It took longer than usual, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park has been opened from end-to-end.
As recently as June 23 bulldozers and snowplows were working in tandem to blast through the remaining drifts that prevented traffic from cruising the entire 50-mile-long route that courses west to east from West Glacier, Montana, to St. Mary, Montana. This morning, though, park officials were able to lift the gates to let visitors travel the "Sun Road" from end to end.
“Our road crews have been working extremely hard to open the Sun Road this spring. Plowing in avalanche terrain is no easy task," says Chas Cartwright, the park's new superintendent. "During the snow storm that occurred the second week of June, 25 avalanche paths slid. Twenty of those paths hit the cleared road and completely filled the corridor between Triple Arches and Logan Pass.
“Through the whole process, the safety of our crews and the general public is our number one concern. We have completed the work as quickly as we can in a safe manner and are pleased that we are able to open the entire Sun Road for the enjoyment of summer park visitors.”
While the road is now open for summer traffic, that doesn't mean there won't be slowdowns as construction work resumes on rehabilitating the Sun Road. From 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. visitors might encounter up to a 30-minute delay as they cross the highway. When contractors perform night work, overnight delays might be up to four hours to allow them to work more efficiently during times of reduced vehicular travel.
Beginning tomorrow, July 3, and continuing through Labor Day, Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle system will provide free transportation to locations along the Sun Road between Apgar and St. Mary.
“Last year was a huge success,” says Superintendent Cartwright. “In its first year, 133,000 visitors rode the free shuttles. We anticipate that 2008 will be another successful season.”
Hours of shuttle operation will be from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily. Buses will run every 15-30 minutes on each of the routes. The last buses will depart Logan Pass at 7:00 p.m. and travel down to both St. Mary Visitor Center and the Apgar Transit Center; visitors must plan their travels accordingly.
With the Sun Road open, so is the Logan Pass Visitor Center. As a result, rangers will resume interpretive talks six times a day at Logan Pass.
Trails in the Logan Pass area, however, are currently covered by several feet of snow. Visitors are urged to use caution and know their own personal limits when considering travel on snowy terrain. Snowpack in the Logan Pass area is double what is typical for this time of year. This includes the popular Highline Trail, which is under considerable snow. Crews are working to make the Highline and other trails passable to hikers in the coming weeks.
This is one of the latest openings of the entire Sun Road. The latest opening on record is July 10, 1943, when the snow was allowed to melt out. The earliest Logan Pass opening to motorized traffic occurred on May 16, 1987.
Elsewhere in Glacier, park roads are open for vehicle traffic. However, a portion of the unimproved Inside North Fork Road along the park’s northwest edge remains closed to vehicle use for 16 miles between Fish Creek and Logging Creek due to road damage.
For the latest information on park road and weather conditions and visitor services throughout Glacier National Park, visit the park's website, dial 511 anywhere in Montana (select option 5) or call park headquarters at 406-888-7800.