The Beartooth All-American Road, also known as the Beartooth Highway, officially opened on June 14, 1936. First referred to as “the most beautiful drive in America”, by Charles Kuralt, On the Road television correspondent, the Highway is a destination in its own right. It is the highest elevation paved highway in the Northern Rocky Mountains open to travelers seasonally from May to October.
The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile travel corridor, beginning (at its eastern most terminus), just south of Red Lodge, Montana at an elevation of 6400 feet and ending (at its western most terminus) near the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, at an elevation of 7500 feet. In between those tow elevations, the road rises to 10, 947 feet at Beartooth Pass in Wyoming. The section of the Beartooth Highway that has been awarded the National Scenic Byways “All-American Road” status is a 54 mile section of the Highway beginning 8 miles south and east of Red Lodge and ending just east of Cooke City, Montana.
Accessing the Beartooth Highway takes visitors through one of three “gateway communities”. Each of the communities offers unique visitor services and experiences. Visit each of the community’s web sites when planning a trip to ensure a full traveler experience.
Plan at least three hours of driving time on 68 miles of the Beartooth Highway. Be sure to pack a windbreaker and warm clothing for the trip!
Wayfinding includes the ways in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.
Although the distance from Red Lodge, Montana to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National park is only 68 miles, highway switchbacks and other slow speed driving adds to drive time.
Points of Interest on the Wayfinding Map ( highlighted above)
1. Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area & Interpretive Trail – Elev 9190′. This wayside is twenty-one miles from Red Lodge. Vista Point provides breathtaking views of Rock Creek Canyon and Hell roaring Plateau. The short trail to the overlook is wheelchair accessible.
2. International Summer Ski/Snowboard Camp – Elev 10,737′. The ski area lies in Wyoming above the Twin Lakes Head wall with slopes of 15 to 50 degrees and is one of North America’s oldest ski training areas, operated by International Ski and Snowboard Camp. It is generally open for skiing by late April and runs into early July with access to 3,000 feet of terrain unless there is insufficient snow.
3. Gardner Lake Pullout and Trailhead – Elev 10,536′. This is the trailhead for the Beartooth Loop National Recreation Trail. It is also a great location for viewing the Bear’s Tooth, a pyramidal spire rock formation carved by glaciers and the namesake of the Beartooth All-American Road. Look for alpine flowers in mid-July.
4. West Summit, Beartooth Pass Overlook – Elev 10,947′. This is the highest point along the Highway with spectacular views in every direction. In late may and early June, this high elevation are can produce harsh weather conditions including blowing snow and fog, resulting in short term (less that 24 hours) highway closures.
5. Top of the World Store – Elev 9,400′. This stop offers food, fuel, gifts and lodging and is 38 miles from Red Lodge and 25 miles from Cooke City. The store was originally built on Beartooth Lake in 1934 then moved to its current location in the 1960’s It is operated under a special use permit from the Shoshone National Forest.
6. Beartooth Bridge, Falls and Ravine – Elev 8,900′. Beartooth Lake outlet flows under an historic bridge constructed in the 1930’s using unique construction techniques. The high mountain water rushes south through the ravine and then turns to present a magnificent waterfall to travelers along the highway. A quick side trip to the Beartooth Recreation Picnic Area takes you to Beartooth Lake, which is great for fishing and canoeing against the backdrop of Beartooth Butte.
7. Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower – Elev 9,811′. At one time this tower was used as a fire lookout. Now, it serves mainly as a visitor center. A well-signed pullout begins a three-mile drive up a gravel road to clay Butte Tower. Visitors are welcome to take in the panoramic views that include Montana’s highest point, Granite Peak and Beartooth Butte, and enjoy the interpretive displays of the 1988 wildfires that burned in and around Yellowstone National Park.
8. Pilot and Index Peak Overlook – Elev 8718′. These two peaks located many miles west of the pullout in Wyoming rank in the top ten of the most often photographed scenes along the Beartooth All-American Road. In addition o the Peaks, this location looks down on the beautiful Clark’s Fork River Valley, and the Wild and Scenic Clark’s Fork River that ultimately flows into the Yellowstone River.
9. Clark’s Fork Overlook – Elev 8,000′. This pullout offers closer views of the Clark’s Fork River Valley. In late summer, patches of brilliant yellow aspen trees contrast with the background of dark mountains in the distance.
10. Lake Creek Falls – Elev 7329′. This rumbling falls plummets under the Beartooth All-American Road. A short hike takes you to a pedestrian bridge where you can get a closer look at the powerful waterfall.
11. Crazy Creek Cascade – Elev 7,329′. A short hike upstream presents a mass of water tumbling over rocks giving a cascade appearance rather that a falls. A generous parking area makes stopping at this site easy.
12. Clark’s Fork Trailhead and Picnic Area – Elev 7,900′. Just as the Beartooth All-American Road travels back into Montana there is a mile-long stretch of recreation facilities including hiking and horseback-riding trailheads, Chief Joseph Campground and a Nez Percé Interpretive Site. This stretch of the highway is a great place to stop for a picnic, a hike or a history lesson!
13. Beartooth Highway Orientation Site – Elev 7,500′. At the west end of the Beartooth All-American Road you will find a wealth of information about the Beartooth Mountains, early area mining history and the Cooke City / Silver Gate area.