4 Trips, 4 Weeks, 4 Lenses: Going-to-the-Sun Road

How to capture the beauty of traveling through Glacier National Park



Tim Rains

Trip #1: GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD
Lens #1: WIDE-ANGLE LENS

Strap on your wide-angle lens, slide on your driving gloves, and get ready to travel one of the most scenic drives in all of America: The Historic Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Completed in 1933, the road traverses the dramatic glacially sculpted interior of Glacier National Park. To capture the big-sky views along the road, you’ll need your wide-angle lens. For my Nikon D800E Full Frame camera, I use the AF-S 16–35mm Nikkor wide-angle lens. We’ll start at the west end, my home base, and finish on the east end, but you can start in either direction. The round-trip will take all day, so plan accordingly. 


Lake McDonald

APGAR VILLAGE PUBLIC BOAT DOCK

Every time I drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, I always stop in Apgar Village for a view of the garden wall from the public boat dock. Sunrises and sunsets can be dynamite, but the real show here is the millions-of-years-old, multi-colored rock on the shoreline that complements the vast blue lake in front of you. Get low or lay down on the shoreline and use the rock to frame the edges of your picture. To learn more about where the rock came from and what kind of rock it is, stop in the Apgar Nature Center.  For other great viewpoints of the lake and the surrounding ranges, stop along the pullouts on your way up to Logan Pass.


The loop

THE LOOP

The next great spot at which to stretch and rest is The Loop. Parking is limited, but in the early morning or late afternoon you can usually find a spot. During the Pleistocene Epoch (roughly 1.8 million years ago until about 11,700 years), glaciers covered most of the peaks in front of you. The shimmering-snow-covered mountain is Heaven’s Peak at 8,986 feet. I find that the curve in the road is the best spot to capture the grand sweep of the glaciered valleys. Watch your highlights and don’t blow out Heaven’s peak.


Logan Pass

TRIP BONUS

Continuing up the road to Logan Pass you will be greeted by mountain goats, cascading waterfalls, fields of wildflowers, and jaw-dropping, steering-wheel-clenching views. Find a pull-out near the the top and spend a few minutes watching  the storm clouds race up and over Mt. Oberlin. The intense shadow-play also makes for a great time-lapse.


Glacier lilies at Logan Pass

LOGAN PASS

Once you reach Logan Pass, finding parking in the parking lot is half the adventure. Be patient and wait your turn. At the top of the Continental Divide (6,646 ft) you are surrounded by a multitude of mountainous views: Reynolds Mountain, Mt. Clements, and Mt. Oberlin are only a few. Within a few steps are several easy day hikes. A short loop around the visitor center reveals fields of yellow glacier lilies in late June/early July, and pink and red alpine paintbrush later on in the summer. My favorite time of the day here is late evening, when the vast alpine space is emptied of its crowds and filled instead with the darkening sky above.


Reynold's Creek Fire

REYNOLD'S CREEK FIRE

As you head down from the pass to St. Mary Lake, you’ll drive into a recent burn area from the Reynolds Creek Fire in 2015. Access to hiking trails in the area is limited; however, one of the advantages to the fire was that it opened new, expansive views of the mountain range. Late evenings can make for a spooky and surreal scene, capturing the blackened snags of the forest against the ember reds and pale lavenders of the evening sky. This summer the area could potentially see an explosion of wildflowers.

BEAVER POND LOOP TRAIL

Wrap up your road trip near the St. Mary Visitor Center at the Red Eagle Trailhead. One of the hidden gems of the Going-to-the-Sun Road is down the end of the Beaver Pond Loop Trail where you can stand on the shore of St. Mary Lake and take in one last view of the sculpted interior of Glacier National Park.

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About This Blog

An explorer, wanderer, photographer-artist, Tim Rains is a national park ranger seeking out connection and community to Montana’s wild places.  Come, explore with him as he discovers why Montana's glacier country is considered "the last best place." Follow Tim on Instagram @rangerrains or view more of his work at timrains.com

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