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Driving The Beartooth Highway – The Ultimate Guide

Connecting Red Lodge to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the Beartooth Highway is a scenic route that passes through some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in North America.

It has been a popular tourist destination since it opened in 1932, but despite its popularity, the Beartooth Highway has steep grades, hairpin turns, and narrow lanes. Despite its difficulty to navigate, it’s a designated All-American Scenic Byway and is a must-see when you’re in the area.

Driving the Beartooth Highway

Part of route 212 in Montana and Wyoming, the Beartooth Highway runs between Red Lodge and the Northeast Entrance of the Yellowstone National Park. The highest elevation of the Beartooth Highway is in Wyoming at 10,947 ft (3,337 m) above sea level and is 110.6 km long.

scenic mountain view on beartooth highway

The Best Hotels For The Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Hideaway Inn & Cabins
BEST FOR FAMILIES

Beartooth Hideaway Inn & Cabins

  • Swimming Pool
  • Free WiFi
  • Tea/Coffee Maker In All Rooms

A Brief History of The Beartooth Highway

The highway was built between 1932 and 1936 and named after the Beartooth Range, which it traverses. The route was originally used to transport supplies to various mining camps and military posts in the region, though today it’s a popular destination for travelers who want to take in the natural beauty of Montana.

Many portions of the highway were originally paths used by the Shoshone and Crow for thousands of years. These paths became popular with settlers, fur trappers, and loggers in particular.

But when mining operations began to dominate the nearby counties is when local entrepreneurs began to realize how lucrative a paved road across the Beartooth Range could be to transport mining supplies and ore.

It was proposed to congress in the early 1920s; the project was expected to cost over five million dollars and take over ten years to build. The project was greenlit and finally surveyed in 1927, though construction didn’t begin until 1931.

Though it was no small feat to build – it is regularly called a marvel of engineering – it miraculously took only half of the time and original budget that its construction was planned to consume.

Nonetheless, its completion in 1936 was heralded as a massive achievement for the state of Montana and was eventually added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2014.

Things To See Along The Beartooth Highway

Many folks travel the Beartooth Highway after exiting Yellowstone National Park through the Northeast Entrance. Here’s a brief overview of some of the major stops along the way to Red Lodge.

If you’re beginning in Red Lodge and traveling to Yellowstone, you can simply follow the guide in reverse.

Silver Gate

silver gate

Silver Gate is a small town in the Flathead Valley of Montana. It is a popular tourist destination because of its natural beauty, small-town atmosphere, and proximity to Yellowstone National Park.

Check below for a few choice activities in Silver Gate (and Cooke City following,) but you can also peruse the Cooke City/Colter Pass/Silver Gate Chamber of Commerce site for even more information about local tourist attractions and events happening in the area.

They also provide a visitor’s guide that includes a map of the town, information on lodging, dining, and shopping options, as well as scenic drives in the area.

The Log Cabin Cafe

Woman-owned and operated since founder Hannah Oie built this modest cabin from local, hand-hewn logs, The Log Cabin Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day from May until October.

They have a variety of menu items including burgers, sandwiches, and salads, but folks always return for their famous lumberjack-style breakfasts like the fried trout or their extra-fluffy pancakes made from Hannah’s original depression-era secret recipe.

Stop the Car Trading Post

Only a mile from Yellowstone, this modest sundry and gift shop is known for its ice cream and its incredibly hospitable owners, Cheryl and Jill. Here you’ll find plenty of snacks and souvenirs, and maybe even a few tips on the best places to see in the area.

Bannock Trailhead

On the outskirts of Silver Gate is the trailhead to the Bannock Ski Trail, a two-mile cross-country ski trail that follows a retired mining path from Silver Gate to just inside Yellowstone. There’s also a snowmobile road that begins here and connects to Cooke City.

Cooke City

cooke city

Though Cooke City is a small town with a population of only around 250, it’s considerably larger than the tiny community of Silver Gate and has a considerable amount of infrastructure for visitors. This is the perfect place to stock up on supplies, enjoy a meal, or stay overnight before you continue along the Beartooth Highway.

If you have time you could take a stroll through Cooke City’s historic district, or hit up one of the many local trailheads to embark on an epic hike. Past here, lodgings are limited to campgrounds and the occasional cabin until you reach the Red Lodge area.

Miners Saloon

Part classic Montana tavern, part package store, part cafe, Miners Saloon is a historic landmark in Cooke City, Montana. The building began as a saloon and general store in 1917, closed for several years in 1967, then was finally reopened in 2007 by Matt and Jody Hines.

In the bar, you’ll find top-shelf spirits and craft beers, while the cafe serves up hand-tossed pizzas and other fare made from local ingredients.

Cooke City Montana Museum

Originally founded in 1975 by husband and wife team Dr. Harold and Marjorie Woodman, the Cooke City Montana Museum is currently managed by their daughter, Kay Woodman. It is a largely volunteer-run nonprofit, staffed largely by interns from Lewis & Clark College in Oregon.

There are three main exhibits: Cooke City Memories, Cooke City Ghost Town, and Cooke City Mining.

Beartooth Cafe

A beloved Cooke City institution, the Beartooth Cafe specializes in steaks and smoked trout, though they have a full menu of breakfast, lunch, and dinner favorites.

Red Lodge

red lodge

Red Lodge is a small but bustling town at the other end of Beartooth Highway. It is the county seat of Carbon County and was founded in 1878 following the discovery of coal nearby.

The name was taken from a former hunting lodge once used by James J. Hill and other railroad executives during their visits to the area.

It’s also home to the Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area, arguably Montana’s favorite ski resort that’s been open since 1939, though it’s only open when Beartooth Highway is closed.

US Forest Service Beartooth Ranger Station

Managing several sites in the region, you can find information about the Abaroska Wilderness and Beartooth Highway at the Beartooth Ranger Station. This is also where you can purchase any recreational licenses or permits you may need for your trip.

Red Lodge Ales

An independent brewery, taproom, and package store, Red Lodge Ales creates many different styles of award-winning beer. They also have a small menu of expertly crafted classic American bar food.

Carbon County Steakhouse

A classic American roadhouse with a fine-dining twist, the Carbon County Steakhouse is renowned for its attention to detail and exceptional menu. They source their beef from Gallagher’s Natural Beef & Produce, a local, family-owned business that specializes in humanely raised grass-fed beef.

Other Attractions along the Beartooth Highway

Lower Lady of the Lake Trailhead

A mild hike with minimal gains in elevation, the Lady of the Lake Trail is just over nine miles long and offers views of both Upper and Lower Lakes. You’ll find parking and restrooms at the trailhead.

Clarks Fork Picnic Area

This is a small, remote, and picturesque picnic area with a scenic view of the Beartooth Mountain Range. Originally constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), it is situated in the Clarks Fork Valley and has been designated as a historic site by the National Park Service.

The Clarks Fork Picnic Area offers opportunities for other outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. There are also access sites for trout fishing on either side of the picnic area.

Crazy Creek Falls

About six miles after the Beartooth Highway crosses into Wyoming is the Crazy Creek Falls trailhead. There’s a small parking lot from which a two-mile-long out-and-back trail leads to one of the Shoshone Valley’s most beloved waterfalls.

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway

chief joseph scenic byway

The other route to the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park is the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. It connects Cody, Wyoming with Beartooth Highway; the junction is just after the turnoff for Crazy Creek Falls.

Yellowstone Overlook

yellowstone overlook

Also called Pilot and Index Peaks Overlook, this turn-off from Beartooth Highway is a spectacular spot to take photos. There are a few interpretive displays here that explain some of the history and geology of the area.

Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower

clay butte fire lookout tower

At the end of the three-mile-long forest road 142, you’ll find one of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ decommissioned lookout towers. Originally built in 1942 to manage forest fires in the Abaroska Wilderness, the lookout tower is now a volunteer-run visitor center where you can find information about the region as well as the history of fire management.

Beartooth Lake

beartooth lake

Northwest Wyoming’s Beartooth Lake is one of the most popular attractions along Highway 212. This high-elevation lake is extremely scenic and easily reached by car, so don’t be surprised if you find several other people enjoying the recreation area, trails, and campground when you arrive.

The area has particularly good trails, particularly the Beartooth Lakes Loop, which travels past a few smaller Alpine Lakes as well.

Though motorized boats are allowed on the lake, it is far more popular with canoers and kayakers.

Top of the World Resort

top of the world resort

With a general store, rustic cabins, and equipment rentals, the Top of the World Resort makes for a unique stop near Beartooth Pass.

Beartooth Pass

beartooth pass

The highest point along Highway 212 with an elevation of 10,947 ft., Beartooth Pass has been used long before there was a paved road demarking it as it was used by Native Americans for centuries and later by fur trading settlers. There’s a turn-off with a small parking lot and rest area if you care to take in the view.

Bear’s Tooth

bear's tooth

The feature that lent its name to the eponymous pass and highway, the Bear’s Tooth – translated from the Crow Na Piet Say – is a pyramidal spire in the Beartooth Mountains. It has served as a curious geological feature and landmark for centuries.

Gardner Lake

gardner lake

A high-elevation lake in the Beartooth Mountains, Gardner Lake is accessible via a fairly short but somewhat challenging trail that begins near Highway 212.

Though it’s less than two miles long, the trail sits between 7,500 and 10,000 feet, which can challenge even experienced hikers. Beginners should be wary of the altitude and be sure to take plenty of water along with them.

Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area

beartooth basin summer ski area

The Beartooth Basin Ski Area is Montana’s only ski park that’s not open in the winter. The season usually begins around the time the highway opens in May and goes as long as the snow lasts, sometimes into July. There are several base areas suited to skiers of all levels, so beginners up to expert skiers should feel plenty challenged.

Welcome to Montana Sign

As you cross the border back into Montana, you’ll see a small turn-off and a decorative “Welcome to Montana” sign. You can pull over to snap a photo if you like!

Rock Creek Vista

rock creek vista

Perched at a precarious elevation of 9,190 ft, Rock Creek Vista is a favorite place to take photos among tourists. From here you’ll be able to see the Beartooth Plateau and Yellowstone National Park, and you may even spot an elk, deer, moose, and if you’re very lucky, a bear. The viewpoint owes its name to the nearby Rock Creek stream.

Overnight Accommodation Along The Beartooth Highway

There’s a lot to do along Beartooth Highway, and many folks decide to stay the night either at one of the ends or somewhere along the way.

There’s a wide variety of lodgings available in the region ranging from bare-bones campgrounds all the way to multi-room mountain villas.

Beartooth Highway Camping

wild bill lake picnic ground

Soda Butte Campground

  • Campsites: 27
  • Season: Late June to Labor Day
  • Facilities: Fire grates, picnic tables, garbage pick-up, potable water
  • Fees: $20/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

Open to hard-sided camping only, like trailers and RVs.

Colter Campground

  • Campsites: 18
  • Season: Mid-July to Labor Day
  • Facilities: Fire grates, picnic tables, garbage pick-up, potable water, toilets
  • Fees: $20/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

Open to hard-sided camping only, like trailers and RVs.

Fox Creek Campground

  • Campsites: 33
  • Season: Mid-July to Labor Day
  • Facilities: Picnic tables, potable water, toilets, electric hook-ups
  • Fees: $20/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

Electric sites are available for compatible RVs.

Crazy Creek Campground

  • Campsites: 16
  • Season: Late May to Mid-September
  • Facilities: Vault toilets
  • Fees: $10/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

Sites are suitable for tent camping or boondocking.

Lake Creek Campground

  • Campsites: 6
  • Season: Early June to Early September
  • Facilities: Vault toilets
  • Fees: $10/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

Though there is no running water, the nearby Lake Creek streamwater can be filtered for drinking. Suitable for tent camping.

Beartooth Lake Campground

  • Campsites: 21
  • Season: Early July to Mid-September
  • Facilities: Potable water, toilets
  • Fees: $15/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

Sites range in size up to 32 ft long to accommodate RVs, tent campers are also welcome. There’s a nearby store to pick up food and supplies.

Island Lake Campground

  • Campsites: 21
  • Season: Early July to Mid-September
  • Facilities: Boat ramp, picnic tables, toilets, potable water
  • Fees: $15/night
  • No reservations, first come, first serve only.

A picturesque site right on Island Lake for tents and RVs up to 32 ft. Non-motorized craft can be used on the lake, with access at an onsite boat ramp.

Greenough Lake Campground

  • Campsites: 18
  • Season: Early May to Late September
  • Facilities: Fire rings, picnic tables, toilets, potable water, garbage pick-up
  • Fees: $17/night
  • Reservations

Suitable for both tents and RVs, this is a well-appointed campground that takes reservations up to six months in advance. There are several trailheads nearby including Lake Fork TrailParkside Trail, and Hellroaring Plateau Trail.

Parkside Campground

  • Campsites: 28
  • Season: Early May to Late September
  • Facilities: Fire rings, picnic tables, toilets, potable water, firewood for purchase
  • Fees: $18/night
  • Reservations

Suitable for tents and RVs up to 40 ft. This campground is particularly popular with anglers.

Rattin Campground

  • Campsites: 6
  • Season: Early May to Late September
  • Facilities: Fire rings, picnic tables, toilets, potable water, firewood for purchase
  • Fees: $17/night
  • Reservations

Suitable for tents and RVs up to 20 ft. There are several trailheads nearby including  Mount Maurice TrailCorral Creek Trail, and Bear Track Trail.

Cabins and Mountain Lodges

pine edge cabins

Silver Gate Lodging • Silver Gate • $$

The lodge offers a variety of accommodations including cabins, campsites, and RV sites, with linens and showers available. They also offer full-service dining options with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks available daily at their restaurant or on their porch overlooking the wilderness.

Last Resort Lodge • Red Lodge Area • $$$$

The Last Resort Lodge is a historic motel originally built in the 1950s. It’s right at the intersection of Highway 212 and Highway 287, which makes it a perfect stop for tourists driving along Beartooth Highway. They have free wifi, parking, breakfast, and pet-friendly rooms.

Moose on the Loose Mountain Villa • Red Lodge Area • $$$$

A six-bedroom, three-bath cabin, the Moose on the Loose Mountain Villa is a beautifully designed and furnished home with all the amenities of home. Every room has a mountain view, it has a large living area with a wood-burning stove, and the open kitchen has stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. Moose on the Loose Mountain Villa also has two decks for outdoor relaxation and dining, as well as an outdoor fire pit.

Two Bears Inn Bed & Breakfast • Red Lodge Area • $$$

A local favorite, the Two Bears Inn Bed & Breakfast has great views, comfortable rooms, and classic Montana fare available at their restaurant. The inn was built in 1909 by two brothers who were both bear hunters so it was originally called the “Bear Hunter’s Inn.”

Alpine Lodge • Red Lodge Area • $$

If you’re looking for a rustic mountain lodge experience, the Alpine Lodge has several unpretentious, comfortable rooms. They have an on-site restaurant and bar with live entertainment, as well as a heated outdoor pool and hot tub.

Hotels

super 8 hotel by wyndham

Elk Horn Lodge • Cooke City • $$$$

Originally built in 1932, the Elk Horn Lodge has seen many renovations, and offers many amenities such as an indoor pool, spa, fitness center, and game room. There’s also an on-site restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a shuttle service to nearby attractions like Yellowstone National Park or Cody Country Cowboy Museum.

Alpine Motel of Cooke City • Cooke City • $$

The Alpine Motel of Cooke City Montana, located at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park, is a family-owned motel. It’s open year-round and offers free Wi-Fi, free continental breakfast, and a heated, outdoor pool.

Beartooth Hideaway • Red Lodge • $$

With an on-site restaurant, an outdoor heated pool, and a hot tub, the Beartooth Hideaway offers well-appointed rooms just a stones throw from Beartooth Highway. There’s also a gazebo with a fishing pond and the nearby Blackfoot River that attract many anglers.

The Pollard Hotel • Red Lodge • $$$

The Pollard Hotel is a historic hotel in Red Lodge, Montana. It was established in 1907 and has been the center of the town’s social life for over 100 years. It’s a perfect choice if you’d like to treat yourself to a romantic, luxurious stay.

Beartooth Highway Tours

beartooth highway tours

Instead of using your own car to complete the drive yourself, you can hire an experienced guide to show you the best that Beartooth Highway has to offer.

Yellowstone Touring Company

Founded by John and Karen Potter in 1988, Yellowstone Touring Company specializes in providing tours of the Yellowstone National Park and Beartooth Highway.

In 2003, they added additional accommodations for visitors to stay at before or after their tour with them. The accommodation includes cabins, a bunkhouse, and RV sites for those looking for an overnight stay near the park entrance.

Busses of Yellowstone Preservation Trust

The Yellowstone Preservation Trust Montana is a statewide nonprofit organization that preserves and restores the natural beauty of Montana. They do this by purchasing land and easements, restoring habitats, and engaging in advocacy for public lands.

Their tourism outfit utilizes an original bright yellow, fully restored 1937 Model 706 Yellowstone National Park Bus to take groups of up to 10 people along Beartooth Highway.

Things to note before your trip down Beartooth Highway

an alpine lake along the beartooth highway

There’s a lot of information here, particularly if you’re planning your first trip to Beartooth Highway. Here’s a brief rundown of the major points and things to note before your visit.

  • Beartooth Highway was built to connect Cooke City with Red Lodge to aid in mining operations, though it is now used primarily by tourists traveling either to or from Yellowstone National Park.
  • Beartooth Highway is only open from late March until early October, and additional intermittent closures can occur throughout the year. Do not try to traverse the highway at times when the National Parks Service has deemed it unsafe.
  • It is also called Beartooth National Scenic Byway, Beartooth All-American Road, Highway 212, and the Red Lodge-Cooke City Highway.
  • Beartooth Highway passes through the Gallatin, Shoshone, and Custer National Forests, and is frequently called the most beautiful drive in the United States.
  • Unlike the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you do not need a reservation or a ticket to drive on Beartooth Highway.
  • If you’re also visiting Yellowstone National Park, you’ll need to purchase a Parks Pass. There are several types of passes available, and you can either get one at the Northeast Gate or in advance from the National Parks Service website.
  • Snowstorms can occur as late as July near Beartooth Pass, so be sure to bring gear for yourself and your vehicle just in case you get caught in unexpected weather.
  • Campgrounds, cabins, and hotels can fill up quickly during the season, so be sure to book your accommodations well in advance and have a backup plan.

FAQs About Beartooth Highway

beartooth highway through wyoming

What is the Beartooth Highway?

The Beartooth Highway is part of the larger National Scenic Byway System. Colloquially, it is known as one of the most scenic driving routes in the world.

It is a narrow, winding road edged with steep cliffs that stretches for 68 miles between Red Lodge and Yellowstone National Park. Its highest point, at an elevation of 10,947 feet, is Beartooth Pass. It passes through the Gallatin, Shoshone, and Custer National Forests.

What is the Beartooth Highway called?

Though it’s colloquially called Beartooth Highway its official name is the Beartooth National Scenic Byway. Its highway designation is US 212 and it is a designated All-American Road. It is sometimes called the Red Lodge-Cooke City Highway because of the two cities it connects.

How long does it take to drive the Beartooth Highway?

It takes about two hours to complete the entire drive, but most tourists make at least a couple of stops along the way. Depending on the rest of your plans, you will want to allow somewhere between a half and a whole day to go from Cooke City to Red Lodge or vice versa.

beartooth highway passes the twin lakes

When is the Beartooth Highway open?

Because of violent winter storms and heavy snowfall, the highway closes annually between early October and late May, though snowstorms can occur at high elevations as late as July. Opening and closing dates can vary from year to year, so be sure to check road conditions with the National Parks Service in advance of your trip.

Is it safe to drive Beartooth Highway?

While the Beartooth Highway is generally safe for most motorists, you should be prepared for inclement weather even in the summer. Always check the road conditions before your trip just in case of road closures caused by snow, heavy rain, mudslides, or construction.

Has anyone died on Beartooth Pass?

Put simply, yes, there have been a number of Beartooth highway deaths. Though the highway is closed during the winter, there have been some fatal car crashes in its nearly 100-year history. Please take extra care when traveling along Beartooth Highway, and be sure to follow all published road signs as well as the direction of the National Parks Service.