A Journey to the Sun
It’s 6pm. The sun is casting long, decadent shadows over the rocky landscape, as our train winds through the Columbia River Gorge. After years of dreaming about cycling Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, we are finally on our way – and the stunning scenery and relaxed train ride are a remarkable way to begin what will be an unforgettable next few days.
A Bucket List Trip
Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel surrounded by an epically beautiful landscape. We imagine it to be an incredible experience no matter how you arrive, but we have only ever wanted to bicycle it. To breath the alpine air, to feel the long climb in our legs, to hear nothing more than the birds and the wind and the whir of our tires. This year, for National Bike Travel Weekend, everything came together for us to finally check off this must-do trip.
At the station in Portland, Oregon, we box our bikes for the trip to Whitefish, Montana, aboard the Empire Builder. The leg from Portland doesn’t yet have the new Trainside Checked Bike Service, so we give ourselves some extra time to remove the pedals and turn the handlebars, before rolling the bikes into their boxes and handing them over to the baggage crew.
On board, we settle into our roommette and watch the long late-spring day fade slowly behind the rolling hills. Like kids on Christmas Eve, we are so excited that we barely sleep that night, and we are up with the sun for our early-morning arrival into Whitefish.
Pick a Spring Weekend
On Saturday morning, we are again up with the sun. We are staying at the Whitefish Bike Retreat and have enlisted their shuttle to drop us at the start of the ride. From Whitefish, it’s an hour drive to the Avalanche Creek area, where the road is closed to all motorized traffic.
We pedal out of the picnic area, flanked by dozens of other people on bike, and around the gate that marks the road as car-free. This gate is the reason we are here at this time of year. Every spring, while the crews are clearing the snow and preparing for summer visitors, the entire road is open only to people on foot or bike.
Without a doubt, this is the time to ride Going-to-the-Sun Road. Bikes are allowed on the road during peak season, with some restrictions, but it’s a truly unique experience to pedal your way up while the road is car-free.
For the first few miles, we wind our way alongside McDonald Creek, under a canopy of trees. Eventually, the road opens up and begins to climb. Looking at the mountainside ahead of us, it’s impossible to believe that we will find our way up there, but we can see a tiny grey line that marks the roadway.
We continue uphill, through an incredible tunnel with huge windows that open to the jaw-dropping scenery, and around The Loop with its nearly 360-degree view of the valley. We pass the Weeping Wall, where water pours down the cliff face and across the road. We see dozens of waterfalls and the views keep getting better and better.
Finally, just a mile from the summit, we hit a patch of ice that marks the point where the plows stopped for the week. We are so close to the top that it would be easy to feel let down, except that this is why there are no cars here. We lean our bikes against the snow walls and soak in the magnificent views and the sense of accomplishment and the fact that we traveled all this way by bike and train.
A Few Tips
- We chose to route our trip through Whitefish, as it is the only station near Glacier National Park that is a designated baggage stop. If you choose to bring your own bike on your trip to ride Going-to-the-Sun Road, you will also need to route through Whitefish.
- If you choose to rent a bike once you arrive, you might consider routing through the station at West Glacier, which is located much closer to the park entrance.
- During the Spring, the park operates a free shuttle to carry visitors between the Apgar Visitor Center and the gate at Avalanche Creek. The shuttles are equipped with bike trailers and only run on weekends.
- You are free to ride Going-to-the-Sun Road during the week, but be aware that crews are actively plowing the roadway, and you will only be allowed to ride up to a certain point.