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Beartooth Highway, Montana
Fast Facts
Pack & Saddle
X-Country Skiing
Points of Interest Nearby
Family Travel Tips

Child at Vista Point Overlook, Beartooth Highway


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

The Beartooth Highway, a 68-mile stretch of US Highway 212 in Montana and Wyoming, is a gateway to outdoor activities and one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Not only does this All-American Road feature breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, it passes through portions of three national forests - Custer, Shoshone and Gallatin - and sits on a million-plus acres of wilderness.

See forested valleys, glacial lakes, snow-capped peaks, fields of flowers, and waterfalls. Locate the rocky spires known as Pilot Peak and Index Peak as well as the pinnacle of sculptured granite aptly named Granite Peak. Traverse four distinct life zones - montane forest, montane meadow, subalpine forest and alpine meadow. Spot animals large - elk, mule deer and mountain goat - and small - pika, porcupine, pocket gopher, and yellow-bellied marmot. Search for signs of gray wolves, black bears and grizzlies. Spy on feathered friends, one hundred fifteen species of birds have been recorded in the Beartooth Corridor. Trace the route taken by General Sheridan in 1882. Enjoy the jaw-dropping panorama from the comfort of your car. Take to the trails in one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states. Hike for half an hour. Go on a multi-day trek. Fish for Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Pitch a tent at one of thirteen national forest campgrounds. Explore the backcountry on a horse pack trip. Snowmobile on miles of groomed trails. Snowshoe and ski from the door of many Cooke City accommodations.
Getting There
The Beartooth Highway stretches 68 miles from Red Lodge, Montana to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. While it begins and ends in Montana, a large section of the scenic byway lies within Wyoming. The byway is easily reached from Billings, Montana and is accessible from Cody, Wyoming via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.
Getting Around
It takes 2-3 hours to drive the byway’s 68 miles. Hundreds of miles of designated trails are easily reached from this All-American Road. The moderate 4.8-mile Bannock Trail is one such example. Many area dude and guest ranches offer horseback riding and overnight pack trips in the surrounding wilderness. Much of the road maybe closed to cars in winter but it is open to snowmobiles and cross-country skiers. The Wyoming / Montana trail system, offering 120 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, is one of the best in the Rockies. Several Cooke City accommodations are ski from the door. While the Beartooth Highway can be cycled from end to end, stretches of the route require careful and cautious travel. Check out the national forest websites for a complete list of trails.
When to Travel
The Beartooth Highway is open from May to mid-October. (The segment between WY 296 and Yellowstone opens in early May whereas the section between Red Lodge to WY 296 opens Memorial Day weekend. Both segments remain open into October as snow conditions allow.) July and August are the best months to drive the byway and explore the surrounding wilderness. Morning is the best time of day for east to west travel; afternoon is the best time to drive from west to east. Of note, the byway can be closed at anytime due to storm conditions. Contact the local ranger station or Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce before traveling the Beartooth Highway. Plan to dress in layers and pack appropriate clothing including jackets, hats and additional footwear as summertime temperatures range from 70°F (21°C) to below freezing.
Things to Keep in Mind
There are 13 National Forest campgrounds along the byway offering 226 campsites. A general store, selling food, drinks and gasoline, is located near Island Lake Campground. There are no other services between Silver Gate and Red Lodge excepting rest areas and interpretive sites. Straying far from the road? Bring insect repellent. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Store food in bear proof containers.
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