view of the mountains near Red Lodge Montana along the Beartooth highway

Planning a Road Trip on the Beartooth Highway

If you are looking to go on a scenic road trip and want to experience one of the most beautiful drives in all of America, then you should plan a road trip on the Beartooth Highway.  This iconic drive opened to vehicles back in 2937 and is known for its winding roads and switchbacks, much of which is high above the tree line. The road takes up and over Beartooth Pass, at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level, and leads you all the way to Yellow Stone National Park.  This is a must-do road trip for those who enjoy being surrounded by pure natural beauty. If you are planing a trip and considering a road trip out West, the Beartooth Highway is an iconic road trip route to take!

motorcycle parked on side of road with mountain views 167 Beartooth Highway

Where is the Beartooth Highway?

The famous Beartooth highway spans a section of US Route 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and the junction with highway 296 in Wyoming, at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. This route is popular among travelers because it is surrounded by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area known for its lush green valleys, breathtaking mountain ranges off in the distance, abundant wildlife and flowing streams and lakes. 

 

Beartooth Highway Map

Check out this map of the Beartooth Highway where we have noted some of the points of interest, campgrounds, and hiking trails along the way.

 

How Long Does it Take to Drive the Beartooth Highway?

Starting from Red Lodge it will be about 3 hours to get all the way to Yellowstone, but that’s if you drive straight through.  Of course, we recommend that you don’t zip through so fast. Take your time to enjoy this amazing highway. There are a number of places to stop along the way, which we will mention below.  You’ll definitely want to snap some photos, have a picnic, and maybe even go for a hike. 

 

 

When is the Beartooth Highway Open?

Due to the fact that the Beartooth pass us up at nearly 11,000 feet in elevation above sea level, the road can become treacherous during bad weather. As a result, the Beartooth Highway is only open from about mid-May through the middle of October and closed in the winter.

However, even in the summer there can be terrible snowstorms at the top of the pass and harsh winds. So the Beartooth Highway could be closed at any time due to inclement weather. It is recommended that you check on the road conditions first before heading out. If you are in Red Lodge, then you can check with the local Chamber of Commerce or even the Beartooth Ranger District just to be sure the road is open.

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view of the mountains near Red Lodge Montana along the Beartooth highway

 

Adventure at Your Own Pace on the Beartooth Highway

If you love being adventurous, outdoors and exploring the wilderness or riding your motorcycle down zig-zagging roads, then Beartooth Highway is a must for your travel to do list. Since you can drive it at your own pace, you’re in charge of your experience.

If you feel like fishing, go fish! If you feel like wandering around the forests, wander until your heart’s content! If you just want to enjoy the amazing views of the mountains while the sun sets, you’ve got nothing but time when you’re driving the Beartooth Highway. And if you want to stay in the area and explore longer, then consider your options for Beartooth Highway camping – which is what we would highly recommend!

Where to Stay Along the Beartooth Highway?

The Beartooth Highway is a pretty remote highway through the wilderness. If you are wanting to stay in hotels, then you have a few options to consider. You could stay in Red Lodge, Montana or you could stay at the Western end of the highway in Cooke City, Montana which is near the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. With regard to hotels, there is very little in between those two towns. Although, you will find plenty of camping options in between.

Red Lodge Montana Hotels

The Pollard Hotel

Built in 1893, the Pollard was the center of downtown Red Lodge. If you’re looking for something a little more swanky, this Victorian hotel has been completely restored and offers luxurious amenities. The Pollard hotel is located right at the foot of Beartooth Highway.

Other options for top-rated hotel options in Red Lodge, Montana include the following:

Cooke City Montana Hotels

Located just a few minutes from the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Cooke City is a scenic town that is quite convenient to stay during your trip. You could come over from Red Lodge and take your time exploring the Beartooth Highway, then stay the night in Cooke City before going to Yellowstone the next day. That would be a vacation itinerary I would recommend planning.

 

Beartooth Highway Camping

The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness does allow camping in specific areas. You can also choose how you want to camp; cabins, campgrounds, RVs. Camping options include designated campgrounds with picnic areas, or you can have a more primitive experience and camp outside of these designated areas in dispersed areas.

Depending on which area you would like to camp in, there is most likely a developed campsite nearby, if that’s your preference.  If we are traveling in our RV, then we usually enjoy a more developed campground. Here is a link to a list of developed campgrounds in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area. Look into which campsites you might be interested at camping at and see what they have to offer. Each campground has their own fees, rules and amenities. Some do not take pre-booked reservations so it’s best to snag your spot early in the morning! tents in a green valley surrounded by rocky mountains and alpine trees and people getting up in the morning along the beartooth highway

 

Things to Do During a Beartooth Highway Road Trip


Check Out Mystic Lake

At over 300 ft. deep and more than 2 miles long, Mystic Lake is the deepest and largest lake in the Beartooth Mountains and it is also a popular spot for rainbow trout fishing. Some good fishing spots are by the small, tiny islands located a few feet away from the shore and also at the inlet of the lake.

After your done fishing you can sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful view of the Tempest, Mystic, and Granite Peak mountains. You can also camp in this area so if you’re keen to waking up early enough you can sit out by the lake and watch the sunrise. There are also some fantastic hiking trails around Mystic Lake that are quite enjoyable and very scenic!

East Rosebud Trail

Also known as “The Beaten Path”, The East Rosebud trail is a popular hiking route for nature-loving hikers. It is located between Red Lodge and Cooke City and has been said to be one of the best hiking trails the Rocky Mountains has to offer. The hike itself is about 26 miles long so if you don’t feel up to completing it in one day, there are great campsites along the way.

While hiking the trail you’ll come across trickling streams and lakes where you can go fishing. You will also see breathtaking views of different mountain peaks. There are also several side trails you can take if you would prefer to have a more peaceful hike in solitude.

Yellowstone - Top of Bear Tooth Pass Highway looking down at lakes and valleys below

Rock Creek Vista Point – What Views!

Also located in Red Lodge, the Rock Creek Vista Point is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Montana. This is a good place to stop at while driving on the road if you are driving the Beartooth Highway route. You can get out of your car and walk around the vista point to enjoy the panoramic views of the Beartooth Mountains and the green forest valleys below. This is a great spot to whip those cameras out!

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Ski During the Summer at Beartooth Basin Ski Area

Due to the elevation and snow levels, this ski area is only open during the summer months! The Beartooth Basin Ski Area was developed in the 1960’s by three Austrians as an Alpine Ski racing summer training ground, in fact, it’s one of the oldest Alpine training ski areas. This isn’t a massive ski resort as you might imagine when you think of ski areas. It’s actually quite rural and rugged. 

While there is a ski patrol and a few chairlifts, there are no warming huts or fancy lodge area. It’s pretty much like going backcountry skiing but with the convenience of a couple of lifts. There are less than 10 runs, most of which are for experienced skiers. But there is a Big Air terrain park. 

 

Don’t Forget to Shop at the Top of the World Store

At over 9,000 feet above sea level, this little store is the only place to shop along the Beartooth Highway. Located on the Wyoming side of the pass about 40 miles from Red Lodge and 25 miles from Cooke City, the Top of the World Store is a fantastic place to make a stop. You can stretch your legs a bit, admire the views, grab a snack or some ice cream, and do a bit of browsing in the gift shop. 

 

Yellowstone National Park

As your journey through Beartooth Highway comes to an end you will be arriving at the ever-famous Yellowstone National Park- the first official national park in the United States. As one of our most favorite national parks in the US, this park area covers a whopping 2.2 million acres land with widespread lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Tourists from all over the world come to Yellowstone as it has become a geographical icon of the United States. If you’re able to spend a day at Yellowstone National Park, be sure to stop by Old Faithful, the famous cone geyser.

166 Beartooth Mountain views of road winding straight to a jagged mountain shooting up into the sky like a sharp pyramid

 

An Epic American Road Trip on the Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway is a classic American road trip to take. It’s not a trip to rush through.  We recommend that you spend at least half a day at minimum to drive and enjoy the area. However, having more time will allow you to have some fun along the way. In particular, camping in this area is a wonderful experience. It gives you time to sit, relax, breath in the fresh air and really enjoy nature. The Beartooth wilderness area is pure paradise for nature-lovers as well as class road trip lovers!

 


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Beartooth Highway Pin with mountain views from a valley high up to a mountain in the straight distance
Creative Commons DSC06386” by Dawn Hopkins is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

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