Boasting more than 10,000 high mountain lakes, crystal clear high mountain rivers and streams, and the headwaters of the only wild and scenic river in Wyoming, water doesn’t get any wilder – anywhere – than on the Beartooth All-American Road.
Stopping for Wild Water
Several “wild water” stops are suggested for road travelers. These stops are listed in order traveling from Cooke City, Montana to Red Lodge, Montana. Mileage listed as follows CC-mileage from Cooke City, Montana/RL Mileage from Red Lodge, Montana.
Crazy Creek Falls (Mileage CC 11.4 – /RL – 40.7)
Located just west of the Beartooth/Chief Joseph Scenic Highway intersection, Crazy Creek is on of the most uniquely named wild waterfalls along the Highway. The name Crazy Creek is attributed to two theories – one is a fact and the other a legend. The fact – the creek creates a crazy zigzag pattern as it flows down the mountainside. The legend – an Indian woman living in the Clark’s Fork Valley went crazy and ran into the mountains. Her body was found later by members of her tribe along this creek. They named the creek “crazy”. Which do you choose to believe? A well maintained walking trail takes visitors up a small incline to a viewing area approximately .5 miles from the parking area.
Lake Creek Falls & Historic Bridge (Mileage CC 15.4/RL-48.6)
A stop at here treats visitors to a view of Lake Creek Falls as it plunges and cascades through its narrow canyon. The Lake Creek Wayside is located 1 ½ miles east of the junction of the Beartooth Highway and the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wyoming 296. Note the creek’s steep walls. They are granite – a hard rock that is highly resistant to erosion. Swift, tumbling water – using sand, pebbles and boulders as tools – vigorously attacks the granite. The water works mainly to deepen its channel, down-cutting the creek’s floor faster than the walls erode. A channel through hard rock, such as seen here, may deepen only an inch or two a year! Looking toward the falls from the main highway, travelers see a portion of the historic Lake Creek Bridge. This unique bridge is one of the few remaining structures of the original road across the Beartooth plateau that shows the craftsmanship of the Work Project Administration projects of the Depression Era. The granite rocks used for construction were hand shaped with stone chisels so that each fit snugly in place. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps it was completed in 1932. In 1974 the new steel structure was completed across Lake Creek.
Beartooth Ravine & Lake (Mileage CC 23.3/RL-40.7)
Pull in at Beartooth Lake for a visit to one of the most breathtaking and easily accessible high mountain lakes along the Beartooth Highway. Nestled at the base of Beartooth Butte, pictures of Beartooth Lake often reflect this amazing geographic feature. Beartooth Butte is a remnant of sedimentary deposits that once covered the entire Beartooth Plateau. Fossils are found in abundance in the sedimentary rocks of Beartooth Butte. The oldest fossilized remains found here are tribolites and brachipods. Over 500 million years have passed since they were living creatures. Fossil fish found here are some of the oldest found anywhere in the United States. Easy access to the shoreline of Beartooth Lake makes it a popular fishing spot, and the Shoshone National Forest campground is a favorite of highway visitors. At the southern end of Beartooth Lake water flows out of the lake, over massive glacial boulders, to become Beartooth Falls pictured at left.
Rivers of the Beartooth Highway
The Upper Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River
Springing from the high mountain peaks close to the Montana/Wyoming border at the western end of the Beartooth All-American Road, the Upper Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River parallels the highway for 17 breathtaking miles. This upper portion of the Clark’s Fork River is small, often only 10 feet across, crystal clear, and cold! Fishermen enjoy easy access to this high mountain river, with the “catch of the day” featuring brook, rainbow, and Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. Some of the most fantastic opportunities for wild photos are found along this stretch of riverfront as the famous Pilot and Index Peaks loom over the Beartooth Highway. Keep camera’s ready!
Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River
Close to the junction of the Beartooth All-American Road and Wyoming 296, the Clark’s Fork River leaves the Beartooth Highway and continues its journey northeast as it parallels the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway traveling toward the famous Clark’s Fork Canyon. Named after William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Clark’s Fork flows through a deep, postcard-scenic canyon. Its tumultuous waterfalls, white water cascades, deep pools, and rugged corridor lands are its unique characteristics. The Clark’s fork was designated Wyoming’s first Wild and Scenic River in November of 1990, and it is one of only two rivers in the state with the Wild and Scenic designation.
There is a wild and wonderful adventure for every fisherman who visits the Beartooth All-American Road. Hike to a high mountain lake, fish a pristine, cold tumbling mountain river, catch an elusive Yellowstone cutthroat trout, cast a lure into a clear mountain pool, practice casting while surrounded by granite peaks reaching 12,000 feet in elevation – the Beartooth All-American Road allows access to truly wild waters.
Much of the fishing along the Beartooth Highway is shore fishing from the edge of wild, pristine mountain lakes. Many lakes are easily accessible from the road, and can be a great place for a new fisherman to learn the art of casting! Hiking to more remote Beartooth Mountain lakes affords anglers the opportunity to fish some of the wildest, most remote areas in the lower 48 states.
At the eastern end of the road close to Red Lodge, Montana anglers find unlimited fishing in the Rock Creek Drainage. Featuring 47 fishable lakes and several fishable steams and creeks the Rock Creek Drainage is a fisherman’s paradise. Contact the Custer National Forest – Beartooth Ranger District for detailed fishing information, and a list of campgrounds and picnic areas.
Close to Cooke City, Montana the upper Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River begins it journey south into Wyoming close to the Wyoming/Montana border at the western end of the Beartooth All-American Road. A favorite of fly fishermen, the river is easily accessible from several large pullouts along the route. This Clark’s Fork area of the Beartooth All-American Road is also home to over 400 lakes, most located within the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Area. From Cooke City anglers can access lakes via jeep/ATV trails and area hiking trails.
Licenses & Regulations
Fishing in both Montana and Wyoming means anglers need to take extra care to ensure they have the proper licenses and regulations for the area they are fishing. Once inside Yellowstone National Park anglers will need to obtain a National Park fishing license and will be regulated by National Park fishing regulations. Visiting the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, and the National Park’s Fishing in Yellowstone information pages will be useful for traveler’s wanting to take advantage of the Beartooth Highway’s wild fishing opportunities.
Boating & Kayaking
Small lake size and remoteness limits opportunities for boating on the upper reaches of the road. The Shoshone National Forest section of the road in Wyoming sports three lakes with boat ramps; Beartooth Lake, Island Lake, and Lily Lake. All three lakes also host campers at Forest Service campgrounds. Boaters will find several opportunities to launch at the eastern end of the Beartooth All-American Road. Both Greenough and Wild Bill lakes offer boat ramps and campground facilities.
The high, cold, rushing waters of the Beartooth All-American Road are not ideal for river rafting, but get ready – the Road’s gateway communities of Red Lodge, Montana and Cody, Wyoming offer white water rafting throughout the warm summer season! Some daring and experienced kayakers challenge the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River which runs parallel to the Beartooth All-American Road and the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway for several wild miles – but don’t try this wild water unless you are an experienced kayaker – consult with local white water guides before tackling this wild water.