Park Service to Open Iconic Sun Road On Glacier’s West Side

By DILLON TABISH for the Flathead Beacon Newspaper

The summer season is officially here.

The National Park Service announced Wednesday that the main thoroughfare in Glacier National Park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road, is expected to fully open on the west side on Thursday, June 11.

Vehicles will be allowed to drive the serpentine road 32 miles from the west entrance into the park’s high country to Logan Pass. Access from the east side is delayed until June 19 due to road rehabilitation work.
The opening of the iconic road typically marks the arrival of the tourism season, when hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the park.

Annual visitation is already up 29 percent over last year’s record mark. In May there were an estimated 134,741 people who ventured into the park, a 20 percent monthly increase over 2014, according to the latest data from the National Park Service. The park is anticipating its 100 millionth visitor this month.

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Traffic descends Going-to-the-Sun Road from Logan Pass. Beacon FilePhoto.

Completed in 1932, the Sun Road is named for Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, a 9,647-foot peak in the eastern backdrop of Logan Pass. The road is designated a National Historic Landmark and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Although the road will only be partially open, this is the earliest access to Logan Pass since 2005, when crews were able to make quick work and park officials opened the 50-mile stretch on May 22.

After a mild winter and unseasonably warm spring, park crews were able to clear snow and debris from the road, install guard rails and prepare facilities sooner than normal.

Services at Logan Pass will include restroom facilities and potable water. The Logan Pass Visitor Center will not be open until June 19. At that time it will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., including a bookstore managed by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

There are two areas along the west side of the Sun Road near Rim Rock, just below Oberlin Bend, that visitors will need to drive with caution. Approximately 200 feet of masonry guard walls were destroyed by avalanches this past winter and temporary barriers have been installed creating a narrow two-lane roadway.

Through June 19, crews will be working near Triple Arches, located approximately two miles below Logan Pass on the west side. One-lane traffic will be implemented during this time. Flaggers will direct traffic during the day and traffic control lights will be used nights and weekends. Crews will be completing some of the detail masonry work on the footing areas.

Visitors will discover a snow-covered landscape at Logan Pass. Cold temperatures and wind, as well as icy conditions, may be encountered, park officials said. Be aware of snow walls along the Sun Road and hazardous snow bridges near the Big Drift. Standing or walking on snow along the road is strongly discouraged.

Trails near Logan Pass will be covered in snow and visitors should exercise caution when hiking. Be aware of unseen holes in the snow and snow bridges. Avoid crossing steep, snow-covered slopes where a fall could be disastrous. Visitors should have the appropriate equipment and skills if hiking on snow. The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is closed due to snow conditions. Current status of park trails can be found online.

There are vehicle size restrictions for the Sun Road. Vehicles, and vehicle combinations, longer than 21 feet and wider than 8 feet are prohibited between Avalanche Campground and Rising Sun. Vehicles over 10 feet in height may have difficulty driving west from Logan Pass due to rock overhangs.

Interpretive bus tours of the Going-to-the-Sun Road and other areas of the park are available through park concessioners, Glacier National Park Lodges and Sun Tours. For more information and reservations, visit here.

The park’s shuttle system will begin operations on July 1 and run through Monday, Sept. 7, Labor Day. The transit system provides two-way service along the Sun Road between the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center.

Rehabilitation work on the Sun Road will continue this year with activity on the east side occurring between Siyeh Bend and the St. Mary Visitor Center. Vehicle access to Logan Pass from the east side of the park is scheduled to be available on June 19. Visitors can expect 30-minute maximum traffic delays on the east side of the park this summer. Sun Point will be closed to all visitor traffic including picnicking, transit, restroom use, and hiking due to road rehabilitation activity.

Bicycle restrictions on the Sun Road will go into effect June 15 through Labor Day, Sept. 7. Bicycles are prohibited between Apgar Campground and Sprague Creek Campground from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, bicycles are prohibited eastbound (uphill) between Logan Creek and Logan Pass from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For current information on park roads, weather conditions, and visitor services visit Glacier National Park’s website or call park headquarters at 406-888-7800.