Just outside Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana
Huge Mountains, Wildlife
68 Miles point to point
At least half a day. Many days are possible if you plan to camp and hike
Memorial day through Labor Day
Several at the different campgrounds
Beartooth Highway is simply put, one of my favorite places on earth. It takes you through the middle of some of the most gorgeous, and rugged country in North America. It is one of the highest roads in the US at just a few feet below 11,000 feet. You could make the drive in a half day with the basic stops but you would be doing yourself a diservice to not spend at least one full day with many more possible. There are many campgrounds on the highway. The road starts just outside the northeast entrance to Yellowstone and its difficult to drive the highway without going through Yellowstone. For this reason I will be including this area in the Yellowstone driving tour that we are working on. The road takes you between Cooke City and Red Lodge Montana with a whole lot of Wyoming in between. The highway is generally open between Memorial Day and Labor day. I will include photos from all times of the year so you can know what to expect when you go. Each time has beauty in its own way. Please note that it can get cold and snow here at any time so always go prepared, especially when hiking. We will start in Cooke City for this trek. Be sure to stop at the lovely visitor center in Cooke City and visit the small mining museum behind it that is really cool and shows the mining history that started Cooke City. The Absaroka Mountains tower over the city.
One of the first points of interest outside Cooke City is Crazy Creek Falls located right by the Crazy Creek Campground. We have a separate trek for Crazy Creek Falls.
Be sure to look back behind you in this area for great views of Pilot Peak.
Shortly after this you will see the turn for the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway that takes you to Cody, Wyoming. 1 1/2 miles past this you will see Lake Creek Falls on your left just off the road. It is not signed so keep your eyes peeled. Its worth a stop to go see the impressive cascade up close from the old highway bridge that is still standing. This one flows pretty well year round as seen by the last two photos taken in late fall.
Just after the falls you will come to a dirt road that is doable in a car and leads to some great views highlighted by the very jagged Pilot Peak which is considered one of the most rugged peaks in the Rockies and you can see why. Pilot Peak is part of the Absaroka Range.
You can also see some of the high peaks of the Beartooth Mountains.
Next up you will see a sign for the Clay Butte lookout tower. The tower is an old fire watch tower that gives awesome views. It is a well graded dirt road that has great wildflowers in the summer.
Views from the top include the Absaroka Range:
The Beartooth Butte:
Pilot Peak and the Beartooths:
If you have binoculars you can see Granite Peak and the highest peaks in the Beartooths. Granite is the highest point in Montana at 12,807 feet. Its easy to see where it got its name.
Back on the main road you will quickly come to Beartooth Lake. This is probably the most popular lake and campground.
Watch on your right just before the lake and you can see the top of Beartooth Falls in the canyon below you.
If you park at the south end of the lake you can take the short hike right to the falls. It is spectacular and covered in its own trek here: Beartooth Falls
Next you will see another short dirt road to Island Lake. This area was very pretty and didn’t have too many people.
Back on the main road there are several small lakes and great wildflowers.
From here on out the road steadily switchbacks up to the top of the road marked with a large sign. You can see the snow difference between late May and early October.
Here are some photos of the different times of year in the high country. The views are amazing any time.
This was late May:
These were in late July: Can you spot the Bears Tooth?
These were in early October: Keep in mind the road is not always open this late.
As you begin to drop down toward Red Lodge Montana you will come to the last main stop in a signed lookout point where it is a short walk to some more great views.
From here the road switchbacks down into the large glacier carved canyon and out to Red Lodge.
Most people probably turn back and return to Yellowstone but there are some great places to visit between Red Lodge and Bozeman.
This is a place I have visited many times and I love it every time. The mountains and lakes are gorgeous and the high glacier carved country has always fascinated me. This should be on everyone’s list of activities if you are visiting Yellowstone and love scenic drives.