Glacier NP’s East Side – St. Mary Lake, US 89 & Montana 49

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Once St. Mary Lake comes into view, you’ve almost done it–you’ve nearly conquered Going To The Sun road.

At the highest viewpoint, you’re high above St. Mary Lake.  This is the view back towards the Continental Divide…

…and the view east, as the mountains flatten out.  The road eventually drops down, closer to the lake.  Then, you drive for a few miles over what must be the most boring section of GTTS Road, until you reach the edge of the park, and the St. Mary Visitor Center.

There is nearly nothing at the intersection of GTTS Road and US 89. You’ll find a gas station and restaurant/souvenir shop, but that’s it.  Buy gas if you must (it will be expensive)–the next town is East Glacier, 33 miles to the south.

US Hwy. 89 & Mt. Rte. 49

While many visitors to Glacier National Park make it all the way to the eastern side, most of them apparently turn around and head back over GTTS Road to the civilization on the other side.  Since I had already backtracked once over Going to the Sun, I decided to take the long (but faster) way around the park, US 89 – MT 49 – US 2.

For 20 miles, US 89 skirts the outside edge of Glacier National Park.  It’s an interesting drive, although your neck will constantly be twisted to the right, as you view the park’s jagged peaks from afar.

Just a few miles south of St. Mary, you’ll cross the Hudson Bay Divide.  Water falling south of this line flows to the Gulf of Mexico, north of the line it flows to Hudson Bay in Canada.  The Hudson Bay Divide converges with the Continental Divide at Triple Divide Peak, inside the park.  As far as I can recall, there is no sign marking the Hudson Bay Divide on US 89.

The road remains curvy.  You’re still driving through rolling hills…

…but turn your head to the left, looking east, and you realize what the other 3/4 of Montana looks like.  This is the very edge of the Rocky Mountains.  East of here, it’s Big Sky country, entirely because there are no more hills to get in the sky’s way.  It looks lonely over there.  As I gazed eastward, I realized how thankful I was, that I was about to head back into the mountains.

Follow US 89 until you reach MT Rte. 49.  Although curvy, this road will take you directly south (while US 89 turns east, headed to Browning, MT) and will meet up with US Hwy. 2 for the trip around Glacier’s south side.

As you travel Rte. 49, watch out for cattle!  This is open range, and livestock can appear in the middle of the road at any time.  These creatures don’t quite understand the concept of “getting out of the way” either, so you’ll have to be patient.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.  Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.

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