Glacier Park Collection

Everyone remembers their first experience on Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. It's consistently about awe, and it's a memory that never fades. In Western novels, homesteaders approached the Rockies from the east, intimidated by the scale of the mountains and stunned by the wildness.

My friend Ashley, who first saw it as a wide-eyed seven-year-old, remembers gazing out at the U-shaped valleys and the rocky drop-offs and feeling like she might fall off the edge of the world. That feeling permeates Glacier National Park and is recreated every summer by visitors crossing the continental divide for the first time.

However, when you live in Whitefish, like I do, it’s possible that over time, you start to forget the staggering views offered by Glacier National Park’s main roadway. One summer, I convinced myself the park was too busy altogether (it was the year of the National Park Service’s centennial celebration), there were too many tourists and it wasn’t worth the drive. And when the road closed that fall, I shrugged off the hint of regret that I'd let a season go by without venturing to the highlights.

I stayed out of the park until the next summer when my childhood friend Jenna came to visit and driving the road was her top priority. As we drove up from Lake McDonald, we rounded corner after corner, stopping at the pullouts, gazing up and down the landscape. “This is amazing!” Jenna announced. She’s traveled all over the world and was still astounded by the national park in my backyard—the one I’ve often overlooked.

A waterfall splashes into a road running alongside a mountain.

Photo: The Weeping Wall (at mile 28.7) flows strongly in the early season, but reduces to a trickle by the end of the summer.

Watching her absorb the park, though, I wondered how I could underrate the enormity of it. How could I ignore the glacial carvings in the rock, the ancient cedars or the bright blue of the water in the creeks?

“I’ll never take this for granted again,” I said as we took in the view from the Hidden Lake Trail. It was her first time there, and my fifth. But it felt like I was seeing the place for the first time.

That was two years ago, but I remember my first trip up the Going-to-the-Sun Road too, every detail. It isn’t something you forget.

“There’s nothing we could have done that would have been more enjoyable for that time than to see Glacier National Park.”

Fresh Eyes on a Classic Road

My dad and I travel together often. One July, we were embarking on a summer backpacking adventure south of Glacier in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. He drove from Idaho to meet me in Whitefish on the 4th of July, one of the more boisterous and boozy American holidays, and we evaluated the route we’d take to get to the trailhead on the east side of the Continental Divide.

“I’ve always wanted to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but I’ve never done it,” my dad said. He has been everywhere, often driving, so I couldn’t believe he’d gone more than 50 years without making the iconic drive. “The road just opened a few days ago for the summer season, right?”

Even the name of the road is enticing; let’s go to the sun, I thought.

We ventured into the park on the 5th of July—one of the busiest days that summer. Looking back now, I don’t remember the crowds. When people come together to view nature in awe, it’s a communal experience rather than a combative one. We’re all on the journey together.

At every stop, my dad and I took photos. At every corner, I gasped. He struggled with driving and we regretted taking our own vehicle because it meant he had to watch the road.

He described the architecture of the road as the side of a castle that artistically lays on the land, displaying lovely, intricate stone masonry.

Mountainsides covered with snow and trees sweep alongside a wide valley.

Photo: Approaching Logan's Pass (mile 32), look to the north for a view of the Garden Wall and the Highline Trail.

Just before the Logan Pass, we stopped and got out of the car. We pointed at every notable aspect of the scenery—the glacially carved valleys, the Highline Trail above us (“People don’t walk on that!” my dad exclaimed), the changes in tree species and clouds based on elevation.

Heading down the east side opened a new expanse—sweeping plains vistas and the deep blue of St. Mary Lake.

That was nine years ago, and I still live in Whitefish. When I reminded my Dad of that trip recently, he said, “That was the only time I’ve ever been on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.”

“I’m so glad we went. It was on my bucket list for years,” he stated. “We took the extra time to make the drive, and there’s nothing we could have done that would have been more enjoyable for that time than to see Glacier National Park.”

Photo: Allison Linville and her father Richard share a love of travel and adventures in the wilderness.

If you are fortunate enough to make the trip to the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier this summer, don't think twice. Don't be deterred by crowds—get up early and plan to spend the whole day. As a tourist, local or repeat visitor, it’s worth the effort to go to the sun. There’s a road to take you there.

Allison Linville smiling

About the author: Allison Linville is a writer living in Whitefish, Montana. She earned her MFA at the University of Montana where she also worked as the editor of CutBank Literary Magazine. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize and the Brainerd Foundation Fellowship in Environmental Writing. Allison's work has been published in various literary magazines, High Country News and Montana Magazine. You can find her online at allisonlinville.com.

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