Author Topic: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions  (Read 4248 times)

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Offline oppeljs

Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« on: December 14, 2009, 03:34:50 pm »
Friends and I are planning a bike trip (self-supported, motel/inn) starting and ending in Whitefish - preliminary plan:
Whitefish to Eureka - 63 miles
Eureka to Fernie, BC - 55 or so
Fernie to Blairmore, Alberta - 45
Blairmore to Pincher Creek - 30
Pincher Creek to Waterton Village - 34
Layover day in Waterton - hiking, kayaking
Waterton to St Mary - 74 (with side trip on Many Glacier Rd)
St Mary to Apgar - Going to the Sun Rd - 50
Apgar to Whitefish - 30
We're all very experienced bike tourists, and like early starts and can comfortably bike 50 -70 miles a day.  The preliminary itinerary was set up to have enough time to do sightseeing/take pictures - maybe an hour or so per day added to actual biking time.  The objective is to see beautiful scenery, and to include the Going to the Sun Road as a must do.  Questions: could we combine Blairmore to Waterton Village and thus shorten the trip by a day without compromising too much time for looking at stuff along the way (a day less would make it easier for a couple of people to get time off for the trip)?  For those who know the area, is there anything about the route as laid out that looks questionable?  Are there alternative routes that would be better?
Thanks for any help, Joan


  • Guest
Re: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2009, 04:00:13 pm »
Did the same loop this summer but with camping.  Did Eureka-Sparwood-Pincher Creek-Waterton Village-St. Mary-Sprague Creek (west side of Glacier N.P.)-GTS up and back on the west side-Whitefish

One snag with combining is that Pincher Creek to Waterton Village can be a bear.  I will never say "It's only 35 miles.  How hard can it be?" again in my life.  We had horrible headwinds.  The last five miles into Waterton village they were gusting to 50 mph according to the data at the visitor center.

Also watch when you go.  We timed it so that GTS would likely be open (plan was to cross June 22), but a massive avalanche over the winter necessitated some extra road work.  We got advanced intel. that it would not likely be open when we got there.  As such, we skipped a planned rest day at Waterton Village, camped at St. Mary, then road all the way to Sprague Creek with Looking Glass Hill and U.S. 2 so we could at least ride the west side of GTS.


  • Guest
Re: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2009, 06:57:07 pm »
My initial response was rushed.  Here are some other thoughts:

1.  Between Blairmore and Waterton Village, the stretch between when leave P.R. 3 and Pincher Creek (IMO a sad little town) has numerous seriously steep but relatively short hills, and it there was also a lot of headwind.  Plan accordingly if you plan to make Waterton Village from Blairmore.

2. Waterton Village to St. Mary is deceivingly difficult.  One you reach U.S. 89, absent unique conditions, you will be fighting a headwind the entire way to St. Mary.  The wind just blows that way.  Plan your day accordingly.

3.  Bike are not allowed between Sprague Creek Campground (a mile west of Lake MacDonald Lodge) and Apgar between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.  The Lodge is a nice place to hang.  You can get drinks at the bar and take them lakeside.  And the sitting room with the trophy heads is a must see.

Feel free to send me a private message if you would like more detailed info.  And these are some of the things we saw:

Offline oppeljs

Re: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2009, 10:12:04 pm »
That's fantastic information, just what I was looking for.  And thanks for the link to your photos.  I knew I wanted to do this trip but now it's an imperative after seeing those.  I'll go over your information carefully and get back to you if I have more questions. 

Offline valygrl

Re: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2009, 01:10:01 am »
I did some of that in the other direction a couple of years ago.  We had massive tailwind going from St. Mary into Pincher Creek, and massive headwind from Pincher Creek to Blairmore (which is also a pathetic and nasty little town).

The stretch from Waterton to St. Mary is really hilly, especially on the Canada side.

Regarding the Going to the Sun road closure, my recollection is that the closure only applies to the eastbound (W. Glacier to St. Mary) direction, but please don't take my word for that.

Have fun, that is a beautiful area.

Offline JHamelman

Re: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2009, 08:10:08 am »
From the NPS website, Glacier Frequently Asked Questions:

Can I ride my bicycle on the Going-to-the Sun Road?
Yes, but there are some exceptions. From June 15 through Labor Day, the following sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are closed to bicycle use between 11a.m. and 4 p.m.:

    * From Apgar turnoff (at the south end of Lake McDonald) to Sprague Creek Campground
    * Eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass.

Due to ongoing road rehabilitation on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, portions of the roadbed may not be paved. Bicyclists should use caution riding on gravel portions of the road.

Also, be sure to check out the plans for road construction on Going-to-the-Sun. They may influence your itinerary.

Have a great trip!


Jennifer Hamelman

Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x205

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes


  • Guest
Re: Planning bike tour in Montana - route questions
« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2009, 11:32:03 am »
While it's all still relatively fresh in my mind:

Budget more than you might expect for Canada.  This summer the exchange rate was basically 1 to 1.  Food a drink were very expensive compared to Montana.  We saw a 12 pack of Molson going for $20 in Pincher Creek.  We ate dinner out in Sparwood and two salads, fish & chips and a double cheeseburger with fries set us back a little over $40.  On the subject of Sparwood, a stop at the truck is a must.  There is also a grocery store chain called Overweightea that has good things for lunch.  You will have to Google the name to learn its origin.  Note that our cards did not work in kiosk-type ATM's at two convenience stores in Fernie.  But they did work at ATMs at banks.

Stop at the cafe in Coleman for a cup of coffee or lunch.  It's a former church with an inviting decor.  You won't want to leave.

Eat a good breakfast in Waterton Village.  Not long after you leave the park entrance, where P.R. 5 and P.R. 6 split, you will come fact to face with a monster climb.  Not only is it physically challenging, it gets you psychologically because much of it is straight so you can see what's coming the entire time.

Definitely take the "side roads" used by the AC route between Whitefish and Eureka.  Not only do they get you off U.S. 93, the riding is serene.  Take the time to go the half mile off U.S. 93 into Olney.  Brigg's Merchantile (the only store between Whitefish and Fortine) is quite interesting.  Great collection of old pop bottles.

You will want wider tires for GTS.  You will also want them for Belton Stage/Blankenship Rd. between West Glacier and Whitefish. 
Finally, if you will be flying to Whitefish, consider UPS-ing you bikes to Glacier Cyclery.  Great group of people, and they will store your box for you.