Sure, it’s twisty, bumpy, steep, narrow, and generally difficult to drive, but Montana Route 49 along Glacier National Park’s east side is, one of the most scenic roads in America. Looking Glass Road skirts the edge of Glacier National Park, and samples some of the amazing beauty that you’ll find inside.
During my visit to Glacier National Park in late June, 2014, I got to know Route 49 intimately. I spent three nights in East Glacier Park Village, and access to all of the parts of the park on the east side were north of my cabin — meaning I needed to drive Route 49 to go anywhere. And so I did, several times.
Route 49 begins at East Glacier Park Village, and runs through the tiny community, before leaving all signs of civilization behind for the rest of its 12 miles. Immediately, just outside of town, the scenery begins. The scene you see above can be found on one of the only straight stretches of the road, just outside of East Glacier. From there, you begin to gain elevation…
… and about 4 miles from US 2, you pass the turn-off for the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. That’s Lower Two Medicine Lake in the valley below.
Keep climbing, and it’s one twist after another, until you clear the trees…
… and skirt around the edge of Looking Glass Hill. At this point, everything you see to the west is part of Glacier National Park, and it’s extraordinary.
I think the pavement speaks for itself here. This road is crazy dangerous, at least, if you plan on driving faster than the 25 mile per hour speed limit. Even slower speeds are often necessary. There’s very little room for error, and no guard rails to protect you in some of the most critical places.
Aside from the curves and the narrowness, the road itself is in terrible condition. It’s no wonder — just think what this pavement endures during the winter (during which, the road is closed). Expect potholes and suspension-straining dips, that will rattle you even if you’re going slower than 25.
The scenic rewards are endless. You will want to stop at every wide spot on the shoulder, over and over again. Of course, this is another reason why a 12 mile road can take you the better part of an hour to drive.
After you’ve rounded Looking Glass Hill, the road drops down — a little — and Montana’s stunning Big Sky opens up.
Here’s a tip: on Google Maps, it looks like there’s a dirt side-road that runs up to the top of Looking Glass Hill. I don’t know if it’s driveable in any kind of car, but if it is, it should take you to a viewpoint that’s even more spectacular than what you’ll see from the road. Try it if you dare. Good luck.
Once you get to the north end of Montana 49, turn onto US 89 and continue the spectacular drive north.
The Bottom Line
Plan an hour for your first drive up Montana 49, and at least a half-hour for each subsequent trip. Try to drive it several times, in different light, and different weather. It’s an incredible drive every time.
Montana Route 49, also known as Looking Glass Road or Looking Glass Hill Road, runs between East Glacier Park Village (US 2) and a middle-of nowhere junction with US 89. It provides access to the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park, on Glacier’s southeast side. It’s also a shortcut for northbound traffic to avoid the drive out to Browning, Montana, where US 2 and 89 meet. (Shortcut, though, may be generous, given the speed you’ll need to maintain to drive it safely.)
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive north and south on Montana 49:
I am planning to visit East Glacier and Two Medicine Lake on the third week of May. Do you have any idea if Hwy 49 is open then? I would really appreciate if you could respond. Thanks in advance
Hey, I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s unlikely. I know it can be July before GTTS is open. 49 will open sooner than GTTS but I don’t know the conditions out there this year. The good news is, it doesn’t take much longer to drive out to Browning and up. Of course, that’s not as scenic 🙂