Author Topic: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT  (Read 557 times)

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Offline circlespinner

NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« on: October 16, 2021, 06:45:39 pm »
I am planning to ride from Minneapolis to Seattle this coming Spring,  using mostly the NT route.  I wanted to avoid traveling into Canada on the way to Glacier National Park and the Going-to-the-Sun Rd.   To do this I'm I looking to take Marias Alternative from Cut Bank to Browning,  and then veer N on Duck Lake Rd (RT 464) for 33 miles, where it rejoins the NT main route on RT 89 south of Babb as it heads into  St Mary.  Duck Lake Rd looks fine on Google's Street View images and is a much shorter approach,  which has me wondering why the NT main route bothers with the longer foray into Canada to get to Going-to-the-Sun Rd

Anyone know of something special on that route into Canada that wouldn't be made up for by the Going-to-the-Sun Rd?

Offline jwrushman

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2021, 09:48:54 pm »
Two years ago, I took Rte 2 from Cut Bank to Browning and East Glacier.  From there, I took Rte 49 to Kiowa and Rte 89 to St. Mary.

From Browning toward East Glacier the traffic volume was a little higher, but there was a good shoulder and a passing lane for the long uphills.

Route 49 was narrow,  hilly, and winding with no shoulder, but the scenery was lovely. If I recall correctly, the road was closed to large vehicles, and I suspect the locals took another route.

Offline jamawani

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2021, 10:49:57 pm »
CS -

I have toured Glacier more than a dozen times - bad habit.
And I have ridden Duck Lake Rd (IR 464) a few times as well as the Canada option.
I think the route into Canada is primarily to visit Waterton Lakes N.P.
Waterton is nice - different - Canadian parks often have a village with development in parks.
But Many Glacier is so much better - and right there where IR 464 comes out at Babb.

Duck Lake Road is way better then US 89 to St Mary.
Although US 89 is being rebuilt there are still narrow sections with heavy RV traffic.
Plus there will still be major construction going on next summer.
If you must use US 89, I would take Starr School Rd. just north of Browning.

Duck Lake Road has light to moderate traffic, fairly high speeds, and limited shoudlers.
The terrain is rolling, so you have a moderate amount of up & down.
Visibility is generally good - no trees - except just after you top a hill.
The winds can be tough - no trees - so plan to ride this stretch early in the day.

I would strongly suggest staying at east 2 nights at Many Glacier -
So that you have a day to hike into the backcountry.
You will not regret it.

<<< BUT >>>

From Great Falls I would very, very strongly suggest US 89 via Choteau.
It's shorter and far more scenic - fabulous views of the Front Range north of Fairfield.
Choteau has great camping in the town park. Or motels if you prefer.
Limited services in Fairfield and Dupuyer. I've stayed in Dupuyer a few times.
There used to be two general stores and a couple of bar/cafes.
There still is a store - occasionally open and a cafe.

The ACA route has you on service roads chock-a-block next to I-15.
The Canadian loop I can understand somewhat - the I-15 service road I cannot.

Plus, US 2 westbound from Cut Bank to Browning - if you choose to skip Canada -
Can put you straight into a brutal headwind - 5 mph in granny gear pedaling as hard as you can.
Eastbound - you can put your feet on the handlebars and sail without pedaling. (Well, not quite)

Pic - Lake Josephine at Many Glacier



Offline circlespinner

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2021, 11:41:46 pm »
@jamawani,

Thank you for the details.  I was completely unaware of Many Glacier.

If using your US 89 suggestion out of Great Falls,  do you suggest staying on US 89 into Browning, then making use of Duck Lake Rd?   Does that section of US 89 come with the same warnings about construction, narrowness, and RV traffic,  or does that just apply to the Browning to St Mary section?

Offline jamawani

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2021, 01:01:51 am »
Yes, turn onto IR 464 in Browning and continue north to Many Glacier.
IR 464 turns off US 89 in Browning just after  US 89 turns west.

US 89 has been improved little by little over the past 20 years.
Traffic between Fairfield and Dupuyer is light to moderate.
Traffic on the Rez south of Browning picks up a little but there are shoulders.
North of Browning, summer traffic can be heavy,
plus the road is narrow, curvy, with lots of steep sections.

There is a massive project going on just south of St. Mary.
Because of the traffic volume and terrain it is a mess.
Flagger trucks should shuttle you - but no guarantees.
Some companies won't because of insurance issues.

I am not aware of any ongoing construction south of Dupuyer.
When there has been construction, it has been more manageable.
Newer sections of US 89 south of Dupuyer have shoulders.
Older sections do not. But traffic is not that bad.

I don't know why auto traffic continues to be relative light.
I suspect cars stay on I-15 and cut over on US 2 - like the NT route.
I've ridden it many times without any problems.
Sometimes there can be a headwind - more often a sidewind.
(You are likely to have wind across ND & MT - ride early.)

<<<>>>

Also, west of the Missouri River towns are few and far between. And small.
Even before the pandemic, stores were disappearing from remote towns.
Check carefully - it's likely that some may never reopen.
If a tiny town's bar/cafe/store is gone, don't hesitate to ask someone for water.
Quite often, you'll end up with cookies and an apple, too.

Pic - Empty highway in eastern Montana

Offline circlespinner

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2021, 09:30:20 am »
@jamawani,

Thanks again for the detailed intel.  I've incorporated your suggestions into my route plan.

-Bob

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2021, 01:53:46 pm »

Anyone know of something special on that route into Canada that wouldn't be made up for by the Going-to-the-Sun Rd?

I have stayed in Waterton Village twice during tours. Nice place for a day off, though due to issues I never got to take a day off there. The town campsite is in a dramatic setting along the lake. And you have lots of services because, as mentioned, its a town.  There may still be the opportunity to take a combination boat ride/hike if you were to take a day off there.

The ride back to the U.S. via Chief Mountain to U.S. 89 is also quite nice, though not easy.  Knowing what I know now, if I were doing what you plan to and had the time (and assuming crossing the borders is possible), I would do the Canada option from Cut Bank, spend a couple of nights at Waterton Village, then hit up  Manny Glacier and/or St. Mary.

If that's not for you, what Jama said is good advice. I rode between St. Mary and E. Glacier via U.S. 89 and MT 49.  (Beautiful views from MT 49.) Logan Pass was not fully open yet, so traffic was lighter than normal on the U.S. 89 portion south of St. Mary, and even then it was quite "noticeable."  Seemed liked it would have been worse during high season.

Offline circlespinner

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2021, 03:24:16 pm »
@BikeliciousBabe,

Thanks for the sharing you experiences on this route. Good to know there's something worthwhile with the trip into Canada.


-Bob

Offline circlespinner

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2021, 03:28:46 pm »
@jwrushman,

Thanks for the feedback.

Do you have any recollections of the traffic on Rte 89 N into St Mary?  What time of year did you make your trip through there.

-Bob

Offline jwrushman

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2021, 03:50:32 pm »
"...But Many Glacier is so much better - and right there where IR 464 comes out at Babb..."

Major bummer!   If I had realized how close I was to Many Glaciers, I would Definitely have made the ride up there!  I was there probably 30 years ago.  It was spectacular!  And I'm sure it still is!

CircleSpinner, if you can arrange your ride to manage a stop in Many Glaciers, go for it!

I rode to St. Mary and on to Rising Sun on July 2.  The traffic was moderately heavy outside to St Mary and inside of the park and heavier inside - it was what I expected for July 4th holiday week.  But I lucked out and was able to get a cabin (due to a last-minute cancellation).

Offline jamawani

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2021, 05:21:37 pm »
CS -

You said you were planning a spring trip.
You do realize than in Glacier NP -
May is winter, June is spring (maybe), and summer hits sometime in July.
Going to the Sun Road doesn't usually open until late June or early July.

https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/news/upload/Logan-Pass-Open-Close-Dates_Press-Kit_10-21-20-2.pdf

Offline circlespinner

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2021, 08:50:00 am »
@jamawani,

Yes thank you.  I plan to arrive at GNP near the end of June, understanding that on occasion the road hasn't fully opened until July..

Offline eorogers

Re: NT Alternative between Cut Bank and St Mary in MT
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2021, 11:54:36 am »
Just a heads up - Many Glacier Campground is reservations only - even the hiker / biker site.  (At least that was this summer.  A quick check of the Glacier NP website says no hiker / biker site at Many Glacier for 2021.)
« Last Edit: October 19, 2021, 11:58:25 am by eorogers »