Going to the Sun Road has to be the most beautiful bike ride I have ever experienced. Emmy road her electric bike with me, mercifully never gliding effortlessly past me (in turbo mode). We arrived at the perfect time: the road hadn’t been fully cleared yet. Cars were stopped just 5 miles past our stay at Lake McDonald Lodge. We went another 11 miles up with just bikes and hikers.
On the west side, you ride in the valley along the beautiful McDonald River. We’ve ridden along lots of beautiful rivers this trip including the Skykomish, Wenatchee, Okanogan, Columbia, and Kootenai. But, most of the time we had traffic on one side and a precipice on the other–not ideal for scenery gazing. This time, we could gaze and take it all in.
Then, we got to the twisty, turns part of the road where one side is an overhanging cliff of the living rock and the other side is a precipice. No way you could ride that with cars, pickups, and (small) campers. We didn’t have to. Instead we had views of the craggy peaks and a few views to the sadly fast-shrinking glaciers.
On the east side, you are on the dry side. Though technically still below the tree line, the look is more alpine because there are far fewer trees. You ride about two thirds of the way around Lake St. Mary and then start climbing towards Logan Pass on less steep grades than the west side. The east side has less drama but the highlight was delicate mountain wildflowers in bloom among the rocks.
(A note on riding distance…
Some might consider this cheating but I think we made the best of our opportunity. Since we couldn’t ride the entire Going to the Sun Road for 39 miles (starting at the lodge) with 11 miles of climbing, we rode 1 mile past The Loop for 16 miles including 6 miles of climbing and turned around and rode back.
The next day we drove to St. Mary Campground the long way via US 2 and MT 89 (this broken pavement road has no shoulders--in fact, the main road is broken down--we saw some sad person riding it--really bad). Then we rode up the east side of the Going to the Sun road up to Siyeh Point for 15 miles including 5 miles of climbing and then back down.
So, we rode 62 miles including 11 miles of climbing instead of 39. But, to be completely honest, we missed about 3 miles of the steepest climbing and we didn’t do all the climbing in one go.
...That’s the truth, but I think we had a great experience.)