Planning A Beartooth Highway Visit

Planning A Beartooth Highway Visit

The Beartooth Highway is a 68 mile stretch of US Highway 212 that, from its western most terminus at the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, runs east to Red Lodge, Montana. While the Highway begins and ends in Montana, a large portion lies within the northwest corner of the State of Wyoming. Because the Beartooth Highway lies within National Forest and National Wilderness boundaries services along the route are limited to rest areas and interpretive sites, with the exception of one commercial property – Top of the World Store – located close to Island Lake Campground. Three communities, the Road’s “gateway communities”, provide access to the Highway, as well as full visitor services. This is important to note as these communities will be used as “home base” for travelers wanting to explore the Highway and surrounding Yellowstone Country.

Driving Directions

From the Cooke City, Montana area, visitors who leave Yellowstone National Park through the northeast entrance will find themselves on the Beartooth All-American Road. The Road travels through the historic mining communities of Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana, and continues on for 68 breathtaking miles past the Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness and over the Beartooth Plateau at an elevation of 10970 feet and to Red Lodge, Montana. 17 miles from Cooke City, visitors will find the junction of US 212 and WY 296 – the beautiful Chief Joseph Scenic Highway that leads south to Cody, Wyoming.

From Red Lodge, Montana, visitors will travel south and west on US Highway 212, the Beartooth All-American Road, and continue for the next 68.7 miles along the full length of the Beartooth Highway to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Red Lodge is easily accessible from Interstate 90, which traverses the southern portion of Montana. Exit 367 at Laurel, Montana, will lead visitors to Red Lodge.

From Cody, Wyoming, visitors will travel north on WY 120 for 17 miles to the junction of WY 120 and WY 296 – the beautiful Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Follow WY 296 for 47 miles to its intersection with The Beartooth All-American Road – US Highway 212. A right hand turn at the intersection will take visitors to the Beartooth Plateau and down the Beartooth Highway “switchbacks” into historic Red Lodge, Montana. A left turn leads visitors to Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, and the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Be Weather Ready

Reaching 10,977 feet at Beartooth Pass, and surrounded by 20 mountain peaks that reach over 12,000 feet, the Beartooth Highway crosses some of the most extreme country in the world. The high alpine climate ensures that severe weather conditions occur almost every month of the year. Summertime temperatures can range from the 70s on sunny days to below freezing during sudden snowstorms. Keep these extreme conditions in mind when planning a visit to the Beartooth Highway. Pack appropriate clothing including warm jackets and hats. Those planning outdoor recreation time may want to include additional foot wear and other items that will provide more warmth.

The road is normally plowed by Memorial Day, but closures are common through June due to spring snow storms. From the opening near Memorial Day, the road is seldom closed more than one day to remove the snow. It is not uncommon to experience blizzard type conditions both in the spring and the fall, especially at higher elevations. When these events occur, travel is slowed considerably or the highway is closed until it can be reopened by maintenance crews. Being aware of these possible weather conditional

Important Dates to Know

2014 Spring Plowing Information

Yellowstone National Park Service has set May 23, 2014 as opening day for the entire Beartooth Highway. Yellowstone National Park Service is responsible for clearing winter snow from the Highway beginning at the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone Park to the Wyoming/Montana state line close to Beartooth Pass. The Montana Department of Transportaion is responsible for clearing winter snow, debris, and rock slides from the Highway along the section of Higway in Montana just west of Red Lodge to the Montana/Wyoming state line. MTDOT posts regular video of road plowing operations here.

Memorial Day Weekend each Year – May 23, 24 & 25, 2014

The entire Beartooth Highway is generally open seasonally from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to mid-October depending on snowfall. To check road conditions and opening and closing dates travelers should call the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce at (406) 446-1718.

First Weekend in May each Year

National Park road plowing crews arrive in Cooke City, Montana during the first weekend in May each year to being annual plowing of the Beartooth Highway from Cooke City, through the Wyoming section of highway, to the Wyoming/Montana border. Yellowstone Park’s northeast entrance, via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway ( Wyoming Highway 296 ) is usually open to hearty visitors during or just after this first May weekend. To check road conditions call the Cooke City Chamber of Commerce at (406) 838-2495.

End of Travel Season – 2014 – October 14, 2014 at 8:00 am

The National Scenic Byways website provides the follow information:

Best Time to Drive: Driving from Red Lodge to Cooke City (east to west) in the morning and west to east in the afternoon will reduce glare.

High Season: Summer

Off Season: The byway is generally closed due to snow from October through April.

Shoulder Season: Check with the local area Chambers of Commerce for weather and road updates when traveling the byway in May, September, or October.

Spring: US 212 West from its junction with WY 296 into Cooke City and Yellowstone National Park opens in early May for the spring/summer travel season and remains open into October as snow conditions allow.

Summer: US 212 from Red Lodge, Montana south over Beartooth Plateau to its junction with the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (WY 296) opens the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and remains open until mid-October as snow conditions allow.

Winter: US 212 West from its junction with WY 296 to Pilot Creek Trail head and Parking Area is open year-round and accessible for winter recreation. The Pilot Creek Trail head provides parking for snowmobile trailers for over-snow access to Cooke City.

Did You Know?

Fishing Beartooth Highway

The cutthroat is the only true western native trout. Originally wide spread throughout the state, it is now relegated to the higher, cooler, more inaccessible back country lakes and streams. Cutthroats are easily identified by the bright red “cut” on the lower jaw.

Clay Butte Lookout - Beartooth Highway

The Clay Butte Lookout was built in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and was used as a fire lookout. It was staffed until the 1960s, when aircraft proved a better tool for fire detection. Today, because of its popular scenic vantage point and proximity to the Beartooth Highway, Clay Butte is used as a visitor information site. It was remodeled in 1962 and has been staffed since 1975 by volunteers. The focus of Clay Butte today is to give visitors a glimpse of how fire lookouts functioned 60 years ago. Sightseers driving the scenic byway stop to obtain information or take in the view, which includes wildlife, botanical areas, the effects of the Clover-Mist wildfire of 1988, and the geology of ancient seas that once covered the Beartooth Plateau.