Travels and Tourism

Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming | The highway’s beauty and its potential to be a relaxing and enjoyable drive.

The Beartooth Highway is an All-American Road in the western United States on a section of U.S. Route 212 in Montana and Wyoming between Red Lodge and the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It crests at Beartooth Pass in Wyoming at 10,947 feet (3,337 m) above sea level, and was called “the most beautiful drive in America,” by late CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt. Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open for about five months per year, from mid-May to mid-October, weather conditions permitting.

Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile road that runs along the border of Montana and Wyoming, connecting the towns of Red Lodge and Cooke City. It is one of the most scenic drives in the USA.

This drive is absolutely spectacular. Along Beartooth Highway, you will travel through several national forests, view the tallest peaks in Montana, see numerous alpine lakes, and have the option to add on short hikes to viewpoints and waterfalls.

Beartooth Highway is a dramatic, beautiful entrance into Yellowstone National Park. And even if you don’t have plans to enter or exit Yellowstone from the northeast entrance, adding this experience to your Yellowstone to-do list is well worth it, especially for those who like scenic drives over high mountain passes.

In this guide to Beartooth Highway, learn how to plan your visit, what to do along the drive, when to go, and how to add this to your Yellowstone itinerary.

Note:  Before doing this drive, get updates on the National Park Service website and the Montana.gov website for any closures or delays.

History Of Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

In August 1872, the pass was crossed by Civil War General Philip Sheridan and 120 men returning from an inspection tour of Yellowstone National Park. Rather than take the long detour down the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River to return to Billings, Sheridan took the advice of an old hunter named Shuki Greer, who claimed intimate knowledge of the Beartooth Mountains. When the road was opened in 1936, it essentially followed Sheridan’s route over the pass.

What is Beartooth Highway?

Beartooth Highway is a section of US Route 212 that connects Red Lodge, Montana with Cooke City-Silver Gate, Montana. It is 68 miles long.

Starting in Red Lodge, at 5,500 feet, it climbs up to Beartooth Pass, topping out at 10,947 feet. The road then descends towards Cooke City-Silver Gate, winding past alpine lakes, campgrounds, and jagged mountain peaks.

This road passes through portions of Gallatin, Custer, and Shoshone national forests. In the nearby Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, there are 20 peaks over 12,000 feet.

Beartooth Highway has been called “the most beautiful drive in America” by On the Road correspondent Charles Kuralt.

This road is maintained by the National Park Service. It is typically closed from early October through Memorial Day, due to heavy snowfall.

When is Beartooth Highway Open?

Beartooth Highway is typically open from Memorial Day through early October.

We drove Beartooth Highway on October 5, 2024. Beartooth Highway closed on October 7, during the first snowfall of the season. Did we get lucky or what?!

The owner of our lodge in Red Lodge, who has lived here for over 40 years, said that this was the latest he could remember Beartooth Highway being open.

Once the road closes, it remains closed until the spring. This road gets a massive amount of snowfall and in some years, it can be as high as 26 feet. In May, and sometimes as late as June (if snowfall has been especially heavy), the road is finally plowed.

How Long Does It Take to Drive Beartooth Highway?

On average, it takes two and a half hours to three hours to drive Beartooth Highway. This gives you time for stops at scenic overlooks along the drive.

It took us just under 3 hours and we stopped frequently for photos. We did not do any of the optional hikes, since we had a lot already planned for the day. But if you plan to do the short hikes and detours listed below, this drive can take a half of a day or longer.

Things to Do on Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway can be driven in either direction. This list of things to do on Beartooth Highway starts in Red Lodge and ends at Yellowstone National Park, since that is the direction that we did this drive.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.

If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Red Lodge, Montana

This charming town sits at the base of the Beartooth Mountains. If you are road tripping across the USA with plans to visit Yellowstone, this town is a great place to stay. There are numerous small hotels and lodges to choose from, boutique shops, and several great restaurants.

Tim and I stayed in a cabin at the Alpine Lodge and had dinner at Prerogative Kitchen (both are highly recommended!). Other recommended restaurants are Carbon County Steakhouse, Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture (Italian), Mas Taco, and Red Lodge Pizza Company.

Beartooth Scenic Byway Welcome Sign

Several miles outside of Red Lodge is the welcome sign for Beartooth Highway. Just beyond this sign, the road begins its thrilling climb up into the mountains.

Beartooth Highway Switchbacks

Over the course of several miles, Beartooth Highway steeply ascends up into the mountains. You will drive long, winding switchbacks. The higher you go, the better the views.

The road is very wide with guardrails, so it is safe and easy to drive, just keep your eyes on the road. There are turn outs along the road where you can safely stop to enjoy the view.

Rock Creek Vista

This viewpoint is located near the top of the switchbacks. At this point, you are at 9,190 feet and already 21 miles from Red Lodge. There is a short paved trail to an overlook where you have an awesome view of Rock Creek Canyon and Hellroaring Plateau.

Hellroaring Plateau is the mountain range on the opposite side of Rock Creek Canyon.

45th Parallel

The road continues to climb past Rock Creek Vista, although no longer as steeply. Now, you are driving through alpine tundra. Trees and shrubs have disappeared and the landscape is a lot more barren.

You will cross the 45th parallel, which is the halfway point between the North Pole and the equator.

45th Parallel

The road continues to climb past Rock Creek Vista, although no longer as steeply. Now, you are driving through alpine tundra. Trees and shrubs have disappeared and the landscape is a lot more barren.

You will cross the 45th parallel, which is the halfway point between the North Pole and the equator.

Beartooth Pass

At 10,947, this is the highest point along Beartooth Highway. There is a short road to Beartooth Pass Overlook where you can take in the view.

Alpine Lakes

Beyond Beartooth Pass, the road begins to make its descent. A short series of switchbacks brings you to a plateau that is filled with alpine lakes. This is a beautiful part of the drive.

Top of the World Store

This is a great place to stop if you need food, gas, souvenirs, or lodging. At this point, you are 38 miles from Red Lodge and 25 miles from Cooke City.

How to Add Beartooth Highway onto Your Visit to Yellowstone

If you have plans to enter or exit Yellowstone through the northeast entrance, or if you plan to stay in Cooke City-Silver Gate, you will be at the start of Beartooth Highway, so adding on this drive is easy. Just make sure your dates of travel are from June through early October, when this road is typically open.

If you have a few days in Yellowstone and want to add on this scenic drive, you will have to set aside at least half of a day. From the northeast entrance, it will take about an hour and a half to drive to the Rock Creek Vista, which is the overlook just before the big switchbacks into Rock Creek Canyon. You can turn around at this point, or go all the way to Red Lodge, stopping in town for lunch.

To return to Yellowstone, you can retrace the route along Beartooth Highway, and then drive through Lamar Valley in the afternoon, a great time to be here.

Or, if you really like scenic drives, return on Beartooth Highway, turn left onto Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, and take this to Cody. From Cody, it takes an hour to drive to the east entrance but it is another beautiful drive (this is called the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway). If you do Beartooth Highway → Chief Joseph Scenic Byway → Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway → east entrance of Yellowstone, this will take one full day.