Glacier’s East Side: US 89

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If this road isn’t on your list of all-time best scenic highways, it should be. The mountains along the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park provide incredible scenery on US 89, from its junction with Montana 49 all the way to the Canadian border.

My Visit

If you’re planning on spending a few days on the east side of Glacier National Park, visiting areas that include Two Medicine and Many Glacier, you’re going to become very familiar with US 89.  This beautiful road will be just as big a highlight of your trip, as the park itself.

Since I was staying in East Glacier Park Village (a reasonably good jumping-off point for everything on the east side), I spent a couple of days driving up Montana 49, and then US 89.  I got to see the road in the daylight and at sunset, during clear weather and clouds.  Unless your visit is swamped with fog, it’s going to be great, no matter what the weather.

Here’s a typical scene along US 89.  I took this picture just a few miles north of the Montana 49 junction.  Everything to the west of the highway lies within Glacier National Park.  Those mountains may include Divide Mountain and White Calf Mountain.

At the bottom of that hill, you’ll find one of the few turnoffs from US 89 — Starr School Road is off to the right.  It leads to Browning, Montana.

Watch for horses alongside the road!

At the Starr School Road junction, you can also turn west, away from Browning and towards the mountains.  This less-traveled road leads into the Cut Bank area of Glacier, which is less developed and has fewer attractions (trails, etc) than areas like Two Medicine to the south, and Many Glacier to the north.

It sure does look interesting, though, doesn’t it?

US 89 gives you three lanes in a few key areas, to help alleviate the traffic — although traffic was no problem on this day, when I stood in the middle of the road with little risk.  This picture is looking south, and I believe that’s Divide Mountain you see.  This is such a dramatic place for a photo, I ended up here again, later in the day.

The road drops down to meet the eastern end of Going-To-The-Sun Road at the town of St. Mary.  Just before you get there, you’ll have a nice view looking west.  GTTS Road runs alongside St. Mary Lake for a few miles, before venturing up into the mountains on a wild ride to Logan Pass.

Since GTTS Road was still closed due to snow (in very late June, 2014), I kept going…

… to the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park, located on a side-road west of Babb, Montana.  I’ll tell you more about Many Glacier on a separate page.

Near the end of the day, I drove south on US 89, back to my cabin in East Glacier.  It was almost sunset, and it was raining off-and-on…

… which was the perfect recipe for a rainbow.  I never could get this rainbow in exactly the right place, to photograph it with the road or the mountains — but it was with me for many miles.

Just before sunset, and after the rain, Divide Mountain looked much different.

Turning around and looking the other way, I could see St. Mary Lake in the distance.

I kept driving until I found a good spot to watch the sun set, about halfway between St. Mary and Montana 49.  Fortunately, this far north, the sun sets late in early summer, and the sky stays bright for a while longer.

 

The Bottom Line

If Going-To-The-Sun Road is open, it will be the highlight of your Glacier National Park visit.  But, don’t overlook the beauty of US 89.  It’s very worthwhile to plan on spending a day or two (or more) on the east side of the park — and if you do, you’ll get to drive US 89 several times.

Location

US 89 enters Montana at Yosemite National Park, and exits it into Canada alongside Glacier National Park. It’s an extraordinary drive from one end to the other. On this page, however, we’ll only be looking at US 89 on the east side of Glacier National Park.

Your trip on this portion of US 89 will likely include, and certainly should include, some time on Montana 49, which provides access to the Two Medicine area of Glacier, and the village of East Glacier. Montana 49 is covered on a separate page.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive north to Many Glacier…

… and the drive southbound on US 89, from Many Glacier to Montana 49:

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