Beartooth Scenic Highway
- DesignationAll-American Road (2000)
- Intrinsic QualitiesNatural, Scenic
- LocationMT, WY
- Length38 of 68 total miles
Welcome to the Beartooth Highway – a National Scenic Byways All-American Road. This 68 mile byway winds its way through southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming and leads into Yellowstone National Park at its Northeast Entrance. Since opening to automobile travel in 1937, the Beartooth Highway has welcomed visitors worldwide – introducing them to one of the most diverse ecosystems accessible by auto in the United States.
Story of the Byway
Heralded as one of the most scenic drives in the United States, the Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, and open high alpine plateaus dotted with countless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife.
The Beartooth All-American Road passes through what is known today as the Beartooth Corridor. Surrounded by the Custer, Gallatin, and Shoshone National Forests, traveling parallel to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and abutting Yellowstone National Park, the Highway sits in a million-plus acre wilderness. Visitors have the rare opportunity to experience and explore pristine, untouched alpine and montane landscapes, lush forests, and alpine tundra in the space of a few miles. It is one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. In the surrounding mountains, glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet high. The Road itself is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies.
Recreational opportunities abound in the Beartooth Corridor. Visitors can cross-country or downhill ski in June and July, hike across broad plateaus, and view and photograph wildlife including mountain goats, moose, elk, marmot, mule deer, black bear, grizzly bear, and wolf. Visitors also can take a guided horseback trip, fish for trout in the streams and lakes adjacent to the highway, and camp in the area’s 13 National Forest campgrounds. When the highway is formally closed to automobiles during the winter months, snowmobilers travel roughly the same route and enjoy a spectacular winter wonderland.
The Beartooth Highway provides easy access to Yellowstone National Park at its northeast entrance. Three gateway communities – Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana and Cody, Wyoming put you in the heart of today’s wild wild west. All three communities retain their western heritage then mix it with modern amenities to provide an unparalleled family western vacation.
Although the distance from Red Lodge, Montana to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National park is only 68 miles, highway switchbacks and other slow speed driving adds to drive time.
Points of Interest
Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area & Interpretive Trail
Elev 9190′. This wayside in Montana is twenty-one miles from Red Lodge. Vista Point provides breathtaking views of Rock Creek Canyon and Hell roaring Plateau. The short trail to the overlook is wheelchair accessible.
Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area
lev 10,737′. The ski area lies in Wyoming above the Twin Lakes Head wall with slopes of 15 to 50 degrees and is one of North America’s oldest ski training areas, operated by International Ski and Snowboard Camp. It is generally open for skiing by late April and runs into early July with access to 3,000 feet of terrain unless there is insufficient snow.
Gardner Lake Pullout and Trailhead
Elev 10,536′. This is the trailhead for the Beartooth Loop National Recreation Trail. It is also a great location for viewing the Bear’s Tooth, a pyramidal spire rock formation carved by glaciers and the namesake of the Beartooth All-American Road. Look for alpine flowers in mid-July.
West Summit, Beartooth Pass Overlook
Elev 10,947′. This is the highest point along the Highway with spectacular views in every direction. In late may and early June, this high elevation are can produce harsh weather conditions including blowing snow and fog, resulting in short term (less that 24 hours) highway closures.
Top of the World Store
Elev 9,400′. This stop offers food, fuel, gifts and lodging and is 38 miles from Red Lodge and 25 miles from Cooke City. The store was originally built on Beartooth Lake in 1934 then moved to its current location in the 1960’s It is operated under a special use permit from the Shoshone National Forest.
Beartooth Bridge, Falls and Ravine
Elev 8,900′. Beartooth Lake outlet flows under an historic bridge constructed in the 1930’s using unique construction techniques. The high mountain water rushes south through the ravine and then turns to present a magnificent waterfall to travelers along the highway. A quick side trip to the Beartooth Recreation Picnic Area takes you to Beartooth Lake, which is great for fishing and canoeing against the backdrop of Beartooth Butte.
Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower
Elev 9,811′. At one time this tower was used as a fire lookout. Now, it serves mainly as a visitor center. A well-signed pullout begins a three-mile drive up a gravel road to clay Butte Tower. Visitors are welcome to take in the panoramic views that include Montana’s highest point, Granite Peak and Beartooth Butte, and enjoy the interpretive displays of the 1988 wildfires that burned in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Pilot and Index Peak Overlook
Elev 8718′. These two peaks located many miles west of the pullout in Wyoming rank in the top ten of the most often photographed scenes along the Beartooth All-American Road. In addition o the Peaks, this location looks down on the beautiful Clark’s Fork River Valley, and the Wild and Scenic Clark’s Fork River that ultimately flows into the Yellowstone River.
Clark’s Fork Overlook
Elev 8,000′. This pullout offers closer views of the Clark’s Fork River Valley. In late summer, patches of brilliant yellow aspen trees contrast with the background of dark mountains in the distance.
Brook Lake Creek Falls
Elev 7329′. This rumbling falls plummets under the Beartooth All-American Road. A short hike takes you to a pedestrian bridge where you can get a closer look at the powerful waterfall.
Crazy Creek Cascade
Elev 7,329′. A short hike upstream presents a mass of water tumbling over rocks giving a cascade appearance rather that a falls. A generous parking area makes stopping at this site easy.
Clark’s Fork Trailhead and Picnic Area
Elev 7,900′. Just as the Beartooth All-American Road travels back into Montana there is a mile-long stretch of recreation facilities including hiking and horseback-riding trailheads, Chief Joseph Campground and a Nez Percé Interpretive Site. This stretch of the highway is a great place to stop for a picnic, a hike or a history lesson!
Beartooth Highway Orientation Site
Elev 7,500′. At the west end of the Beartooth All-American Road you will find a wealth of information about the Beartooth Mountains, early area mining history and the Cooke City / Silver Gate area.
A Scenic Summer Route
Starting in Roosevelt, enjoy breakfast in town before following the byway into the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Pull over in the famous Lamar Valley to witness the abundant wildlife in the area. Just north of the Lamar River, stop at Druid Peak and Soda Butte Creek. Continue for a few miles to reach Mount Norris, then onward a few more, where Barronnette Peak will be on one side of the route and Abiathar Peak on the other. Stop for lunch in Red Lodge, where you can check into the Pollard Hotel if you’re ready to rest. Visit the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary just outside of town before returning to Roosevelt.
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