Summer Road Trip 2017, Part 12: Glacier's Going-To-The-Sun Road
I woke up early to a bustling campground. I made coffee in my Stanley french press and cooked eggs for breakfast tacos on the Coleman Duel Fuel Camp Stove. After breakfast, I considered loading the MiniTrail and migrating to another campground.
In first-come-first-serve campgrounds, changing campsites has to be done as early as possible because the best campgrounds have to be snatched up when ealry risers vacate for the day. It's nice to drive without the extra weight on the rear bumper, so I decided to keep the my current campsite. I left the MiniTrail and Moto-Transporter locked to the picnic table at the campsite.
I had heard great things about Going-To-The-Sun Road and was excited to finally see it for myself. Vehicles over 21 feet in length are not allowed so I was excited at the prospect of driving without all the log jam traffic that usually accompanies Class-A RVs. I expected something scenic, but this road is ridiculous..
From Apgar, I headed west along the south shore of Lake McDonald. I did some campground reconnoissance along the way to familiarize myself with the options for future visits. Sprague Creek Campground is the first campground I passed. It's densely wooded and right on the shore of Lake McDonald. I imagine it's a difficult campsite to secure during high season because there are a limited number spaces..
From there I continued along shore to Lake McDonald Lodge. The lodge has a Swiss rustic feel and when I was there, guests were being loaded onto nostalgic red busses for the drive over Logan Pass. I strolled around the lodge for a bit then got back on the road.
From Lake McDonald Lodge, the narrow two lane road rises precipitously. There are numerous pullouts once the road begins to rise, but the lower section climbs on the inside lane. This makes pulling over a bit tricky with the summer crowds, but the view is well worth the extra effort. The vistas from each pullout become increasingly dramatic with elevation..
On this day, smoke from the surrounding wildfires gave the mountains a hazy appearance that added a sense of depth across the vast mountain distances,
Once the road switches back for the upper section, the uphill traffic drives on the outer lane. As the road approaches the summit, the exposure increases. The inside lane, occupied by cars in driving downhill, terminates in a sheer stone cliff. On the outer lane, the only thing between the road and a precipitous drop is a small series of stone crenelations. at the edge of the pavement.
I stopped at the Summit Visitor Center to peruse the gift shot, checkout the exhibits, and get a cancelation for my National Park Passport. I was hungry but the food options seemed uninspired. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and continued down the other side towards East Entrance at St. Mary.
About halfway down the east side, I pulled out at St. Mary Falls. I felt like hiking so I took the trail downhill to the falls and got a few pictures of the cascading pools.. The roundtrip is 1.7 miles, mostly traversing, with two steep sections near the car and the falls.
It was getting late and I wanted to get the St. Mary cancellation, so I used the opportunity to get some exercise. and so I moved briskly on the uphill hike back to the car.
I arrived at the St Mary Visitor Center inside the East Entrance just before they closed. I got the stamp for my Passport, then decided to make the drive along the outside of the park's southern perimeter. The road climbs through the section know locally as Poor Man's Going-to-the-Sun Road. The road gets less traffic and apparently less maintenance.
The view at the top of the pass was great, even after the awe-inspiring vistas of Going-To-The-Sun Road. I drove for a while along this section of road and don't reminder seeing another car. It was quite a contrast from the high traffic crowds with the national park.
On the way back to West Glacier on a stretch of road near Firebrand Pass, I pull over at a little bar called Ramsey's. I had a couple of beers and some hot wings. I got the scoop on Poor Man's Going-To-The-Sun Road from a elderly couple who lived in the area. Apparently the surrounding counties refuse claim that section of road because they don't want to be burdened with it's maintenance.. They said it could be dangerous at times but that wan't my impression having just driven over it.
I got back to the Apgar Campground well after dark and prepared the camper for night #2 in Glacier. I plan to take it easy tomorrow morning so I worked a bit on my computer and prepared to hit the sack. Tomorrow I hope to explore the west side of the park..
What I heard suggests the west side of the park feels very primitive by comparison. I'm looking forward to that.