Sunshine beats down on a freshly cleared section of Going-to-the-Sun road near the Logan Pass Visitor center in Glacier National Park on June 5, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Glacier Park

Glacier Park Plows Push Toward Upper Reaches of Sun Road

Below-average snow at lower elevations has allowed crews to make quick progress, while bikers and hikers rejoice on famed stretch of alpine highway still closed to motorists

By Tristan Scott

Glacier National Park’s snow plow crews are making quick passage toward the Going-to-the-Sun Road’s uppermost reaches, with west-side crews nearing Haystack Creek, located just below the Weeping Wall, or about 5 miles west of Logan Pass and the Continental Divide.

Road plowing began the first week of April and will continue until Going-to-the-Sun Road opens over Logan Pass, typically between mid-June and mid-July. According to Gina Kerzman, Glacier’s public information officer, road crews report below-average snowpack at lower elevations than in years past, allowing quick progress to The Loop, the alpine highway’s hairpin turn and a popular springtime bicycling destination.

Despite the progress of the plows, however, typical years see snowstorms and avalanches continuing through May, making it impossible to predict an opening date, Kerzman noted. 

Plow crews had cleared the road nearly to Haystack on April 16 before knocking off for the weekend, leaving the blacktop to legions of cyclists and hikers eager to explore Glacier’s scenic byway without the disturbance of summertime traffic.

On the west side of the park, the Sun Road is open to vehicles for approximately 12 miles, between the West Glacier entrance and Lake McDonald Lodge. Hikers and bikers may use the road approximately six additional miles to Avalanche Creek when the road crew is working and may go all the way to The Loop and beyond on weekends or when the road crew is not working. 

On the east side of the park, visitors may drive Going-to-the-Sun Road approximately six miles from St. Mary to Rising Sun. Hiking and biking is allowed as far as the closure, which is determined by changing plowing activity and conditions.

Two Medicine Road is closed at the park boundary, but hikers and bikers may travel farther into the Two Medicine valley. However, Many Glacier Road is closed to all public access due to road construction and will not reopen for the season until May 28, with road construction necessitating possible 40-minute delays in both directions.  

The Inside North Fork Road remains closed between the Polebridge Ranger Station and Fish Creek, while motorized access to Bowman and Kintla Lakes has not yet opened for the season. These dirt roads will open when conditions allow but are prone to intermittent closure in the spring due to muddy conditions. 

The Camas Road is open for the season, although road construction on the Camas Road will require 30-minute delays in both directions beginning mid-May. Check the Glacier National Park website for additional information on construction in and around the park.

Quarter Circle Bridge Road, accessing the Apgar Lookout trail, is also open for the season, allowing early-season hikes along the trail as it melts out.

The park’s free spring hiker/biker shuttle will not run this year due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements; however, the park is moving forward with plans to operate a shuttle service during the regular season as COVID-19 mitigations allow. 

Although some services will be curtailed this summer, more campgrounds will be open in 2021 than in 2020. St. Mary, Rising Sun, and Cut Bank Campgrounds will not open this year due to staffing limitations in response to COVID-19. Campgrounds scheduled to open in April and May include: Apgar Campground, opening fully April 23 and currently open for primitive camping; Sprague Creek Campground opening May 7; and Bowman Lake, Kintla Lake, and Fish Creek (reservations only), as well as Two Medicine campgrounds, opening May 28. 

All wilderness campgrounds (formerly referred to as backcountry campgrounds) except in the Goat Haunt area will be available in 2021 as conditions allow. Approximately half of the wilderness camping permits were made available for advanced reservations on March 17. Rangers are currently processing the record number of advance reservation applications received. The remaining wilderness camping permits will be available for walk-in campers the day before or day of the trip start date. The Apgar Backcountry Permit Center will open May 1 while stations at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier will open May 29. 

All park concessions are expected to operate this summer. Services have been modified to incorporate COVID-19 mitigations. Please check the concessioner websites for updates. 

Private boating will begin on Lake McDonald May 8 with the opening of the Apgar Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) inspection station. Many Glacier AIS inspections will begin May 29. Also opening May 29 will be a new AIS station at Polebridge for Kintla and Bowman Lakes. 

The new Going-to-the-Sun Road reservation system will take effect May 28 with reservations becoming available at recreation.gov April 29. Check the Glacier National Park website for details. Face masks are required in all buildings on Federal Lands and outdoors in situations where appropriate social distancing is not possible.

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