The Beartooth Highway Roadtrip Guide (2023)

Beartooth Highway is widely considered one of the most beautiful drives in America, but don’t plan to use it in the winter. The highway closes for much of the year because of massive snowdrifts and dangerously high winds.

However, in the summer and early fall, the conditions are usually right for a drive on the wild side. So strap yourself in and enjoy amazing views of some rugged high country out west.

Let’s explore!

About Beartooth Highway

Built in 1936, Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile length of U.S. Route 212 near Yellowstone National Park. In fact, it stretches between the northeast corner of Yellowstone, near Cooke City, up to Red Lodge, Montana.

This vast wilderness of nearly a million acres includes the majestic Absaroka and Beartooth mountains. This scenic area, which takes in parts of the Custer, Shoshone, and Gallatin National Forests, is known as the Beartooth Corridor. Like the highway, it gets its memorable name from the shape of one of the many pointed peaks along the way. Beartooth Highway is designated as a National Scenic Byways All-American Road because of its natural beauty.

It’s a high road, too. It reaches 10,947 feet above sea level at one point in Wyoming. On the Montana side, its highest elevation is 10,350 feet. Some of these mountains top out at over 12,000 feet, and many of them have glaciers on their north sides.

Is Beartooth Highway Dangerous?

Winter snowstorms make the road impassable, and in fact, it can take months to clear the snow. Even when the weather conditions are good, a cruise along Beartooth Highway isn’t for the squeamish. It has sharply curving switchbacks and dramatic inclines. And because of those high elevations, sudden strong winds are a danger, too.

(Video) Driving the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming and Montana (+ East Rosebud Trail to Elk Lake!)

Even in the summer, there can be hazardous hailstorms. You have to watch out for fog and heavy downpours, too. Both can reduce visibility and make driving unsafe.

Some of Beartooth Highway’s tricky curves are scary, for sure, so take it slow and easy. In some places, there are only low and narrow guardrails between you and some deep ravines. With such distracting scenery, keeping your eyes on the road is sometimes easier said than done!

How Long Does It Take to Drive Beartooth Highway?

Driving steadily, it takes about two hours to go from Red Lodge to the Cooke City area (or vice versa). You’ll likely want to pull over for a better look at some of the sights, though. Plan on three hours to fully enjoy the experience at a relaxed pace. Go ahead and make a day of it if you can. Read on for some suggestions on places to stop and visit.

When is the Beartooth Highway Open?

After the winter shutdown, Beartooth Highway typically reopens on Memorial Day and stays open through Columbus Day. In other words, it’s usually safe to travel from late May to almost mid-October. There’s no guarantee, though. Sometimes it stays closed later or has to be closed again in the summer because of bad weather.

What to See on the Beartooth Highway

To best experience Beartooth Highway, don’t think of it as a race from start to finish. There’s a lot to see along this scenic route. If you can make the time for them, here are a few don’t-miss attractions.

(Video) The Beartooth Highway: Driving to the Sky on the Orphaned Road

The “Bear’s Tooth”

The namesake jagged mountain spire stands tall at 11,920 feet inside Custer National Forest in Carbon County, Montana. This is part of an area called the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Custer National Forest. We’re not sure what kind of bear inspired the name, but today’s visitors might spot a black bear or grizzly.

You can get a great view of the 315-foot tooth-shaped peak from the highway at the West Summit Beartooth Pass Overlook area. The truly adventurous have managed to climb the peak.

Top of the World Store

This legendary shop has grown into a rustic resort but has modest beginnings as a country store. It’s 38 miles from Red Lodge and 25 miles from Cooke City and is situated at 9,400 feet above sea level. Stop for gas and groceries or pick up some gifts. It’s also the kind of place where you can rent a canoe, paddleboat, rod, and reel.

Scenic Overlooks

Pulling over for a better look is common on Beartooth Highway, especially when the aspens turn their gorgeous golden shade. One of the most popular observation sites is the Pilot and Index Peak Overlook, which offers a terrific view of Clark’s River Fork valley. (By the way, Pilot Peak is similarly shaped, so it’s often mistaken for the “bear’s tooth” itself.)

For a closer look at the Yellowstone River valley, make a stop at the Clark’s Fork Overlook. Closer to Yellowstone, the Clay Butte Lookout Tower offers an amazing view just a few miles from the Wyoming-Montana boundary. It’s about a half-mile off Beartooth Highway to the north.

Alpine Lake

The numerous high mountain lakes are another incredible attraction along the Beartooth Highway. In a way, they somehow seem out of place at such altitude, but they help make this area so inviting. These alpine bodies of water, including Beartooth Lake and Island Lake, provide incredible opportunities for outdoor recreation.

(Video) Beartooth Highway - Incredible Scenic Montana Drive!!!

Best Hikes From Beartooth Highway

Besides camping, fishing, and nature watching, hiking is one of the most popular activities along the Beartooth Corridor. Some of the trails are extremely challenging, while others are a fairly easy stroll. Here are some details about two of them.

Woody Falls

Near Cooke City and the Yellowstone entrance, Woody Falls is steep enough to earn a moderate rating. It’s just under three miles out and back, and the elevation gain is 859 feet.

The three-tiered Woody Creek Falls is a worthy reward, and so are the wide views of the expansive river basin. It is well-shaded, and the trail itself is dirt with some rocks. Keep your dog on a leash and watch for bears.

Lost Lake Trail

This popular forested loop is also close to Yellowstone and is right at 3 miles long. Like Woody Falls, it’s a bit strenuous in places. The centerpiece of the walk is the stunning mountain lake.Expect to see a variety of wildlife, such as deer, badgers, and bears. Horses share the trail, too. You can enjoy a variety of plant life, as well, including wildflowers.

Best Camping on Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Lake Campground

Outside Cooke City, this popular campground has 21 sites for tents and RVs and some basic amenities. Potable water and vault toilets are available, and there’s a store nearby that sells supplies.

There’s no cell service, and the maximum campsite length is 32 feet. The U.S. Forest Service operates this first-come, first-served campground. The cost is $15 per night.

Island Lake Campground

Just under four miles to the east is another highly coveted landing spot. Island Lake is another Forest Service campground with similar amenities. It’s $15 per night with a 16-day limit. Because of its boat launch, it’s especially popular with anglers and boaters. Please note that neither of these campgrounds is accessible for those with mobility issues. Also, don’t expect any cellular service here.

(Video) A drive on America’s most beautiful road, the Beartooth Highway!

Is a Beartooth Highway Road Trip Worth It?

Simply put, the Beartooth Highway offers the road trip of a lifetime. It’s known as a gateway to Yellowstone, but zigzagging up and down Beartooth Highway is an adventure in itself.

This amazing mountain route will open your eyes to a part of the west that’s still wild in many ways. So, if you’re in this part of the country and have the time, go for it. Just make doubly sure that the weather is on your side. We certainly can’t imagine anyone having any regrets about making this spectacular drive.

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(Video) Wow!!! Driving the Beartooth Highway in an RV//Wyoming and Montana Road Trip

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FAQs

How long does it take to drive the Beartooth Highway? ›

How long does it take to drive the Beartooth Highway? The drive takes at least 2 hours but can take up to a full day if you stop to hike and take in the sites.

How difficult is Beartooth Highway? ›

It's also one of the most dangerous routes. Reaching an elevation of 10,947 feet above sea level at its highest point, Beartooth Highway winds and wends its way through twenty peaks that exceed 12,000 feet on hairpin curves marked by sheer drop-offs and guardrails that offer the barest illusion of safety.

Which direction should you drive Beartooth Highway? ›

To reduce glare and make the most of the rugged vistas (there are 20 peaks soaring higher than 12,000 feet along the route), plan to drive the road from east to west in the morning, returning the opposite direction in the afternoon. Start in the town of Red Lodge, MT, (pop.

How long does it take to drive the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City? ›

How Long Does It Take to Drive Beartooth Highway? Driving steadily, it takes about two hours to go from Red Lodge to the Cooke City area (or vice versa). You'll likely want to pull over for a better look at some of the sights, though. Plan on three hours to fully enjoy the experience at a relaxed pace.

Are there bathrooms on the Beartooth Highway? ›

Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area & Interpretive Trail

Here at this rest area, you will find jaw-dropping views of Rock Creek Canyon and an easily accessed trail that is wheelchair friendly. This is also the only decent bathroom stop on the highway.

Are there grizzly bears in the Beartooth Mountains? ›

Grizzly bear 896 has become a resident in the Red Lodge area along the east face of the Beartooth Front, according to Shawn Stewart, a Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife biologist.

Is Beartooth Highway OK for RVS? ›

The Beartooth Highway is one of the more spectacular drives you can take when touring in your RV out west, comparable to the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Is the Beartooth Highway worth it? ›

Beartooth Highway is a dramatic, beautiful entrance into Yellowstone National Park. And even if you don't have plans to enter or exit Yellowstone from the northeast entrance, adding this experience to your Yellowstone to-do list is well worth it, especially for those who like scenic drives over high mountain passes.

Can you turn around on Beartooth Highway? ›

Re: Beartooth highway turnaround point? Heading south about 3 miles from Vista Point, there's a left hand turn. There is a parking lot and a trail, an old jeep trail to Line Lake (close to the state line). It is approximately a 2 mile hike to this little lake.

Is Beartooth Highway Open 2022? ›

The road is targeted to reopen on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, 2023. Montana Department of Transportation: “The Beartooth Highway (US 212) pass will close for the season on October 11, 2022 at 8:00am. The target opening date for 2023 is the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, weather dependent.

Is the Beartooth Pass the same as the Beartooth Highway? ›

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947-foot-high (3,337 m) Beartooth Pass in Wyoming.

What months is Beartooth Highway open? ›

Mid June to September.

Is the Beartooth Highway open from Red Lodge to Cooke City? ›

The Beartooth Highway is open from Memorial Day to October 15 (weather dependent). Snow usually remains at the higher elevations until early to mid-July. In May and June, as well as late-September into October, expect winter temperatures and the chance of snow.

Why is Beartooth Highway closed? ›

Extensive repairs on the Montana side of U.S. 212 are finished, and the Beartooth Highway can finally reopen for Summer 2022, and this time – hopefully – it will stay open. To say Summer 2022 has been unorthodox is a tremendous understatement.

Are there mountain lions in the Beartooth Mountains? ›

Elk, deer, grizzly bear, black bear, mountain goats, big horn sheep, mountain lions, and many other animals call the Beartooth Mountains home.

Where is the highest concentration of grizzly bears in Montana? ›

Northwest Montana has the largest concentration of grizzlies in the Lower 48 states, with more than 1,000 bears across Glacier National Park and nearby expanses of forested wilderness, an area known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

Do you have to worry about bears in Montana? ›

Montana is bear country.

All bears are potentially dangerous.

What wind speed should you not drive an RV? ›

A good rule thumb is to avoid driving an RV in winds that exceed 50 mph. Wind speeds approaching 60 mph are enough to overturn an RV. The larger the RV the more surface area. And the more surface area the more likely it is that the wind can tip you over.

What should you not do in an RV? ›

10 Things You Should Never Do on an RV Road Trip
  • Filling Up At Normal Gas Stations. ...
  • Driving Through Storms. ...
  • Packing Electronics. ...
  • Buying a Day Pass at a National Park. ...
  • Loading up on Canned Food. ...
  • Bringing Too Much Water. ...
  • Skipping Reservations. ...
  • Driving Too Fast.

Can you sleep in a Class A RV while driving? ›

If you can sleep while sitting up in an RV passenger seat, then you're free to sleep! Just make sure you're properly buckled in for your safety. Conversely, sleeping in an RV bed while someone is driving is not allowed.

What is the grade of Beartooth Pass? ›

The average grade is 3.3% (4.1% climb only). 57% of the climb is at 0-5% grade and 30% at 5-10%. The steepest quarter mile is 10.2% and the steepest mile 6.6% (see Steepest Gradient tool in Gradient Tool section). See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button above.

How long is Beartooth Pass? ›

First some facts: The Beartooth achieves 10,947 feet, which is 1000 feet above the tree line. It is 68.7 miles long and connects two locales you've never planned to visit: Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana.

Does Beartooth Highway go through Yellowstone? ›

An All-American Road

As it winds its way from the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park to Red Lodge, the Highway traverses an impressive range of ecosystems – from lush lodge pole pine forests to alpine tundra.

Is the Beartooth Highway paved? ›

Is the Beartooth Highway paved? The road, part of U.S. Route 212, is totally paved tracing the border between Montana and Wyoming in the Beartooth Mountains.

Is Red Lodge in the Beartooth Mountains? ›

Nestled in Montana's magnificent Beartooth Mountains and surrounded by Custer Gallatin National Forest, Red Lodge delivers access to world-class outdoor recreation and adventure.

Is Beartooth Pass open after the flood? ›

One of Montana's most iconic roads reopened after more than a month of being shut down because of the historic flooding.

Is Beartooth Highway worth the drive? ›

It is one of the most scenic drives in the USA. This drive is absolutely spectacular. Along Beartooth Highway, you will travel through several national forests, view the tallest peaks in Montana, see numerous alpine lakes, and have the option to add on short hikes to viewpoints and waterfalls.

Where does the Beartooth Scenic highway begin and end? ›

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947-foot-high (3,337 m) Beartooth Pass in Wyoming.

How long does it take to drive the loop in Yellowstone? ›

This loop connects visitors to every classic gem, from Mammoth Hot Springs near the North Entrance to Fountain Pots and Old Faithful near the West and South Entrances. Simply driving the entire distance, whether going clockwise or counter, could take four to seven hours.

What is the most scenic drive in Montana? ›

Top 5 Most Scenic Drives in Montana
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road. No list of scenic drives in Montana could be complete without including this spectacular route through the heart of Glacier National Park. ...
  • Beartooth Highway. ...
  • Paradise Valley. ...
  • Lake Koocanusa Scenic Byway. ...
  • Kings Hill Scenic Byway. ...
  • The Montana Advocates.

Why is the Beartooth Highway closed? ›

The Beartooth Highway is currently CLOSED for the season.

The road closes each winter because of excessive snow and adverse winter conditions. Snow levels vary and drifts can be as high as 26 feet in the higher elevations.

What is better the upper or the lower loop of Yellowstone? ›

The Park's Grand Loop Drive is shaped like a figure 8, divided into the Upper Loop and Lower Loop. We recommend driving the Lower Loop on Day 2, since it features Yellowstone's most famous attraction – Old Faithful, that way you are building up to a grand finale.

What is the most scenic route into Yellowstone? ›

Beartooth Highway

One of the most dramatic approaches to Yellowstone, this National Scenic Byway winds a 68-mile serpentine route between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana.

Which loop is better in Yellowstone National Park? ›

The Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone is the main way to get to the attractions in the national park. This stretch from Madison Junction to the exit for the Old Faithful area is the most popular and has the most geyser basins.

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