Glacier National Park is one of the most scenic places in the US, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to one of the most scenic drives in the country as well! And that, of course, is the Going-to-the-Sun-Road (GTSR). You may have heard of this iconic road, but if you haven’t, don’t worry… You’re in the right place! Before we get into the guide, let’s first explain exactly what the Going-to-the-Sun-Road is. The GTSR is a 51 mile, scenic route that runs through the heart of Glacier National Park which is located in the northwestern section of Montana. Along the drive you’ll find some of the most scenic hikes and views in the park. In our opinion, you shouldn’t visit Glacier National Park (especially if it’s your first time) without driving this legendary route. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into everything you need to know for a successful time on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road!
*Be sure to watch our "Montana: 1 Day in Glacier National Park" travel vlog for a closer look at our time on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road!
1. Entrance Fees:
Entrance to the GTSR requires admission to Glacier National Park which is $35 per vehicle (non-commercial car/truck/van), $30 for motorcycles, or $20 per individual (if entering on foot or bicycle). All of these passes are good for seven days. Or you can purchase an Annual National Park Pass and have access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites around the country. Passes range from Free for the Military Pass to $80 for the Annual Pass or Lifetime Senior Pass.
2. Going-to-the-Sun-Road Vehicle Reservations:
With more than 3 million visitors a year, the NPS has been forced to find ways to manage the surging crowds that Glacier has seen in the last decade. Part of that solution is requiring visitors that are wanting to enter the park and drive the GTSR during the summer months (between 6am & 4pm) to obtain an entry ticket (valid for 3 days). The entry tickets are free but do require a non-refundable “Reservation Fee” of $2. And while the cost isn’t a problem, obtaining a ticket can be. Tickets for the GTSR are very limited. At the time of writing this the NPS hasn’t made it clear how far in advance tickets will be made available, so be sure to check the National Park Service Site for updated information on the reservation process. Visitors with service reservations (lodging, camping, commercial tours, etc.) along the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor do not need a vehicle reservation. And if you're reading all of this and thinking "This is too complicated" and all of this sounds like a big headache to you, then we’ve got some good news… There are a couple of ways too avoid the vehicle reservation process! Option one is to visit the park AFTER the final date of required ticket entry. For 2022 that would be any date after September 11 and before the GTSR closes for the season (usually mid-October). Option two is to enter the park BEFORE 6am or AFTER 4pm during the summer months. Tickets are not required during these times.
3. Dates Open:
Due to extreme weather conditions, the GTSR is only open during the summer months and typically doesn’t even open until mid June and closes mid October. You can always check the National Park Service Site to get the most up-to-date info on the conditions of the GTSR.
Previous Year's Open Dates:
2017: June 28 - Sept 3 (partial early closing due to due to Sprague Fire. Logan Pass was still accessible from east side through Oct. 9)
2018: June 22 - Sept 29
2019: June 22 - Sept 25
2020: July 13 (late opening due to COVID) - Oct 9
2021: June 25 - October 10
4. Vehicle Restrictions:
Due to the narrow lanes and multiple tunnels along the drive there are restrictions on the size of vehicles that are allowed on the GTSR… Vehicles and vehicle combinations longer than 21 feet (including bumpers), wider than 8 feet (including mirrors), and taller than 10 feet in height are prohibited from certain sections of the GTSR. For more details on vehicle restrictions, check the National Park Service Site.
Now that we’ve covered all the details you need to know before setting out on a GTSR trip, now let’s get into some tips to make the most of your Going-to-the-Sun-Road experience!
1. Start early:
The GTSR can get extremely busy, especially during the summer months. To avoid the crowds (as much as possible) we recommend entering the park before 6am, this way you won’t be fighting for parking at many of the popular trailheads/lookouts, and conveniently you won’t need an entry ticket in the summer months! There are lots of ways to go about it, but after tons of research, here’s what we did and highly recommend…
Enter the park from the west entrance 1.5-2 hours BEFORE SUNRISE and make the 1-1.25 hour drive to Logan Pass. Yes, this means that you will be driving the 32 miles to Logan Pass in the dark, but you’ll have time to explore those 32 miles in the afternoon plus, you’ll get to experience sunrise at Logan Pass which is epic! The reason you need to arrive at Logan Pass so early is because the Logan Pass parking lot fills up FAST since it is the hub for many of the park's most popular hikes (Highline Trail, Hidden Lake, etc)! We visited in the shoulder season (mid-September) and the parking lot was COMPLETELY full by 8am.
2. Fill up BEFORE you enter the park:
There are no gas stations within the park, so be sure to fill up on gas before setting out on your GTSR drive! While there are gas stations in West Glacier, their service is very limited and seasonal, so if you’re staying out further in White Fish, Kalispell, or somewhere similar, we recommend filling up before leaving for the park.
3. Don’t rush it:
The 51 mile GTSR only takes about 2 hours to drive (one way), but that doesn't include any stops. We recommend allowing at least 4 hours (one way) so that you don’t feel rushed and can truly enjoy the views and take your time at the many scenic pullouts. That recommended 4 hours doesn’t include any hikes though (which we totally recommend and will talk about later), so be sure to map out your day with all of the sites and hikes that you want to hit and allow plenty of time to soak it all in!
4. Pack food:
While there are a few dining options in the park located at Apgar, Lake McDonald, and Rising Sun, we recommend packing a cooler with all of your food and drinks for the day. It not only saves you money, but also time! We enjoyed the freedom of being able to eat wherever we were in the park rather than having to plan our day around dining at those specific locations which meant that we got to have an amazing sunset picnic on Lake McDonald!
5. Get out and hike:
The GTSR in itself is absolutely stunning and worth your time, but honestly, it’s only a small part of experiencing Glacier National Park. That’s why we recommend getting out of the car and hitting the trail! Glacier is truly a hiker’s park and as long as you are physically capable, you should take advantage of the many beautiful trails available. For our time in the park, we did a short portion of the Highline Trail as well as hikes to St. Mary Falls, Virginia Falls, Baring Falls, and Sun Point and truly enjoyed each of them.
We hope that these tips help you plan your visit and make the most of your time on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road! If you did find it helpful, we hope you’ll consider heading over to our YouTube Channel and subscribing for more travel content and/or following us on Instagram! Happy traveling!