The Ten Best Paved Motorcycle Roads in America
Part Four of an Eleven Part Series
By Mark ‘Buck’ King
Over the last fifteen years I have had the privilege and blessing to have ridden almost all of the top motorcycle roads in the country. Practically every bike magazine and web site has at one time or another published their own list of the top roads. All the lists are a little different. Some list many of the same roads, but in a different order. Some add a different road and leave another out. I really don’t think anyone can rank these roads for anyone but themselves. Your opinion might be quite different from mine, but you won’t know that until you ride these roads for yourself. So I encourage you to quit reading articles like this and get out there and ride them for yourself!
So why eleven parts to the series on the top ten roads? That’s because there are many GREAT roads that didn’t make my top ten that just might be on YOUR top ten lists. #1 is the best road in my opinion so this is my list to this point:
#1 Beartooth Highway and the Chief Joseph Highway
#2 San Juan Skyway
#3 Pacific Coast Highway
Part Four – The Going to the Sun Road #4
The Going to the Sun Road traverses Glacier National Park in Montana. The 52 mile road bisects the park east and west. The Going to the Sun Road is aptly named for the steep inclines of the road that eventually lead across 6,646 foot Logan Pass and afford breathtaking views of Mount Siyeh (10,014 feet), Cataract Peak (8,180 feet), the Piegan Mountains (9,220 feet), and the road’s namesake, Going to the Sun Mountain (9,642 feet). The scenery is simply spectacular.
I recommend spending the night in Columbia Falls, MT when you visit Glacier. It is a nice town with several motels and restaurants. The Glacier Inn is a nice small motel that I have stayed at before. The best restaurant in town is probably the Back Room. Go early to the Back Room to avoid a long wait and be sure and try the fry bread. Fry bread is a cross between a donut and a sopapilla. You eat it with butter and honey. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water. On the front side of the building that houses the Back Room is a smaller café called the Night Owl that serves a great breakfast.
Take a whole day to ride the Going to the Sun Road and return to Columbia Falls. After entering the park through the west entrance, start with a stop at the Apgar Visitor Center. Be sure and take a good look at the 3D map of the road there. And, of course, don’t forget the obligatory picture shot at the park sign. The 52 miles of the road could be covered in a couple of hours if you were the only one on it. You won’t be. You will be trailing cars, buses and campers. And you must make some stops to take pictures yourself. So allow 3 hours to get to Saint Mary and then another 3 hours to get back to Columbia Falls.
The first few miles of the road run beside Lake McDonald. This is the largest of Glacier's lakes at an elevation of 3,153 feet in the western part of the park. It was gouged by a glacier which was 2,000 feet high; the lake itself is 10 miles long and 427 feet deep at its deepest point. It was called "Sacred Dancing Lake" by the Kootenai tribe. We shot this marvelous picture before moving on.
Don’t forget to watch for wildlife on the road. I think that includes rubber-necking four wheelers, too! The critters that wander on to the road cause quite a commotion. Just another reason it takes several hours to ride this 52 miles.
Be sure and stop at Logan Pass for the visitor’s center there. This stop affords a spectacular view of the jagged 9,125 foot summit of Mount Reynolds shown in the picture above. Reynolds is a true glacial horn formed as several glaciers erode a mountain top from several different sides.
Continuing along the Going to the Sun Road the next stop is St. Mary Lake which affords a spectacular view. St. Mary Lake is the second largest lake in the park. It was created by a widening of the St. Mary River. At an altitude of 4,484 feet St. Mary Lake's waters are colder and lie almost 1,500 feet higher in altitude than Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park. Little Chief Mountain poses a formidable southern flank above the west end of the lake. The waters of the lake rarely rise above 50 °F and are home to various species of trout. During the winter, the lake often is frozen completely over with ice up to four feet thick.
Stop at the Saint Mary Visitor’s Center for some lunch. It’s pretty big and has gas, food and souvenirs as well as the center itself. There is a strong temptation here to continue from Saint Mary on into Canada. Waterton Lakes Park is the Canadian side of Glacier and is certainly worth a stop if you have decided not to return to Columbia Falls and go on to Banff or Lake Louise. This is a tough call, but you have to decide how much time you have. We have done it both ways and there is no wrong answer.
Assuming that you will head back to Columbia Falls you can experience the whole road from the west bound perspective. It is surprising how you see so many things that you missed when heading east.
There is no better place to eat than the Back Room so head back there for another dinner. Have a great meal, go back to your motel, sit outside in front of your room, light up a good cigar and say, “Ole Buck was right about this one, too!”
The next article in the series is coming soon to the BMWMCON web site.
Click this link to the GPX file: #4 Going to the Sun Road
My Favorite picture of my old R1150RT with Mt. Reynolds in the background