WEST GLACIER - Here comes the Sun Road.
All of it.
Glacier National Park officials announced Thursday that all 50 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road will open to the public Wednesday, July 13, marking the second-latest opening date in the scenic drive's 78-year history, and the latest it's ever opened due to weather.
The latest Logan Pass has ever opened to the public was its inaugural year in 1933, when Glacier National Park celebrated the Sun Road's completion on July 15. In 1943, the road opened July 10 because of war-time staff reductions.
Glacier Park spokesman Bill Hayden said the Sun Road may not offer visitor access to Logan Pass at first light next Wednesday, but it will be open by afternoon.
"We're comfortable saying it is going to open Wednesday, but what time Wednesday is still unknown," Hayden said. "Certainly the visitor center will be fully functional by that afternoon."
Opening the uppermost sections of the serpentine Sun Road is an annual challenge, park officials said, but the chore was compounded this year by a heavy winter snowpack that continues to blanket the Northern Rockies high country. Avalanches and unseasonably cool spring weather presented an added challenge.
Snow continued to fly at high elevations well into June, with snowpack more closely resembling April conditions than a typical summer.
When Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright visited Logan Pass this week, he stood atop the Big Drift, a colossal snow bank on the Continental Divide. Cartwright was perched roughly 30 feet above the asphalt, and said such abundant snow at this time of year is unprecedented.
"Plowing this road is a dangerous job and the safety of our staff is of paramount concern. We are very proud of the hard work the road crew performed this year," Cartwright stated in a news release announcing the road's opening.
Visitors who drive to the Sun Road's zenith at Logan Pass will discover a snow-covered landscape. Those who venture into the wilderness will find that trails in the area are still covered with many feet of snow.
Visitors should hike with caution on snow and be aware of unseen holes and snow bridges that can collapse. The popular and scenic Highline Trail remains closed with no current projection of an opening date.
Contractors will resume work on new restroom facilities at Logan Pass, and those construction areas will be closed to the public. Portable toilets will be available but there will be no potable drinking water at Logan Pass. Staff will be on duty to assist visitors and to direct people to areas open for recreation.
Road rehabilitation work on lower sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road will create some short traffic delays. From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., travelers should expect delays of up to 20 minutes at each construction site, with up to a 40-minute delay between Big Bend and Siyeh Bend.
On the west side of the park, a night closure will go into effect Monday evening through Friday morning between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. The closures will occur between The Loop and Logan Pass.
Hayden said there will be a 15-minute window for passage through the construction at 2 a.m., allowing travel to and from Logan Pass, but warned that nighttime visitors could become stranded. There are no night closures east of Logan Pass.
With the opening of the entire length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the park's free shuttle system will expand service to Logan Pass. The shuttle system stops in 16 different areas along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shuttle passengers should catch the bus at either the St. Mary Visitor Center or the Apgar Transit Center as parking is extremely limited at Logan Pass, Avalanche Creek and Sunrift Gorge.
For current information on park roads and weather conditions and visitor services throughout the park, visit the Glacier Park website at www.nps.gov/glac.
Otherwise, dial 5-1-1 anywhere in Montana and select option 5, or call park headquarters at (406) 888-7800.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at email@example.com.