Driving Montana’s Beartooth Highway

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While visiting Montana a few weeks back I had the opportunity to take a drive along U.S. Route 212, better known as the Beartooth All American Road. I wrote about those experiences for travel sight Gadling.com today, but wanted to share some thoughts here as well, because if you’re planning to head to Montana or Yellowstone in the future, you owe it to yourself to take this route.

The Beartooth Highway is just 69 miles in length, stretching between Red Lodge and Cooke City. But those are some of the most beautiful 69 miles you’ll find anywhere on the planet. The scenery is breathtaking with deep valleys carved by glaciers, clear mountain lakes, rushing waterfalls, and unique rock formations lining the road. Luckily, there are plenty of scenic overlooks and pull offs along the way, giving you a chance to stop the car and capture the landscapes with your camera.

The road tops out at the Beartooth Pass at an altitude of 10,947 feet. At that altitude the weather can be of a challenge at any time of the year, which is why the road closes for the winter in mid to late October each year and doesn’t re-open until Memorial Day Weekend the following year. Indeed, while I was there at the end of August, we had heavy snow on consecutive days, with whiteout conditions at the higher elevations. Those freak August blizzards are rare, but you’ll want to dress appropriately no matter what time of the year you make the drive.

Outdoor enthusiasts will love the Beartooth Highway for other reasons as well. There is great hiking and backpacking along the route, and plenty of places to camp too. In the winter, the trails allow for snowmobiling, skiing, and snowshoeing too, making it an excellent, and not overcrowded, playground all year long.

Perhaps best of all, the road ends at the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone, so while you’ll lament the end of the drive, you’ll have that spectacular park to offer consolation. This is one of the least used entrances to the park, and few even know it exists, so it’s a perfect way to gain access without too much traffic getting in the way, and once inside, you’ll have a whole new landscape to explore.

Next year is the 75th Anniversary of the Beartooth Highway, and celebrations are planned to commemorate the event. The best celebration of all however is to take the ride for yourself. I promise it’s worth the trip.

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Kraig Becker