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Biking through Glacier National Park

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

An alternative way to explore some of our nation’s most pristine landscapes


Glacier National park Montana bikepacking going-to-the-sun road logan pass view gear itinerary, vagabond guru
View from the Top of Going-to-the-Sun Road


All across the nation, folks have been yearning to get out of their apartments and out into nature. For many, this means exploring one of the United States’ 63 protected areas known as National Parks. As a result, with the easing of COVID restrictions, National Parks have seen a record numbers of visitors in 2021. Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have set records for monthly visitors this summer. Many parks, such as Glacier and Rocky Mountain, have implemented timed entry passes in order to enter into the park.


Even if you are aware of these requirements ahead of time, getting tickets can be frustratingly difficult. Zion has implemented wait times of up to 4 hours at the trailheads of some of their more popular hikes. I know people who have been turned away from Arches and Glacier and asked to try again at a different time. It often feels like you are vying for concert tickets: jumping into an online waiting room 72 hours in advance to purchase tickets, constantly refreshing, slowly watching all of the available tickets get bought up by bots just to be told there is nothing available anymore. I have gone through this process at least two dozen times for various permits/tickets and have never been awarded a ticket.


There is good news: what if I told you I had a solution that would not require an entry ticket, would get you away from the crowds and allow you to experience our parks from a new perspective? The solution is a simple one: get out of your driver’s seat and onto your bike.


With an annual National Parks Pass (at $80 for 13 months I cannot recommend it enough) you can simply bike past the long lines that will inevitably form at the entrances and beat the crowds to the trailheads. Glacier even has a 20+mi stretch of road that is only open to bikes which decreases your chances of seeing anyone at all.


I have three itineraries below that detail how you can experience Glacier National Park without a timed entry ticket and from a totally new perspective organized by exertion level below.


1. Take your bike up Going-to-the-Sun Road (Exertion level: 1/5 stars | 16-32mi total)


Glacier National park Montana bikepacking going-to-the-sun road logan pass view gear itinerary, vagabond guru


Glacier National Park currently requires ticketed entry for the entrances that lead to the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. This 50mi road tops out at an elevation of 6,646ft on Logan Pass with immaculate views of the valley more than 3,000 ft below. While part of this road is closed to bikes during the day (the section along Lake McDonald) and the climb up Logan Pass can be brutal, each shuttle bus in the park is equipped to carry two bikes on a front rack and can be ridden to almost anywhere in the park. We were able to get stand-by tickets for the bus within 10-15min of arrival which we then took to the top of Logan Pass. From there, enjoy a 32mi descent of more than 3,000 ft back to the west entrance. The bike racks on the shuttles fit 29in mountain bike tires (very snugly), so anything outside a fat tire bike is fair game for the shuttle. Many of the trailheads in Glacier will have full parking lots, so I recommend bringing a bike-lock to take full advantage of your two wheel vehicle.


Itinerary:

  • Park your vehicle in West Glacier near the park’s west entrance to avoid the line of cars at the entrance.

  • Bike the 2mi to Apgar Visitor Center and get a stand-by bus ticket to Avalanche Creek (the halfway point to Logan Pass). From here you will need to transfer to the smaller shuttles that ascend to Logan Pass. Please note: bikes are not allowed on the road between Apgar and Avalanche Creek during daytime hours.

  • Take your bikes off the shuttle at Logan Pass Visitor Center and enjoy the magnificent views. Feel free to visit the many trailheads in the area and be on the lookout for mountain goats (especially along the rim trail).

  • From here, begin your descent down the magnificent Going-to-the-Sun Road. Enjoy the breeze in your hair as you zip the 16 miles and 3,000 ft descent back to Avalanche Creek. I highly recommend sunglasses and new brakes, but don’t expect to be pedaling much on this section of road. The views of Mt Oberlin and the Weeping Wall are absolutely unbeatable.

  • From here you have two options: take the shuttle back to Apgar or bike the remaining 16mi yourself. This road will require more pedaling, but it is still largely downhill until you reach the park entrance. Be careful: the roads around Lake McDonald have very tight shoulders, so cars will not have much room for passing (this section of road is closed to bikes from 11am to 4pm).


2. Bike the closed Inside North Fork Road (Exertion level: 3/5 stars | 28-56mi total)


Glacier National park Montana bikepacking going-to-the-sun road logan pass view gear itinerary, vagabond guru

If you are really hoping to avoid the crowds, I would recommend this beautiful ride along the Inside North Fork Road on the western side of the park. After road flooding destroyed parts of this road a few years ago, it was closed to motor vehicles for a ~20mi stretch of road at the base of the Livingston Range peaks. Although technically open to hikers and horseback riders, its distance means that very few non-bikers will even consider traveling the road. This overgrown road is a great example of how quickly nature can reclaim its territory and a great place to see wildlife. I HIGHLY recommend bringing at least 1-2 bottles of bear spray as this is prime grizzly country (although we did not see any signs of them). A gravel or mountain bike is not necessary for this road, although it is certainly preferable given smaller divots and ruts throughout the road. There are a few smaller climbs on this road, but none are more than 500ft of ascent.


Itinerary:

  • Park at the town of Polebridge and ride your bikes through the westernmost entrance of Glacier NP nearby. Follow signs up the Inside North Fork Road for Logging Creek campground. Camping is available first come-first serve at Quartz Creek and Logging Creek (nearly all spots were unclaimed). Insider Tip: Polebridge Mercantile is a great place to grab supplies or a delicious huckleberry bearclaw.

  • The road closure begins at Logging Creek and continues until Camas road near the Fish Creek campground. Bring bearspray and travel in a group to decrease the risks of bear encounters. Enjoy the feeling of having stepped back in time on this overgrown road. Your chances of seeing anyone before Camas Creek are slim, so bring an extra tube just in case.

  • From Fish Creek, enjoy a short 2mi ride to Apgar Visitor Center. You will either need to drop a shuttle car at the West Glacier entrance or bike the 26mi along the Outside North Fork Road back to polebridge. This road is highly scenic and paved, so I do recommend it.


3. Bikepack the Red Meadow Pass Loop (Exertion level: 5/5 stars | 105-125mi total)


Glacier National park Montana bikepacking going-to-the-sun road logan pass view gear itinerary, vagabond guru

If you are looking for a multi-day excursion through northern Montana and Glacier, I cannot recommend this amazing and beautiful 4 day ride. Starting in Whitefish, you will begin your journey along the famous 2,400mi Great Divide Mountainbike Route before heading to Polebridge to bike the closed Inner North Fork Road in Glacier National Park. Take a detour biking down the famous Going-to-the-Sun road before exiting the park at West Glacier. Camp along the beach of the North Fork River at Blankenship Bridge before finishing back up in Whitefish. If you are looking to experience everything described in this article, this is the itinerary for you.



Itinerary:

  • Park your car at a hotel in Whitefish, MT. We spoke with the kind people at the Hampton Inn who allowed us to keep our car parked there for free for 4 days.

  • Ride the GDMR over Red Meadow pass before turning your sights for Polebridge. More details available on Bikepacking.com’s write-up of the route above.

  • Follow Itinerary 2 until you reach Apgar Village. From here, you can follow Itinerary 1 for a detour through the park or continue riding to West Glacier.

  • Blankenship Bridge is a great place to camp and swim for your last night along the North Fork river. Don’t expect to have it to yourself, but there will always be room for a few bikes and tents at this dispersed (read: free) camping spot.

  • Finish in Whitefish and enjoy your well earned slice of Pizza at Jersey Boys.


Whichever itinerary choose, enjoying Glacier National Park on two wheels will get you away from the crowds and assure you leave this magnificent place with cherished memories.


Glacier National park Montana bikepacking going-to-the-sun road logan pass view gear itinerary, vagabond guru



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2 Comments


Water Shed
Water Shed
Sep 01, 2021

Thank you! Going to try going to the sun road on my trip to glacier next year!

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Going-to-the-Sun Road is amazing!!!

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