Despite being dusted with snow and ice just hours earlier, Glacier National Park opened all 50 miles of Going-to-the-Sun Road to vehicles Thursday night, heralding the arrival of summer in Northwest Montana.
Park officials made the announcement just before 8 p.m. on social media. Earlier in the day, road crews making their final preparations for the opening were greeted with snow and ice near Logan Pass.
This year’s opening of the trans-mountain highway between West Glacier and St. Mary was three days earlier than 2015 and more than two weeks earlier than 2014.
Just a few weeks ago, plow crews were still wrangling massive rotary plows through the snow to clear the road that was completed in 1932. Those efforts to clear the road and install guardrails were temporarily delayed in late May when heavy rains washed away beaver dams above the road near Apgar, sending tons of mud and debris onto the roadway. Meanwhile, snow was falling in higher elevations. That same storm resulted in 19 avalanches on the road.
Visitors will need to drive with added caution along Rim Rock, just below Oberlin Bend on the west side of the Sun Road where concrete barriers are temporarily serving as the guard rail. Approximately 65 feet of the masonry guard wall was destroyed by an avalanche following a late-May winter storm and the concrete barriers further tighten an already narrow two-lane roadway. The long-term repair for this section of masonry guardrail, along with several other portions of the road is currently scheduled for September, according to the NPS.
Bicyclists are reminded that bicycle safety restrictions on the Sun-Road are in effect and will remain through Labor Day, Sept. 5. 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.
Services at Logan Pass today include restroom facilities and potable water. The Logan Pass Visitor Center is open. The visitor center will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m through Sept. 5. The center offers visitor information and ranger programs, and includes a bookstore managed by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.
Trails near Logan Pass will be covered in snow and visitors should exercise caution when hiking. The NPS says visitors should be aware of unseen holes in the snow and snow bridges that exist. 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.
There are vehicle size restrictions for the Going-to-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.
The park’s free shuttle system will begin operations on July 1 and run through Monday, September 5, Labor Day. The transit system provides two-way service along the Going-to-the-Sun Road between the Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center, including a hiker express shuttle departing from both visitor centers at 7 a.m.