Instead of taking US 2 from northern Idaho into Montana, why not select this scenic route instead? Combining Montana Route 200 and 56 will provide you with a nice drive along the Cabinet Gorge Reservoir, and give you access to Bull Lake. It’s only slightly longer than staying on Highway 2.
I covered the Idaho portion of this drive on another page, so let’s start at the state line, as Idaho 200 turns into Montana 200.
Just before you reach the state line, there’s a turn-off that provides access to a viewpoint, directly below the Cabinet Gorge Dam. The Cabinet Gorge Reservoir is behind the dam, and for the next few miles, that’s the body of water that runs alongside Route 200. You’ll get an appreciation for this stretch of the road by watching the Drivelapse video, posted down the page.
Just before you get to the tiny community of Noxon, Montana, you’ll arrive at Route 56, Bull River Road, which turns to the north. Take this road, and you’re headed back to US 2.
It was getting dark as I drove up Montana 56, but it was still obvious that this route is rich in scenery. For a few miles, the road runs alongside Bull River, providing wetlands with reflective pools of water, perfect for photography.
Early evening is also a good time to spot some wildlife bounding through the meadows.
It would be very easy to drive by one of the most scenic spots on the entire road. As you head north, keep an eye out for this pond on the right side of the road, just south of Forest Route 410. There’s no place to park here, but you can leave your car at the intersection, then carefully walk down the road to the clearing in the trees. It will only take you a couple of minutes, and the resulting photo will be worth the effort.
I was especially satisfied with myself, when I arrived at my motel in Libby for the night. A picture, taken at this same spot by a local photographer, hung on the wall in the lobby.
Slightly further up the road, you reach Bull Lake. There are some private residences here, and access is restricted in those areas. But…
… I found a nice place to view the lake at a boat ramp near the north end of the lake.
I was just a little too late to see the best of the sunset over the lake itself, but it was still a nice, tranquil moment.
Back on the road, I was finishing the drive up to US 2 when the colors in the post-sunset sky turned brilliant. I found a place to pull off the road near Twin Creek, which gave me a clear view of the sky, and captured this picture.
After that, the light faded, and I headed on into Libby for the night.
The Bottom Line
Since I didn’t take the up-and-over route to Libby on US 2, I can’t say that the MT-200, MT-56 route is more or less scenic, but I can promise you that it’s an enjoyable ride through the mountains of western Montana. You’ll come across several great spots for nature-watching and photography. And since the drive is just a few miles more than the US 2 route, it’s a reasonable option to consider.
While US 2 goes up and over into Montana, this alternate route goes over, then up, to rejoin US 2 near Libby.
Starting in Sandpoint, turn off US 2 onto Idaho 200. At the state line, it turns into Montana 200. About 10 miles east of the state line, watch for Montana 56, which will take you north to US 2.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Sandpoint, Idaho to the Montana/Idaho state line, and on to Route 56…
… and on up 56 to US 2 and Libby: