Glacier National Park Motorcycle Trip
Going To The Sun Road
Crown of the Continent 12 day ride
I had never been to Glacier National Park. It’s one of those places you know about, you’ve heard about all of your life and you hope that one day you’ll get to see what everyone claims to be, “One of the most beautiful places.” Well, we went and it is exactly as you’ve heard….too beautiful for words and pictures will never do it justice.
If you also ride a motorcycle, you know the, “Going To The Sun Road” is one of the most sought after experiences in the U.S. Constructed over a span of 11 years beginning in 1921, it would be considered an engineering marvel even if built today. Open generally four months or less, it is covered in up to 80 feet of snow much of the year. We set out in early August 2016.
Oregon, Washington & Idaho
It would be about a 900 mile ride from home to the entrance of the park, so why not make the best of a couple of days getting there? We choose a familiar route through the middle of Oregon and spent our first night in Pendleton, home of the claimed, “World Famous” Pendleton Round Up, a week long drunken rodeo event.
Karla, “Gave me the boot” on the first night!
After spending a few hours riding in the Blue Mountains of NE Oregon along OR 3, you cross into Washington and the road becomes WA 129. In order to cross the Grande Ronde River, you happily drop into Rattlesnake Gulch. In otherwise, not so scenic southeastern Washington, the canyon is steep, deep and ruggedly beautiful in itself. The road is continuously twisty with a good number of hairpin turns on the way down….repeat on the other side. We choose our route, 1.) to ride this stretch and 2.) we wanted to ride U.S. Hwy 12 also known as Lolo Pass and “Northwest Passage Scenic Highway.” Going To The Sun Road was the goal, but reaching the goal took us on roads that would be worthy goals themselves.
Rivers, Rivers Everywhere
This was a trip of not only wonderful motorcycle roads, but roads that followed amazing rivers, with the bonus of breathtaking views. In Oregon and Washington we followed the Grande Ronde, crossed the Snake at Clarkston WA. / Lewiston ID. and rode alongside the Clearwater up Lolo Pass. Friends who had made this trip before told us, “You have to stay in Orofino, ID, at the Best Western.” Given the fact that towns, are somewhat few and far between, we made reservations. Now we will tell you, “You have to stay in Orofino.”
The patio at the, “Lodge at River’s Edge.”
River’s edge it is.
Breakfast to evening, you could sit there all day. Why did everyone eat inside?
The Clearwater River – U.S. Hwy 12 Idaho
Vegans in Montana……What were we thinking?
In Oregon, Washington or California you can be vegan and usually not even think that is reason for someone to shoot you! But, now at the top of Lolo Pass we’re entering Montana….Cattle ranching has been central to Montana’s culture and economy since the 1800’s and two scrawny vegans may be about as welcome as a pack of wolves in these parts. And that sign hanging off the back of our scooter might as well be a bulls-eye, or at least say, “kick me.” However, even though we got some snickers out of lanky cowboys with more chrome on their buckles than we had on the bike……
Montanans were friendly and as nice to us as anyone in Oregon…..and more so than most Californians on the 405 at rush-hour. We’d go back there any day.
And who thought this was a good idea???
The Good Food Store in Missoula MT. – College town….must be hippies.
Eating a Tofu bowl…..with chop sticks…..in Montana
Our plans are many times altered by advice received from friends; of course I usually don’t believe them, but I’m also usually wrong. Since I know I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am, we listen. While planning this Glacier National Park Motorcycle Trip, I thought Kalispell is the place to stay…..and friends said, “You’ll want to stay in Whitefish.” Reservations near one of America’s most popular National Parks need to be made far in advance and there really aren’t that many choices in small towns. Let’s say, “you win a few and you lose a few.” In a moment of cheap-skated brilliance about a year ago, I made reservations in Whitefish.
The Best Western looked pretty good on their website and I choose the less expensive room. Now it did say something about being in the annex and not the main hotel building. I thought, “whatever,” so it’s a separate building. All I can say is, “Don’t book the annex!” After one night, Karla was able to get us into the real hotel and it was fine. There’s a longer story, but I’ll spare you.
Whitefish MT. was a fun place to hangout
When in Whitefish you should visit the Bulldog Saloon.
Anyplace with a web address of www.fart-slobber.com/
Cloudy, rainy weather shrouds the mountains
Riding 900 miles in sunny, warm to hot weather sets your expectations for Glacier National Park really high. But this is the Rocky mountains and weather is not what is predicted, or what you want or expect……weather is what you get when you arise, open the curtains and look outside. We got crap. Heavy, low cloud cover and rain……there it is, what are you going to do?
Our reservations after 3 nights had us onto Great Falls MT to see the C.M. Russell Museum. We decided we would return next summer and try another Glacier National Park Motorcycle Trip, oh well, make the best of what you have. We made our first of three trips across Going to the Sun Road in pretty miserable weather. It was raining, cold and you couldn’t tell there were mountains. All the way over and back, all we could claim was that we had indeed rode GTTSR. We always carry rain gear so that wasn’t so bad, it was just disappointing. Smile, it could be worse.
We hung around Whitefish and still had a good time, eating at, “Wrap & Roll” and visiting shops. Karla was checking the schedule for the Russell Museum the day before we headed over and found Great Falls had some rain too. 3″ in a half-hour had been too much, the museum, “sprung a leak” and was now closed for repairs.
Without a motivation to stay with plans, and no room in our hotel, we scrambled to find a room. The weather was going to break and we had another shot at the park. Our membership with Holiday Inn Express, guarantees us a room…..and then there’s the fine print….meaning it generally doesn’t work. Somehow this time it worked in Kalispell and we rode 15 miles south to our new basecamp.
Stuck in your room because of rain? Karla watches Olympics….
I catch up on some needed ironing
On with the show!
There are two ways across the park, GTTSR and MT. Hwy 2 which is plowed and used more during the long winter closure of the, “Sun Road.” At the top is Logan Pass and the visitor center. Big Horn sheep and mountain goats are common in this area, sometimes in the parking lot. The parking lot is always full and blocked off by 8 AM, so if you want to stop, go early. Or ride a motorcycle. On our second ride across we hit Logan Pass about 8:30 and the ranger was not allowing anyone to enter…….but then he pointed at us and waived us in……weird I thought. The cars behind us were probably thinking other words……
Parking lot full? No problem…always room for bikes
Red Bus Tours…(Gear) “Jammer” John your guide on a historic ride
Continue to St. Mary’s and Many Glacier
The ride east from Logan Pass is tamer than the west side but none the less gorgeous. Jackson Glacier, St. Mary Lake & Visitor center awaits. Then exit the park, head north towards Canada and re-enter at the Many Glacier Area to find Swiftcurrent Lake and visitor center. We stopped at Sherburne Lake for photos before going to, “Nell’s” at Swiftcurrent for lunch. The road in is paved, but has some rough patches, OK some are so rough there is no pavement. It’s worth it, keep going!
Hiking with Grizzly Bears
This is bear country, both Black & Grizzly. If you’re going to come here, learn about safety around bears. I’m not giving advice, but I will tell you what we did; in preparation, and when we met Momma Grizzly and her two cubs. We hiked from Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge to Iceberg Lake (yes there are icebergs.) We rented bear spray (reserved online) from Glacier Outfitters in West Glacier. We didn’t wear the cute little bells on our shoes, I wanted to see bears……I’ve had numerous Black bear encounters in the Cascades and Sierras, but I had never seen a Grizzly…..until today.
We had a plan. Karla asked, “What do we do if we see Grizzly’s?” Simple I said, “I’ll spray and you keep the GoPro going.” Once again, Karla said I was insane…..I’m used to it. I knew my friends were going to want to see what happened…..in those last moments 🙂
Stunning views on the trail to Iceberg Lake
Up pops Mom and two cubs. They were uphill, this is the best photo we got. They ate, but not us!
We came, we saw and now we must go home 🙁
There were still roads we wanted to ride on the way home, but now we had to deal with forest fires. Forest fires are one of the unexpected but common obstacles you encounter with summer travel in the western United States. We use inciweb to keep up to the minute on fire activity and potential road closures. Lucky for us, the road from Salmon to Idaho City was reopened to traffic and we would be able to ride Lowman Pass. You see, Idaho only has 7 roads in the entire state and they are all great motorcycle routes. It’s impossible to tie them all together on a single trip, but you want to hit as many as possible. Lowman is one you’ll want to check off someday. It was smoky and we actually rode in areas with flames (small ones) on both sides of the road.
The bears didn’t eat us and the fire didn’t burn us…..what more could you ask on vacation?
A bit about my goofy writing style
Some people might notice in our blogs, we use the title throughout in the text. In this one, you see, “Glacier National Park Motorcycle Trip” and sometimes it seems out of place. It’s related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how Google will rank this blog when people search. We use others blogs about trips when we’re planning, and we hope others who follow will use ours. If a particular subject returns over a million google hits, we want to be as near the top as possible. Having the, “Keyword” which for us is usually the title, appear in the blog is a ranking factor. Useless information, I know, but since it reads weird I needed to explain. Now in a few weeks we will search and see if we rank in the top few pages of Google returns…….Geeky enough for you yet?
Random dog photo
Hey wait a minute……That’s a Hoary Marmot. He seemed to want a selfie.
Life is Short, Start Living Now!
Go Find Your Park
we have wonderful National Parks waiting for you.