Going-to-the-Sun Road

National Historic Landmark

In the 1920s and 1930s, private automobiles replaced railroads as Americans’ primary means of long-distance travel. This meant that, among many other things, Glacier National Park was transformed from a private playground for the relative few who could afford train fare into a true “public pleasure ground.” Thousands of miles of highways had to be built to bring tourists to Montana, but the most spectacular feat of roadbuilding was the construction of Going-to-the-Sun Road, dedicated in 1933. The road crosses the “backbone of the world,” as the region’s original inhabitants, the Blackfeet, called the Continental Divide. The 52-mile-long road—48.7 miles of which have been recognized as a National Historic Landmark road— offers tourists some of the most stunning vistas found anywhere. Designed by highway engineer Frank Kittredge, the route includes a grand loop carved directly into a cliff known as the Garden Wall. It took eight years and $2.5 million to achieve this engineering marvel. Three men died during construction and many more resigned in the face of difficult and vertigo-inducing work. Hauling in supplies and equipment provided its own logistical challenge, often requiring the construction of new trails. Laborers moved mind-boggling quantities of trees, stumps, and rocks while skilled masons used native stone to build bridges, retaining walls, and guardrails that blended into the surrounding environment. The road they built—and that we still enjoy—truly fulfils its purpose: “making available to people the most and best of Nature's creation.”

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Glacier National Park, Montana