Our Everyday Adventures

We are not adventurers by choice but by fate – Van Gogh

Glacier National Park — Mountain Biking Beyond the Barriers

Post by:  Jake
7/7/11

Over the 4th of July holiday weekend Veronica and I joined a couple other family members on our annual trip to Glacier National Park.  My family has had a cabin near Glacier for over twenty years and I’ve spent countless summers up there exploring as much of the park as possible. Despite my best efforts there is still so much in the park I have yet to see or experience.  This recent trip was a great example of that.  The famous Going-To-The-Sun-Road is still closed to vehicle traffic and likely will be for the next several weeks as an unbelievable amount of snow is still blanketing the park.  In some areas they’ve seen as much as 300-400% of the average snowpack, and it simply isn’t melting as fast as it would during a “normal” year.

Knowing the road would likely still be closed to vehicle traffic, we thought we’d try something new this year and bring our mountain bikes to bike the section of Logan Pass (Going-To-The-Sun-Road) open to hikers and bikers. Upon arrival, the ranger at the entrance stated there were no restrictions to bike/hiker traffic that morning since the plows were not running.  She stated we could go all the way up to “the big drift” if we wanted, but we’d probably want to turn around there.  I could hardly believe what I was hearing and thought to myself how incredible it will be to bike one of the most beautiful roads in the nation, with zero traffic!

Although the grade is between 6-7%, we never tired out as we could hardly bike 500 feet before stopping for more pictures.  Familiar sites took on a completely new look as we slowly pedaled by, examining the landscape in detail instead of through the windshield or sunroof of a fast moving car. Countless times we stopped right in the middle of the road and set down our bikes wherever we pleased so we could walk a few feet and touch the snow, peer over a cliff, or feel the cascading water dripping down over rocky faces.

Once at “The Big Drift” we locked up our bikes and continued on foot through the last 1/2-mile to the visitors center on top of Logan Pass.  As we walked around the deserted visitor center and empty parking lot, we had an eerie feeling as if we were being filmed in one of those “end of the world” type movies.  I was half expecting a heard of zombies to start chasing us off the mountain.  Instead, we were greeted by unusually shy ground squirrels that hadn’t seen humans in nearly 10 months.

Back on our bikes we started to descend the twisted path.  Speeding around one of the first corners we slammed on our brakes, nearly running head on into a couple very large big horn sheep that were walking up the vacant road.  Not really knowing what to do, our party stared at the sheep while they stared back in similar apprehension.  We scooted over as much as we could on the two-lane road while they simply walked passed in the other lane.  It was truly an up-close once-in-a-lifetime encounter we won’t soon forget.

The next day we biked the west side of Logan Pass, however this time hikers/bikers were restricted to the first 11 miles past the vehicle closure, a few miles shy of the roads summit.  A different landscape, and another unique experience, the west side of Logan Pass proved to be just as incredible as the east side.  While the east side of the park felt relatively deserted, the west side was packed with hikers and bikers traveling up and down the road.  Even with crowds of people we were still able to enjoy the park in a slower, up close and personal fashion, and we enjoyed every second of it!

Even though we’ve visited the park countless times, each trip brings exciting new adventures and experiences.  Biking Going-to-the-Sun-Road without vehicle traffic is truly an incredible experience.  If you ever get the opportunity to do it, jump at the chance.  Unless we can get the parks department to close the road to private vehicle traffic (they can keep running the buss shuttles) one day a week, you’ll have to hit it just before they are done plowing, but before serious road construction starts.  There’s a window of about 2 weeks each year while they are finishing up plowing operations.  Keep an eye on the parks updates to the plowing status and try and plan a trip for a weekend date that falls near the end of the plowing season.  It’s incredibly challenging to plan since the snowpack is different every year, but on normal years the months of May and June are typically the plowing season.  The earliest I’ve ever seen the road open to vehicle traffic is on Memorial Day weekend.  And the latest… well, check back in a few weeks as this year has shattered all previous records. 

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Posted in Adventure Sports and Life and Travel.

4 comments

4 Replies

  1. Angus Jul 8th 2011

    It’s amazing how close you got to those Sheep. We can only be so lucky here in CA. Great report!

  2. This looked so awesome we drove up and met Jake to relive this experience. It was more spectacular then described. Jake and Veronica know what they are talking about.

  3. Thanks for coming up Pete and Fam. We had a blast and loved hosting you guys! We’ll hike with Ella any time! she’s such a little trooper.


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