browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.
Our Great American Adventure Website Logo

Glacier National Park, Montana…

Posted by on September 17, 2014

SEPTEMBER 17, 2014.


The cars are called “Reds.” The drivers are called “Jammers” because they used to jam the gears of the stick shift vehicles while driving the road.

GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD.  One of the main attractions at Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which spans 53 miles across the width of the Park in Montana, going over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, elevation 6,650 feet. It passes through almost every type of terrain in the park, from large glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys to windswept alpine tundra atop the pass. The Road is a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Driving it is not an activity to be missed. It’s a famous drive and a famous area. Remember the movie “Forrest Gump?” As Forrest reminisces with Jenny he remembers running across the United States and remarks, “Like that mountain lake. It was so clear, Jenny. It looks like there were two skies, one on top of the other.” The shots in the background are Going-to-the-Sun Road and Saint Mary Lake. So, driving this road is an absolute “must-do activity” at this National Park.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM. There’s just one problem…a big one. The two lane road is very narrow and winding, with frequent sheer, steep drop-offs from the side of the road.  Furthermore, traveling West to East on the Road puts you in the lane away from the Mountain. If being in high places is not “your thing,” that’s not good. And that’s right, we’re on the West side of the Park. In other words, this is  not a road that was built for me. As you know, I’m more than a bit squeamish about heights.


No way was I gonna drive this road!


Mountain goat at the Continental Divide.

PROBLEM SOLVED. I’ve got an idea! Why not let someone else do the driving? Someone who has already driven the road hundreds of times. Enter Red Bus Tours.  Problem solved. The buses are called “Reds” and the bus drivers are called “Jammers” because of the sound the gears made when shifting on the steep roads of the park. The “jamming” sound came from the non-synchronised transmissions, where double-clutching was a must. The famous Red Buses serve as an ideal way to see and learn more about Glacier National Park. In fact, the vintage 1930’s buses are part of the human history and heritage of the park. As much of the park’s scenery is vertically oriented, the roll-back tops are perfect for providing full views of the stunning mountains, and the area’s signature Big Sky. The guides are seasoned park veterans, who are here because they love the park and enjoy sharing it with visitors. I hope our driver is good…it’s going to be a “white knuckle ride” for me!

HERE WE GO…Promptly at 9:00 am, we assembled with the other riders at the Visitor Center,  where we’d been told to meet our Jammer. Sure enough…there was the “Red” and there was our Jammier, Dick, a retired Library Director from Sacramento. He told me he’s been driving “the Road”  six days a week for the last eight summers. Not quite as much experience as I’d have liked, but he’ll have to do. It was cold as we pulled away from the Visitor Center…thank God the convertible top  was still on the bus. When I remarked about the cold weather, Dick chimed in with what the other locals have been saying for the last few days, “Winter is coming. It’ll blow in any day now and we’ll be covered in snow.”


Here we go…

A FRIGHTENING DRIVE. Our drive on Going-to-the-Sun Road would take us along the shores of Lake McDonald and then up the mountain about 35 miles to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. The lake is at elevation 3,000 feet and Logan Pass is about 7,000 feet…so we had quite a climb. To make matters worse (from the vantage point of a guy who fears heights), the road is winding and in places very narrow. It was built to accommodate little Model A Ford autos, which are what people drove way back when the road was constructed. So…we’d be climbing over 4,000 feet on a steep winding narrow road, with sheer drop off sections falling more than a mile to the valley floor! At this point I was glad as hell that Dick was driving but wondering why in the world I’d signed up for this torture!

FOUR HOURS LATER we’d completed the drive and returned safely to the Visitor Center. Yeah, Dick! We saw some breathtaking scenery…several glaciers, a snow-white bearded Mountain Goat, Logan Pass at the Continental Divide, Lake McDonald and its beautiful rustic lodge. We also learned a little geology about how the glaciers carved the area and formed the park billions of years ago. (Yes, billions.) I got some pretty good pictures, although there was lots of haze today so they aren’t quite as crisp and clear as I’d have liked. But…they’re good enough…I’m not taking that drive again. No matter what and no matter who’s driving! I’m a Flat-lander, for sure.




The Lodge at Lake McDonald would be a great place to stay. It must have been designed by the same architect as the Lodge at Mt. Rainer in Washington…the two appear almost identical.


See where the waterfall intersects the road? We drove right past there, and the drop from the side of the road to the valley below is more than a mile! Not a good place for me to be…I don’t even like to climb a step-ladder.



Approaching the Continental Divide at an elevation of about 7,000 feet. I like living at the beach, thank you!  That’s right…sea level.


Reflection on the water at Lake McDonald. The distant peak in the upper right corner is the Continental Divide. Our drive took us there. The views were breathtaking.

Comments are closed.