Glacier National Park’s West Side

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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 on the west side of the park. This page will give you a few good ideas.

My Visit

I thought the last week of June would be late enough in the year for the road crews to clear the entire length of Going-to-the-Sun Road.  But, thanks to a late-season snowstorm that hit just before my arrival, the difficult plowing and road repair process had been delayed.  This meant I had to find things to do along the eastern and western ends of GTTS Road.  And while the park’s most famous views and hikes are located near Logan Pass, there are a few things to do at the lower elevations.

The west end of GTTS Road begins at West Glacier and US 2.  You don’t have to drive far to get into the park, and to the first big attraction at Glacier: Lake McDonald.

Going-to-the-Sun Road skirts the edge of Lake McDonald for about a dozen miles.  Sometimes the views are blocked by trees…

…but there are plenty of places to stop along the side of the road, that provide access to the lakeshore.

Near the northern end of Lake McDonald, you’ll find Lake McDonald Lodge, an historic chalet-style hotel constructed in 1913.  You can also catch an hour-long lake cruise here.

Once you’ve passed Lake McDonald…

… you’ll come upon several good spots for viewing the creek that feeds the lake.  This is one such platform…

… that overlooks McDonald Creek’s fierce rapids (made even more fierce thanks to the snow melt from the previous week’s storms).

If you want a great view of the mountains up ahead, watch for this footbridge near the trailhead to Johns Lake.  By the way, I hiked to Johns Lake and didn’t think the trail was very impressive — but it’s still a nice walk through the woods, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

If the road is open to Avalanche, you’ll have access to a campground and a popular 4.5 mile (round trip) trail to Avalanche Lake.

If you’re lucky enough to get to drive the entire road, here’s what awaits.  The road is just barely enough to squeeze-in two lanes on a shelf carved out of the mountainside.

You’ll drive slowly around twists and turns.  Anyone afraid of narrow roads or heights will need to close their eyes.

At Logan Pass, you’ll have access to the excellent Highline Trail – that’s the trail on the lower right.  If you thought the road was narrow, you’ll really be blown away by the trail.  Immediately after starting your hike, you’ll need to grab on to some cables, mounted to the rock wall, in order to squeeze past the narrow spots.

I only hiked a short distance on the Highline Trail during my 2006 visit to Glacier National Park.  Nowadays, you can hike the Highline from Logan Pass down to “The Loop” along Going to the Sun Road, then take a shuttle back to your car at the pass (or park at the Loop, take a shuttle up, and hike down).

Another good option at Logan Pass: the Hidden Lake Trail.  It’s a 3-mile round-trip to a nice viewpoint, or six miles to the lake and back — but both options are well worth the effort.

I’ll cover the eastern end of Going-to-the-Sun Road on a separate page.  More treats await, including several beautiful waterfalls.

The Bottom Line

The biggest reason to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road is what you’ll see in the middle of the drive, around Logan Pass.  If that portion of the road is closed, it’s still worthwhile to drive the portion of the road that’s open, but don’t expect to see even a glimpse of the best parts of the road.  If the pass is closed, I’d suggest rearranging your vacation to allow more time on the park’s east side, in areas like Two Medicine and Many Glacier.

Location

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 west side usually closes around Avalanche, while the east side often closes around Jackson Glacier Overlook.

For current road conditions, check here.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive into the park via West Glacier, and up GTTS Road to Avalanche:

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