While the Going-to-the-Sun road is an iconic drive through Glacier National Park, there is still plenty to do when the road is closed.
When the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed guests can still navigate around Glacier National Park via Highway 2. This route takes 1-2 hours to get from one end of the park to the other. Guests can still hike, raft, bike, attend ranger programs, go on other scenic drives, and more! Because the Going-to-the-Sun Road has no set opening or closing dates and is closed due to hazardous winter conditions for all but a few months of the year, guests can’t count on the Going-to-the-Sun Road being open during their visit to Glacier.
I have lived and worked in Glacier every summer, I recreate constantly, and I rarely drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Keep reading to discover what adventures await you in Glacier National Park when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed!
Highway 2 is a scenic highway that can take you from one side of Glacier to the other when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. While it is not nearly as famous a route as the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Highway 2 is spectacularly beautiful and a worthwhile drive.
Where Does the Scenic Section of Highway 2 Begin and End?
The scenic section of Highway 2 begins in the town of West Glacier near Belton Chalet and continues for 56 miles over Marias Pass to the town of East Glacier. It is gorgeous the whole way!
How Long Does it Take to Drive Highway 2?
The speed limit on Highway 2 is anywhere between 45 and 70 mph. Depending on the speed at which you choose to drive and how many stops you make along the way, it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to drive from West Glacier to East Glacier on Highway 2.
What Will I See on the Drive?
Highway 2 follows the beautiful Flathead River, tracing the southern boundary of Glacier National Park on one side and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area on the other. The two-lane highway cuts through rocky canyons, dense forests, wildflower meadows, and stunning peaks as you drive through one of the most beautiful parts of Montana.
As you drive, watch for wildlife and waterfalls on the sides of the road. A good place to stop to stretch your legs is the Goat Lick Overlook. Located along U.S. Highway 2, approximately two miles southeast of the Walton Ranger Station, is an exposed riverbank and mineral lick where mountain goats are often seen licking the mineral-laden cliffs. Park in the parking area and take the short paved path to the observation area where you can view mountain goats along the waters of the Flathead River.
- Visiting Glacier and need a game plan? Check out our itinerary.
What to Do on the East Side of Glacier
1. Go to the St. Mary Visitor Center
The St. Mary Visitor Center is located only a few hundred yards down the Going-to-the-Sun Road and is accessible even when the road is closed. Inside you will find the following:
- Friendly park rangers who can help you decide on a fun plan for your time in the park and who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
- If you have kids (or if you are a kid at heart) make sure to grab Junior Ranger Activity Books so that you can work toward earning your badge!
- An informative and well-produced exhibit on diverse Native American perspectives and relationships to Glacier National Park.
- A 15-minute-long educational and beautiful film about Glacier National Park’s history, flora, and fauna.
- A bookshop operated by the Glacier National Park Conservancy where you can purchase souvenirs, clothing, and reading materials.
2. Visit Many Glacier
Many Glacier is arguably the most beautiful part of Glacier and you can get there without driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Many Glacier offers:
- Incredible hiking. Check out Iceberg Lake, Grinnell Lake, and Red Rock Falls.
- Spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities abound in Many Glacier. Look for bears as you drive the Many Glacier Road and visit Fishercap Lake to see moose!
- Informative programs about the park are offered by park rangers. Check the Ranger Led Activities Schedule on the park website for more information about what is available during your visit.
- Scenic boat tours and boat rentals offered by Glacier Park Boat Company are a great way to spend your time
3. Hike the Beaver Pond Loop in St. Mary
The Beaver Pond Loop in St. Mary is a 3.5-mile loop trail that traverses only 300 feet of elevation gain. As the name indicates, you will walk past ponds created by beavers. Beaver ponds provide incredible habitat for all sorts of other wildlife and plants, so keep your eyes peeled for critters and bring your camera to photograph wildflowers! I have seen moose, bears, frogs, owls, herons, osprey, and deer on the Beaver Pond loop.
- Don’t miss The Grinnell Glacier Hike and Many Glacier Boat Tour on the east side.
- Find out: Do I Need Bear Spray in Glacier National Park?
Discover How to Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier
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4. Drive Looking Glass Road
Looking Glass Road (also called Highway 49) is a scenic drive just outside the park boundary on the Blackfeet reservation. You can drive Looking Glass to get from St. Mary to the Two Medicine Valley (another beautiful spot you can access without the Going-to-the-Sun Road). You will see expansive vistas of mountains and plains, wildlife habitat, and unique geology. Personally, I often enjoy the Looking Glass Road even more than the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Something about driving where the mountains meet the rolling aspen parklands and wide-open prairie is really special.
What to Do on the West Side of Glacier
1. Go Whitewater Rafting
Just outside Glacier’s west entrance, you will find multiple raft companies offering both scenic and whitewater rafting trips:
- Montana Raft Company offers whitewater trips, some of which even include lunch or dinner! You can also reserve a private overnight rafting trip. This is the company I have rafted with, and I have always had a great time!
- Glacier Raft Company offers scenic floats, whitewater trips, and even longer 3-4 day trips on the North Fork of the Flathead River.
- Great Northern Raft Company offers whitewater floats with and without meal service. With so many trip options, you can’t go wrong!
- Wild River Adventures offers a variety of family-friendly whitewater and scenic float options. They also provide guided fly fishing trips for any avid anglers hoping to catch a Montana trout.
Whitewater rafting is a fun and exciting way to experience the environment around Glacier. When I went whitewater rafting with my family, we took a float with Montana Raft Company. The water was so clear and the scenery was beautiful. The raft guides are knowledgeable, fun, and experienced which means you’re sure to have a great time!
2. Hike to Apgar Lookout
Apgar Lookout is a strenuous but rewarding 7-mile round-trip hike to a fire lookout. You can reach the trailhead without entering the closure on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. To see the view you will be greeted with when you make it to the top, check out the park’s Apgar Mountain webcam. I enjoy this hike and think it is worth checking out even if you don’t make it all the way to the top! The views are great the whole way.
3. Take a Scenic Drive to Polebridge
Polebridge is a tiny town located near the far northwest corner of Glacier National Park. To get there, you can take an absolutely beautiful drive from Camas Road to North Fork Road.
If you enjoy delicious baked goods, spectacular mountain views, and friendly people, you should add Polebridge Mercantile to your Glacier itinerary. Polebridge Mercantile is located one mile outside of Glacier National Park and is renowned for its delicious pastries and quaint atmosphere.
4. Go Horseback Riding
In the early days of Glacier National Park, all park visitors utilized horse travel to experience the park. Luckily, the opportunity to experience Glacier the way early 20th century travelers did still exists! Swan Mountain Outfitters offers guided horseback rides in Apgar, which is located on the Going-to-the-Sun Road but not within the seasonal closure area. Check out the Swan Mountain Outfitters site for more information about reservations and ride options.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Yes! Planning a vacation shouldn’t be stressful. We created a step-by-step itinerary so you can visit the best places at the right times.
Not only that, but we’ll tell you about the park while you drive with our audio guide! Stop planning and start having the vacation of your dreams now!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO GLACIER
GLACIER TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about Glacier National Park, check out our Glacier Homepage
WHERE TO EAT: Don’t miss the best places to eat in Glacier National Park
WHERE TO STAY: Learn all about where to stay when visiting Glacier
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Find out which entrance is best for Glacier National Park as well as what to do when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed and if you need bear spray while visiting or if swimming is allowed
WATCH: Enjoy videos of gorgeous Glacier National Park while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Glacier YouTube Playlist