One of the most spectacular sights in all of North America is the vision of the Rocky Mountains rising abruptly from the plains. In what can be a seemingly ethereal world, a myriad of landscapes collide, offering the visitor many opportunities for exploration. The Beartooth Highway, located on the eastern border of Yellowstone National Park with Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana being the two recognized termini for the road is one of the finest opportunities to explore the beauty of the high country and view the plains expanding before you.
The highway was constructed in 1936 through the Absaroka and Beartoothe mountain corridors and was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1989. As your vehicle climbs to the top and you reach the Beartooth Pass at 10,947’ in elevation, you will be amazed at the technology and fortitude that must have been used in its construction. This is one of the highest roads in all of North America and certainly one of the most scenic. You are almost guaranteed to see snow in this high country year round. In fact, if you travel early enough, you will go through what seem to be snow tunnels rising ten or more feet above your vehicle on either side where snow removal equipment has passed through.
Whether you are a passenger in a vehicle traveling the road or use the road to reach high altitude destinations for summer skiing, snowmobiling or hiking, you are sure to enjoy all that the highway has to offer. Throughout the sixty-four mile length of the official Beartooth highway, a number of trailheads are easily accessed, most leading into the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness to the north. Outfitters and rental shops in nearby Red Lodge, Cooke City, or Cody can provide you with information on backcountry exploration in both the summer and winter months. (Beware though – this is avalanche county. Travel with proper equipment and experienced companions.)
Because this is the high country, you need to be prepared. Unless your trip is planned for mid-July, there is always the chance that the road could be closed due to a sudden storm. Check the Montana and Wyoming travel advisory systems for closures. And for backcountry conditions if you plan to venture off the main highway, be sure to check the ranger stations for the Custer, Gallatin or Shoshone National Forests, depending on your planned route. In winter, the road is closed, but the backcountry and the highway route are accessible via snowmobile.
Being on top of the world no matter what time of year is an amazing experience. The Beartooth Highway offer something for those who like to drink in beauty from a comfortable vehicle and provides plenty of opportunity for breathtaking exploration for those who like the backcountry. Charles Kuralt once called this route the “most beautiful road in America”: travel the Beartooth Highway and you will be certain to agree.