Beartooth Highway

One of the most scenic drives in the United States lies just outside the Northeast gate of Yellowstone.   The Beartooth HighwayW is open just a few weeks each year, typically from late May (around Memorial Day) to some point after Labor Day.  The specific closing date is dependent upon snowfall, which at Beartooth Pass is measured in yards per year.

Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947 foot high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 feet to 8,000 feet in 12 miles in the most daring landscapes.

Beartooth Highway

When driving from the east to the west, the highest parts of the Beartooth Highway level off into a wide plateau near the top of the pass, and then descend to where the Beartooth Highway connects to the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway near Cooke City, which forms the northeast gateway to Yellowstone National Park. En route, one passes numerous lakes typical of the Absaroka-Beartooth WildernessW Area which borders the highway along much of its route.

There are limited services available along the road, but the Top of the World Resort, with a store, fuel, restrooms, camping, and snowmobile/ATV rentals, can be found near the summit.  The road itself is entirely within the Shoshone and Custer National Forests, and the U. S. Forest Service provides a number of campgrounds and other basic services along the highway.

Yellowstone National Park road crews are responsible for clearing the pass each spring, and the park maintains a road camp where they keep snow clearing machinery.  Clearing operations begin in early April and are usually completed by Memorial Day.  The Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) clears the roadway from the other end at Red Lodge (coming into Wyoming several miles to do so, since WDOT has no access to the road on that side).

The drive to the Pass takes approximately two to three hours, depending on how many stops you make.  The road is very lightly traveled, so you don’t really have to worry so much about traffic impeding your progress.  If you plan to visit the Pass be sure and check the weather.  It is not uncommon for major snowfalls to occur at any time of the year and the NPS will close the road if accumulations become significant.