If you’re considering a trip to Glacier National Park, I absolutely recommend you experience Going to the Sun road in both directions—there is a reason it’s one of the top things to do when you visit the park.
However, I also recommend you consider experiencing the park from a road less traveled—U.S. highway 2.
We spent the night in Whitefish and woke up early in the morning to make the drive around the southern side of the park along route 2 to St. Mary, which is the eastern entrance to the park via Going to the Sun road.
The sun was still rising as we set off, and one of our first destinations was Montana Coffee Traders in Columbia Falls.
I had heard about the company via a girl I follow on Instagram, and it was right along the road and convenient to pull in, park, grab some coffee, and continue on our way. There were quite a few people having their coffee inside, a lovely display case full of yummy looking pastries that I somehow managed to ignore, and a fun area full of tkotches that I had to look over while my latte was being prepared.
Cute place and a great espresso to go!
From Columbia Falls we veered south on U.S. highway 2, and I was surprised at how light the traffic became as we moved away from the larger towns near the park entrance. Our trip was at the perfect time of year and the road was surrounded by trees in their autumnal glory—especially reds and golds.
If there’s anything better than a warm latte, conversation with your husband, and a misty fall morning road trip through the woods and mountains, I’m not sure what it is!
There were a couple of roadside stops we made along the way, once to read a plaque about a Native American battle and once at an overlook that offered wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and train bridges. We also read some information plaques about the area’s indigenous animals and learned that mountain goats like to lick the rocks in the park because they have salt build up on them—who knew?
Near Essex we began looking for signs for the Izaak Walton Inn where we wanted to grab breakfast. Just off highway 2, the inn is a short drive down a small, winding road to a historic lodge and a variety of train engines, cars and cabooses you can rent like cabins and stay the night!
We had looked into staying there and when it became clear it wouldn’t work with our itinerary, we decided we would try to at least swing by for a meal.
Everyone seemed to be asleep when we arrived—we had no trouble parking, taking a few pictures outside in the early morning fog and then heading inside for breakfast.
The dining room was warm, wood paneled and complete with train lanterns and a model train that ran around the perimeter of the room on a high shelf. I ended up ordering the huckleberry bread pudding French toast (yes, you read that right—amazing!!) and we enjoyed a fairly quiet breakfast looking out the window at the actual trains passing by. Our only complaint was our breakfast service wasn’t great—the ladies helping us seemed to be in between shifts, and the one brought Brian coffee and charged him for it, even though he doesn’t drink coffee and certainly didn’t ask for it.
I failed to take many interior pictures but the main entry and living area had a wonderful stone fireplace and the downstairs area was a den with air hockey, an old piano, and lots of old posters, ads and pictures on the walls almost like a museum. We headed out after we were finished eating, but it would have been easy to spend more time exploring the lodge as well as the grounds. I’d love to stay in one of the train cars next time we visit!
Fat and happy, we continued along U.S. highway 2 to the southeastern side of the park and East Glacier Park Village where we planned to catch route 49 to Two Medicine for a morning hike.
As luck would have it, storm clouds rolled in and the rain began to pour down in buckets just as we were pulling into the park! We showed our pass and drove slowly by the trailhead for our hike, but we simply couldn’t bring ourselves to start the hike in the downpour. It’s one thing to get caught mid-hike and make the best of it, but it’s another to leave the dry warmth of the car and set out in the cold and rain!
We parked for a few minutes and tried to pull up the radar but our cell service was limited and it didn’t look like it was about to let up any time soon. Rather than spending our morning in the rental car trying to outlast the storm, we decided to pass on Two Medicine and drive north toward St. Mary.
Although technically no longer U.S. highway 2, I HIGHLY recommend you consider making the short trek from East Glacier to St. Mary via route 49, which closes during the winter. As we wound our way north, the weather cleared, the light snowfall along the road glistened, and by the time we arrived at Looking Glass Hill we had absolutely stunning views of the park.
There is some construction underway and the road is narrow and winding so it takes a little longer to travel, but the views along the way are well worth the added time and effort.
There is so much to see and do in Glacier National Park, but where you have the opportunity to go off the beaten trail (or road!), I suggest you consider it.
You never know what you’ll discover along the way!