst of the weather, this entire side may be shut down.
For current road conditions, check here.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Many Glacier, onto US 89 through St. Mary, ending at Route 49: