If you're planning your first trip to Glacier National Park you might be asking yourself, is driving on Going to the Sun Road scary?
It's a fairly subjective question, but throughout the course of this post I'll describe what you should expect during your drive along Going to the Sun Road to help you arrive at an answer that aligns with your experience and comfort level for navigating mountain roads.
I'm originally from Ohio so mountain driving isn't something I gained much experience in while growing up. Other than some rolling hills here and there, it's lives up to the hype of being a very flat state with tons of farmland.
But I recently had the opportunity to visit Glacier National Park for the second time. Which means I've zig zagged back and forth across Going to the Sun Road a number of times seeking out Glacier's best hikes and landmarks.
In this guide I'll help visitors understand what to expect when driving along Going to the Sun Road (GTTSR) and provide insight as to whether or not they have anything to be afraid of! If you're looking for additional facts and tips to know when visiting Glacier National Park be sure to check out my post on that topic as well.
I also have a video guide available on YouTube that covers some of the best things to do in Glacier National Park that you should check out when you're finished here!
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Where is Going to the Sun Road Located?
Going to the Sun Road is the primary road that spans Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Travelers can access the road through West Glacier or St Mary depending on whether they're arriving from the west or east, respectively.
The 50 mile (80 km) road weaves through the continental divide and offers breathtaking views of mountain peaks, deep valleys, forests, alpine lakes and more along the way.
The journey across Going to the Sun Road is surely one of the best drives in North America and it will take guests at least two hours to drive the length of this high mountain road.
What to expect when driving Going to the Sun Road?
To get to the bottom of whether or not driving on Going to the Sun Road is scary, let's go over what to expect during your drive along with discussing how to secure a timed entry reservation.
If you're visiting Glacier National Park during peak season (summer) you'll need a timed entry reservation to access Going to the Sun Road.
And without a reservation you won't be admitted to the park!
My National Park Timed Entry Guide can help you understand that process, along with a few hacks to know if you fail to secure a reservation. You'll generally want to secure this reservation months in advance, so be sure to brush up on that process when you're done reading this post.
Most visitors from out of state will fly into Kalispell, near Whitefish, and stay on the western side of Glacier National Park.
From here you'll have about a 30 minute drive from Whitefish to West Glacier where Going to the Sun Road begins.
Here GTTSR will pass the Apgar Village area before tracking along Lake McDonald. This portion of the drive is very mild as the road gently weaves through the dense forest.
You'll notice pull off after pull off along the way, with each one seeming to offer better views than the previous one. Be sure to budget time to stop at a few of these along the way!
Shortly after passing the Avalanche Creek area the road will start ascending towards Logan's Pass. For reference, the Avalanche Creek area is home to the starting points of Trail of the Cedars and the iconic Avalanche Lake hike. Make sure both are on your itinerary!
The segment just past Avalanche Creek is where the drive starts to shift from a relaxing cruise through the forest, to a bit more of a white knuckle affair.
The road starts to steepen as you climb towards Logan's Pass. From the valley below to where you'll peak, visitors will gain nearly 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) of elevation.
As you climb, the rocky terrain will start to drop off to your right. These drop offs expose spectacular views but are also why you're probably asking whether or not GTTSR is scary to drive on!
There's generally a guardrail between the road and these sheer drops which should help provide some peace of mind. But I'd be lying if I didn't say the first time I drove Going to the Sun Road it didn't make me somewhat nervous.
Going up to Logan's Pass you'll generally be on the exposed side of the road, while coming back down you'll have the mountains to your right hand side.
If you ever get overwhelmed there are numerous area where you can pull off to recollect your calm while enjoying some spectacular views.
The western side of GTTSR is much more challenging than the side to the east of Logan's Pass, so if you can handle this part the remainder will be a breeze.
Like with most things in life whether or not your drive up to Logan's Pass will feel scary ultimately comes down to how much experience you have driving on narrow mountain roads.
Coming from Ohio, my first few trips along the road were a bit nerve wracking, but ultimately if you're focused and take your time there really isn't anything to worry about! Around three million visitors explore the park each year with relatively few incidents along the road.
Now that you have an idea of what to expect along the drive itself, I'm going to cover a number of other useful tips and things to know before setting out along Going to the Sun Road for the first time.
No Gas, No Food, No Water
As a general rule there isn't any fuel, food or water available for purchase within Glacier National Park. It can take 2+ hours of driving to cross Going to the Sun Road so you'll need to arrive at the park with enough supplies to make it through the day.
Rent a vehicle you'll be comfortable driving in the mountains
If you're visiting Glacier during the summer you don't really need to be concerned with snow or getting stuck. Put differently, you won't NEED an SUV or four wheel drive.
The most important consideration when renting a car for a trip like this is to get something you'll be comfortable driving on challenging roads. Whether that's an SUV or something more compact is completely up to you.
My first time in the park I rented the same make and model (my old faithful Ford Fusion) that I drove back home, really without thinking about it. I was glad I did, since my familiarity with the vehicle made me much more comfortable navigating the steep mountain curves of Going to the Sun Road.
There's virtually no cellular service along Going to the Sun Road
This might not come as a surprise, but there's virtually no cellular coverage in the remote wilderness that is Glacier National Park.
Even GPS based maps can have difficulty updating when you're at the heart of the park so I'd recommend planning out your full route ahead of time in case your phone craps out on you.
If you need to do activity research, like deciding which hikes you're going to attempt, it's best to make those decisions outside of the park while you still have cell coverage.
While we're on the topic - go ahead and download AllTrails if you haven't already. The free version offers plenty of features and it's my favorite hike researching and discovery tool. The paid version offers perks like the ability to download offline trail maps, which can be super helpful when you're out on a lengthy day hike like scaling Mount Brown in the wilderness!
There are frequent restrooms throughout Glacier National Park
Despite being pretty far out in the wilderness, the Park Service has done a great job making sure you're never to far from a restroom!
Many of the major trailheads and campgrounds have restroom facilities nearby. On average you'll pass one of these every fifteen minutes or so.
You can also find restroom facilities at West Glacier, Apgar Village, Logan's Pass and the St Mary's entrance.
Weather in the mountains can change quickly
When heading across Going to the Sun Road to reach Many Glacier during my last trip to the park, we had 80+ degree heat while in the lower elevations of the Avalanche Lake hike.
Once we finished the hike and continued east, we encountered a torrential downpour in the higher mountain elevations that included sleet and low visibility.
By the time we settled into our room at Many Glacier Hotel that evening temperatures had dipped into the 30s.
Be sure to check the weather each day, pay special attention to the hour by hour and know that these conditions can vary widely even within the park.
Be a courteous driver and use the pull offs to let faster traffic pass by
The scenery throughout Glacier National Park is truly out of this world. It's understandable if you want to take your time driving through the park so you can enjoy these views.
If you're driving through the park at a slower pace then take advantage of the numerous pull offs to let faster moving traffic pass you by. If there are vehicles accumulating behind you and there isn't anyone in front of you, it's probably an indication that you should let vehicles pass you by.
Don't be the person driving through the park with a line of 30 vehicles behind them!
Going to the Sun Road is notorious for construction delays and closures
Since Glacier only has one primary access road, it can create traffic problems when Going to the Sun road is in need of maintenance.
Fortunately, maintenance related closures are usually communicated well in advance and noted on the NPS website. You can get Going to the Sun Road status updates here. Be sure to check in periodically as your trip approaches.
There's a decent chance you'll encounter wildlife on your drive
It's not uncommon to spot wildlife from your vehicle while traveling through Glacier National Park. I mention that here primarily to ensure you stay safe and alert while driving through the park.
You or other drivers may need to stop quickly when winding through the mountains if there are mountain goats or other wildlife taking a stroll down the road.
Second, be courteous to other visitors if you do spot wildlife in the distance and avoid stopping in the middle of Going to the Sun Road. Try to find a nearby pull off to enjoy the encounter instead.
It's rude, if not dangerous, to stop in the middle of the road just so you can take a picture. Don't be that person!
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you're visiting Glacier National Park you'll be doing quite a bit of hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't overlook anything.
That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, so it can help you plan for activities like The Highline Trail, Mount Brown Lookout or Iceberg Lake. Even if you're sticking to shorter activities like hiking to Redrock Falls or Hidden Lake Overlook it can be a great starting point to ensure you don't leave anything at home!
Don't Forget to Checkout My Timed Entry Reservation Guide!
I've alluded to it throughout this post, but Glacier National Park is heavily reliant on the National Park Timed Entry Reservation System. Different sections of the park require separate reservations. A reservation to drive GTTSR won't do you much good in reaching the trailhead for a hike like Grinnell Lake which is located in the Many Glacier portion of the park.
Don't show up to Going to the Sun Road without a reservation or the park rangers will turn you away!
You can access my Timed Entry Reservation Guide here! I'll cover how the process works along with tons of tips to get around the system if you find yourself in a pinch without a reservation at the last minute.
For anyone trying to fill out their trip itinerary, be sure to check out my guide covering the best activities in Glacier National Park once you're finished here.
Hopefully this post helped you decide whether or not Going to the Sun Road is scary to drive on!