Biking in Glacier: road or mountain?

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 30-May 6, 1998
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Biking in Glacier: road or mountain?
Question: I’ll be cycling in Glacier this September, and am wondering if I should bring my road or mountain bike? Any tips on rideable routes as well? Thanks for the advice.

C. Most
Wheaton, Illinois

Adventure Adviser: An interesting question. On the one hand, I wouldn’t want to miss out on riding Glacier’s famed Going-to-the-Sun Road, for which (you guessed it) a road bike is obviously preferred. And none of Glacier’s hiking trails are open to mountain bikes. But wait, there’s more. There are in fact numerous off-road options in nearby Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier’s Canadian extension, as well as on the outskirts of funky Whitefish. Bottom line is either bike would serve you well, it just depends where you want to go.

If sticking within Glacier’s boundaries is your plan, then bring your road bike. Although you may grow weary of being relegated to the park’s main — and often busy — thoroughfares, come September traffic should be bearable. Each morning, avid cyclists rise with the sun to face the epic Going-to-the-Sun challenge, an arduous and incredibly scenic 51-mile ride from West Glacier to Upper St. Mary Lake, via Logan Pass. So popular is this ride that from June 15 through Labor Day, the road is closed to cyclists from 11 to 4pm, to ensure a more enjoyable, and less trafficy, ride. For details on this ride and others within the park, call the Glacier rangers at 406-888-7800.

As for mountain biking options, Glacier and nearby Whitefish are surrounded by national forests and some very fine off-roading. Up at Tally Lake, for instance, there are at least ten loop rides to choose from, like the lupine trail and Johnson look-out. And even Big Mountain, the local ski hill, has been converted to a network of off-road trails — one of the mountain’s chairlifts is even equipped with a nifty device to transport your bike, should you prefer to fine-tune your downhill technique. For maps and information on local mountain bike routes, check in with the friendly folks at Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish (406-862-6446).

Off-roaders are also well-received in Waterton Lakes National Park, where until recently they were permitted on all of the park’s trails. Mountain bikers now have their choice of four different rides, ranging in length from 1.3 to 21 km, all dirt trails maintained by the park. These include the 20.6km Crandell Loop, and the short 1.3km Akamina trail, which leads you from Alberta into British Columbia and accesses a vast recreation area brimming with rideable trails. For more information, call Waterton at 403-859-2224. Back to your dilemma. My advice? Unless you’re only visiting Glacier, bring your mountain bike. And, to make it more versatile, invest in a pair of smooth slicks so you can better enjoy the park’s scenic road rides as well the area’s fine single-track trails.

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