If you’re driving this road, it’s probably because a) Going-To-The-Sun Road is closed, or b) you’re too afraid of heights to travel Going-To-The-Sun Road. It’s a shame that this highway will always exist in the shadow of the incredible engineering feat that cuts through Glacier National Park. US 2 is also quite beautiful — if you can take it for what it is, and not spend the whole trip wishing you were on the alternative.
Let’s start by stating something that is easily overlooked. US 2 is a beautiful road. You’re going to enjoy views of many mountain peaks throughout the journey, along with some nice river scenery and even a wildlife viewing opportunity.
But when I drove over US 2, in late June, 2014, I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate these things. I was frustrated that I wasn’t driving across Going-To-The-Sun Road, the nail-biting, cliff-clinging marvel of a road that crosses Logan Pass, right in the heart of Glacier National Park. A late-season snowstorm had caused road crews to lose ground, in the annual effort to clear the road of snow. It didn’t open that year until about a week after I returned home. And since I had reservations on the east side (and there are numerous areas accessible from the east), I had to take the less-wow-ing alternative, US 2.
I know, I have no right to say anything negative about this road. I mean, just look at it! Time after time, those glacier-carved mountain peaks show up in front of you, or behind you.
It’s a very nice road. And it would have been excellent, if only I could have kept myself from comparing it to GTTS.
The two photos above were taken on an especially scenic curve, about 15 miles southeast of West Glacier. After you pass the western entrance to the park, the road travels southeast for about 30 miles. You’ll pass the community of Essex, and not much else. All the way, you’re following the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
Around this area, the road ever-so-slightly crosses the park’s southern border, and you get to spend a few minutes traveling at the park’s slower speed limit. You can visit Goat Lick Overlook…
… where, on my 2006 visit to the area, I might have spotted an actual goat.
Then, the road turns east, then northeast, and you’ve got another 24 miles to go to get to East Glacier Park Village.
Around the spot where the road turns, it also splits away from the river. I stopped here for just a moment, to see why a lot of other cars had stopped here. Everyone else was getting ready for a rafting trip on the whitewater.
About halfway between Goat Lick Overlook and East Glacier, you’ll cross the Continental Divide at Marias Pass, elevation 5,220 feet (1,591 meters). The monument honors Teddy Roosevelt, for his commitment to forest preservation (here, you’re in the Flathead National Forest). Constructed in 1931, the monument originally stood in the middle of the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, a precursor to the numbered road system we have today. It was moved to the side of the road in 1989.
A statue of John F. Stevens also stands watch over Marias Pass. He is responsible for routing the Great Northern Railroad over the pass.
Across the street from the statue and the monument, you’ll get another great view of the mountains inside Glacier National Park. Mountains similar to these continue on to the turnoff for East Glacier Village.
See, I told you it was plenty scenic.
The Bottom Line
Of course, the drive across Going-To-The-Sun Road is preferable to US 2. But, if you need to get from one side of the park to the other in a hurry, or you’re scared of those steep dropoffs on GTTS Road, then US 2 is your best choice. And, if GTTS Road is closed due to snow, US 2 is your only choice. So, enjoy it!
US 2 traverses the southern border of Glacier National Park, between West Glacier and East Glacier Park Village, Montana. If you’re looking for the fastest way to travel between Columbia Falls and Browning, this is it. And, if Going-To-The-Sun Road (to the north, inside Glacier National Park) isn’t an option, US 2 is your only option across the Continental Divide for many, many miles in any direction.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive eastbound on US 2…
… and westbound: