Glaciers surround Mount Oberlin near the Visitor Center at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Ride Canada Part 3 – Waterton to Lake McDonald via Glacier National Park

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If you are following the Ride Canada tour, then by now you are familiar with the inspiring natural beauty found in the National Parks and wilderness areas of Western Canada.  This third and final leg of the tour returns to the US, traveling through Glacier National Park on the historic Going to the Sun Road.  Following an afternoon and evening at Lake McDonald lodge, it’s kicks up for a backcountry ride through Montana to Spokane before returning to Seattle where the tour started seven days earlier.

Get set to cross the Continental Divide one more time on mountain roads, riding through national forests and across open prairies.  Part 3 entails a bit more Canada and a heaping helping of exciting roads through three states in the northwest most corner of the country.

If you haven’t read “Ride Canada Part 1 – Seattle to Jasper”, you might want to start there.  Part 1 sets the stage for the entire tour and includes information about what to expect, tips for riding in Canada, and other highlights.

Ride Canada Part 3 Highlights

Ride Canada Part 3 covers a few roads in Canada, but mostly winds through Montana, Idaho and Washington where the tour comes to an end right where it started – in Seattle.  Along the way, views of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta offer one last reminder of the stunning landscapes found in Canada’s western provinces.  Once back in the US, it’s all about Glacier National Park whose granite faced mountains protect glaciers in their shadows.  Then on to Spokane through national forests with opportunities for stops on Lake Pend Oreille and the picturesque town of Coeur d’Alene.  From Spokane, riders can choose one of three paths to Seattle, each with unique scenery.

Waterton Lakes National Park
Wildlife sightings are common in Waterton National Park Alberta. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Part 3 highlights include…

  • Glacier views from Jackson Glacier Overlook are just one of the many scenic overlooks along Going to the Sun Road through the heart of Glacier National Park.
  • Logan Pass, the northern-most road in the United States that crosses the Continental Divide offers views of Grinnel Glacier, a visitor center to learn about the area, and short hikes to explore.
  • Lake McDonald Lodge, a historic Swiss chalet styled lodge on the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.
  • Depending on the chosen path to Seattle, take in miles of unspoiled forests on the North Cascades Highway through North Cascades National Park, or Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, or the Columbia River Gorge.

Ride Canada Part 3 – Waterton to Seattle via Glacier National Park

Ride to Lake McDonald – Day 1

This first day of Ride Canada Part 3 is light on miles but rich with unforgettable landscapes.  The day comes to an end at Lake McDonald, but early enough for more those so inclined to do more riding in Glacier National Park.  For example, take US-2 from West Glacier to East Glacier Village (and back) for an extra 132 miles round trip.  Any decision to ride more can wait until the afternoon.  In the meantime, there’s a lot to see between Waterton and Lake McDonald.  And after five riding days, a relaxing afternoon on the lake might be a welcome choice.

Lake McDonald Lodge
Enjoy hikes and boat cruises at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge on the shores of Lake McDonald. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Leave Waterton on AB-5 eastward, then follow AB-6 to the Chief Mountain US border crossing in Montana.  These last miles in Canada pass through the eastern edge of the Rockies with several noteworthy overlooks along the way.  Less forests, more grass land, backed by stoney mountains on the horizon.  The Waterton National Park viewpoint shortly before the US Port of Entry is a popular stop.

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Route from Waterton to Babb MT.
Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Continue from Babb MT to Saint Mary MT.

Once across the border and back in the USA, follow MT-17 to the junction with US-89 and then ride south through Babb MT and onto Saint Mary Village.  Saint Mary sits at the eastern end of the Going to the Sun Road.  This small village can get crowded with tourists during the summer months but makes a good stop for coffee and fuel before entering the park.

The highlight of the day is riding the famous Going to the Sun Road across Glacier National Park.   Going to the Sun Road was designated as both a National Historic Landmark and Historic Place for reasons that will become exceedingly apparent as one traverses it’s 50 miles of narrow and twisting roadway carved into steep rock walls perched high above picturesque valleys.  Ride slow enough to take in jaw-dropping views beyond the low stone retaining wall, a hallmark on National Park roads that motorists naively find reassuring.  Pullouts are well placed along the way for safe picture taking.  Notable stops include Jackson Glacier Overlook, which offers the best opportunity to see a glacier without a hike. Logan Pass, at an elevation of 6,646 feet on the Continental Divide, is the highest point on Going to the Sun Road.  A small visitor center offers information about the surrounding area as well as restrooms.  And don’t miss a picture or two at “The Loop”, a unique overlook situated in the eye of a hairpin turn.

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Ride from Saint Mary MT to Lake McDonald Lodge via Going to the Sun Road.

Watch for signs to Lake McDonald Lodge.  Day 1 ends here.  Be sure to make reservations well in advance as this historic lodge fills-up during the summer months. 

This is the point where one might decide to take a break from riding early in the day and instead enjoy recreational amenities at Lake McDonald Lodge.  Examples include a boat cruise on Lake McDonald, hikes in the surrounding forest, or a Red Bus Tour where guides share details about the park. 

If more riding beats those options, then keep stay on the bike and continue down Going to the Sun Road to West Glacier.  With more lodging and restaurant options, West Glacier makes a good fallback, particularly if rooms at Lake McDonald Lodge are not available.  The best afternoon riding option is along US-2 on the south edge of the park to East Glacier Village.  The roads are not as twisty as Going to the Sun Road, nor as dramatic, but still scenic enough for an enjoyable extended afternoon ride. 


Lake McDonald to Spokane – Day 2

Ok, let’s wrap this ride up!  Day 2 of Ride Canada Part 3 begins a two day journey back to Seattle with an overnight stop in Spokane.  Begin the day on roads cutting though the Kootenai and Kaniksu National Forests in northwest Montana.  Then hit the Idaho Panhandle before arriving in Spokane.  Day 2 is a long day, almost 7 riding hours without stops, but with great roads and so many rivers and lakes to enjoy along the way the miles will pass quickly.

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Ride Canada Part 3 Day 2 makes the journey from Lake McDonald Lodge to Spokane WA.

Leave Lake McDonald Lodge heading south on Going to the Sun Road toward West Glacier.  This last stretch through the National Park includes some great views of Lake McDonald.  Make stops at the Glacier National Park visitor center in Apgar or stop for a morning coffee in West Glacier. 

Then pick-up US-2 westbound out of West Glacier.  US-2 takes the ride home to Spokane.  Don’t be alarmed by the four lanes in and around West Glacier.  Soon the highway narrows to a two-laner surrounded by forest when it’s not running alongside the Flathead River or Kootenay River.  Other parts of the highway are surrounded by vast ranchlands that characterize what many imagine Montana to be.   

Spokane WA
The Spokane River meanders through its namesake town in eastern Washington. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Among the many vista points along the way, the one at Kootenai Falls offers more than a view of the falls.  A swaying suspension bridge lets visitors walk over the river for a thrilling and completely different perspective.

Cross from Montana to Idaho at the Stateline Rest Area, and then to Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint Idaho which is on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille.  From there follow the Pend Oreille River to the Washington state line.  Spokane is another 50 miles away.

Spokane is a good size city on the east side of Washington State.  The Spokane River runs through the center of town where Riverfront Park once was at the center of the 1974 World’s Fair.  Hotels near the park are convenient for evening walks and exploring the nearby downtown area.

Three Ways to Seattle From Spokane– Day 3

This is it – the last day of the Ride Canada tour.  Looking back, the tour touched major sights in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, massive glaciers, Canadian and US National Parks, not to mention an abundance of cascading rivers, turquoise lakes, and snow covered mountain peaks.  So, at this point, we offer three paths back to Seattle, each a unique experience albeit a little shorter than the one before.

Option 1: North Cascades National Park

The North Cascades National Park, one of the least visited US National Parks, lies less than 100 miles north of Seattle in the Cascade Mountains.  A single road, State Route 20 also known as the North Cascade Highway, cross the park offering riders miles of twisty mountain roads through pristine forest.

North Cascades Highway
The North Cascade Highway winds through valleys and over mountains in North Cascades National Park. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Leave Spokane on US-2 west toward Wilbur.  From there follow WA-174 to Grand Coulee Dam.  Stop at the Visitor Center to learn more about this dam on the mighty Columbia River, the very river that Woody Guthrie sang about in the 1940’s.

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Ride from Spokane to Rockport on the North Cascades Highway through North Cascades National Park.

Continue westward on WA-174 toward Twisp where the ride picks up The North Cascade Highway.  Keep in mind the highway remains closed until late spring most years, depending on the snowpack.  Gas-up and get a bite in the western-themed town of Winthrop before heading into North Cascades National Park.

At Rockport on the west side of the park, turn south on WA-530 to Smokey Point and then take Interstate-5 to Seattle (any backroad option this close to Seattle will be crowded).

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Wrap-up the North Cascades route with a short ride from Rockport to Seattle.

This route is the longest of the three options.  Total ride time is estimated at 7 hours and cover 374 miles.


Option 2: Central Washington over Blewett Pass

This option crosses two Cascade Mountain passes.  The first, Blewett Pass from Cashmere Washington to Cle Elem on a twisty two-lane road is the most striking.  The second, Snoqualmie Pass, with wide sweeping turns between Easton and North Bend is scenic but freeway riding the entire way. 

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. Explore more of Eastern Washington on US 2 over Blewett Pass to Seattle.

Leave Spokane westbound on US-2, same as Option 1, except stay on US-2 past Wilbur all the way to Cashmere Washington.  The route passes through eastern Washington vineyards and orchards along the Columbia River.  US-2 breaks to the West at Wenatchee leaving the Columbia River behind to begin following the Wenatchee River west to Cashmere.  Less than 7 miles past Cashmere look for the junction with US-97 to cross Blewett Pass. 

US-97 over Blewett is the best motorcycle road on this route.  It is an exciting two-lane mountain road with an enticing mix of wide sweepers and tight twisties. 

Blewett Pass
Blewett Pass is a favorite among Washington motorcycle riders of all kinds. Photo © American Sport Touring.

Once over Blewett, ride through Cle Elem and take Interstate 90 to Seattle.  Interstate 90 is a pretty busy freeway, but nevertheless with surprisingly good scenery.  Steep peaks jut out above forest covered mountains while the road takes riders through sweeping turns along Keechelus Lake and past the ski resorts at the highest point on Snoqualmie Pass.

Option 2 has an estimated ride time of a little over 5 hours, covering 300 miles.  This is the second longest of the three options.  

Option 3: The Express Route

Ok, this option is for anyone who ran out of time or enthusiasm and just wants to get back.  The route could not be easier – leave Spokane westbound on Interstate 90 and arrive in Seattle.   

Route Map
Map data ©2024 Google. The fastest path from Spokane to Seattle is a near-straight line on Interstate 90.

For all the stories about how unpleasant interstate riding can be, I-90 in fact has redeeming qualities.  The 35 mile section between George (yes a city named George in Washington state) and a point roughly 20 miles west of Vantage has a stunning and unique landscape.  Don’t miss the Scenic Overlook a few miles before Vantage where the highway crosses the Columbia.  The overlook, perched on a rocky cliff high above the river offers unobstructed views highlighting the magnitude of both gorge and river.   On the other side of  the highway, high on the hill stands Wild Horse Monument a tribute to when wild horses roamed this part of the country. 

Wild Horse Monument
Wild Horse Monument, a herd of 15 abstract sculptures, perpetually gallops above the Columbia River. Photo © American Sport Touring.

This third and final option is the shortest with an estimated ride time of 4 hours covering a quick 279 miles.

Only a Taste Of Canada

The Ride Canada Tour was designed to showcase some of the best riding in Canada with a bit of Montana and Washington thrown in for flavor.  One could spend a summer riding motorcycle roads in western Canada and still not hit them all.  This tour is only a start.      

Ride Canada Tour in Three Parts

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Resources – Ride Canada Tour Part 3

Tour Summary

Tour SegmentStart AtRide MilesRide TimeEnd At
Day 1 – Waterton to Lake McDonald via Going to the Sun RoadWaterton AB872h 49mLake McDonald MT
Day 2 – Lake McDonald to SpokaneLake McDonald2875h 23mSpokane WA
Day 3 –Option 1 – Spokane to Seattle via North Cascades National ParkSpokane WA3747h 50mSeattle WA
Day 3 –Option 2 – Spokane to Seattle via Blewett PassSpokane WA3035h 19mSeattle WA
Day 3 –Option 3 – Spokane to Seattle via Interstate 90Spokane WA2793h 50mSeattle WA

Useful Links*

Glacier National Park Visitor Information
Lake McDonald Lodge Visitor Information
Spokane Visitors Guide
North Cascades National Park Visitor Information
Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Information
Montana Department of Transportation Road Condition Information
Washington State Department of Transportation Road Condition Information

* Find more Useful Links in Ride Canada Part 1