The Beartooth Highway: Why you should go
The Beartooth Highway is: “….the most beautiful drive in America”
– CBS correspondent, Charles Kuralt
The Beartooth Highway (“BTH”) is a two-lane highway tucked away in the southeastern corner of Montana. It runs for 67 miles from Red Lodge, Montana, to the Northeast Entrance of Glacier National Park in Cooke City, Montana. This drive is in my top two drives in Montana*. This and the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park are my top two drives in Montana.
In fact, it seems to me that this is the lesser-known highway, although I might be wrong. This drive is just as spectacular, if not more so, than the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. The Going-to-the-Sun Highway is an amazing drive (look for my blog post about that drive!), but has more enclosed mountains than the Beartooth. The views are stunning on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but you can only see so far.
On the Beartooth Highway, the views go on and on. You can see well into Montana and well into Wyoming.
The road from Cooke City and up is less frightening than the drive up from the Red Lodge side (at least to me, anyway!). There are a lot of switchbacks coming up from Red Lodge, and when you get up near the ski area at the top, there are not many guard rails to protect you. I never thought that I was afraid of heights, but it seems worse the older I get.
I attended ski camp back in 1997 at the ski area along the Beartooth Highway. The ski area is called the Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area. I attended a summer mogul training camp there, and we stayed in Red Lodge. Apparently now it is now open to the public from Memorial day to the Fourth of July, while it still has snow. You wouldn’t even know that it was there, except for a gravel pull-out and the lift’s bull wheel.
Yes, there is only one lift. And it is not a chairlift. It is a t-bar, that pulls you up the hill with a bar that is under your bottom. You would only want to ski here if you are a good skier or snowboarder (by “good,” I mean at least intermediate). There is little snow (about 10 inches at the bottom), and the terrain is very steep. There is no food or services. There are no runs, just separate chutes. I remember how steep those moguls were when I was training there, and I was only in 7th grade. Day tickets are $45.
There is an awesome article about the ski area atop Beartooth Highway, with some great pictures at: http://missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/skiing-operating-little-known-summer-area-atop-beartooth-pass-a/article_92b6ab50-bca7-11e1-8778-001a4bcf887a.html
The Beartooth Highway is truly a special place. There are many beautiful blue mountain lakes that run along the highway, and you will see people fishing and relaxing all throughout your drive. There are pull-outs every so often to get pictures and stop for breaks. The only store along the highway is the Top of the World Resort, which is also a great place to rent such things as mountain bikes and lake equipment to use on Island Lake. You can camp along the highway also.
At the top, you will see the “Bear’s Tooth” sign, providing a great photo opportunity:
A lot of people ride their mountain bikes along the highway. I just do not have the energy for that! Maybe someday!
The highest point is 10,977 feet at the top of the pass, and the surrounding mountains reach up to 12,000 feet in elevation. The road opens around Memorial Day, and closes around October, depending on snow and winter conditions. You will want to check ahead of time if you are planning on traveling there around these dates, to be sure that the road is open during your visit. You can call the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce at (406) 446-1718 for the information you need.
I would say you want someone to drive who is ready for a two-lane highway with a lot of drop-offs. And bring a camera. You won’t want to miss the photo-ops. Obvi.
The best time to drive is from Red Lodge to Cooke City in the morning, and from Cooke City to Red Lodge in the afternoon to reduce glare.
For more information on the Beartooth Highway, visit: http://www.beartoothhighway.com/
Warmest Wishes from Big Sky Country,
Montana Vacation Blog
*I recognize that the Beartooth Highway begins in Montana and ends in Montana, but that the highway actually crosses through Wyoming.*