The Great Northern Route

Avoiding the most extreme alpine scenery and the heavy winter snows, US-2 winds around the southern edge of Glacier National Park, climbing over the Continental Divide at 5,216-foot Marias Pass, the lowest of the Rocky Mountain passes. Though the road and the railroad are kept open year-round, there’s little visible development, and numerous trailheads access the southern reaches of the Glacier National Park backcountry.

One place that’s well worth a stop, or better yet an extended stay, is the Izaak Walton Inn (406/888-5700, $109 and up), midway between East and West Glacier, a half mile south of US-2 in the railroad village of Essex. Especially in winter, when the inn overlooks miles of cross-country ski trails, this is one of the best stops in the state. A humbler version of the grand Glacier Park lodges, the inn was built to house railroad workers (which it still does) and is now a popular year-round alternative to the often overbooked accommodations within the park. The inn also serves good food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (try the huckleberry desserts).

Another place worth a stop in early summer is the so-called Goat Lick on US-2, near milepost 182 about five miles east of the Essex turnoff, where, in April and May especially, dozens of shaggy white mountain goats congregate around a mineral-rich spring.