Beartooth Highway

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Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway highlighted in red
Route information
Maintained by National Park Service
Length68.7 mi[1] (110.6 km)
ExistedJune 4, 1936; 88 years ago (1936-06-04)–present
US 212
Major junctions
West end US 212 at the Northeast Entrance Station of Yellowstone National Park
Major intersections WYO 296 near Beartooth Lake
East end US 212 / MT 78 in Red Lodge
CountryUnited States
Highway system

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.[2] 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.[3]

Route description

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana–Wyoming border (45th parallel) to the 10,947-foot-high (3,337 m) Beartooth Pass in Wyoming. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft (1,580 m) to 10,947 ft (3,337 m) in twelve miles (19 km) in the most daring landscapes.

When driving east to west, the highest parts of the Beartooth Highway level off into a wide plateau near the top of the pass, then descend to the junction with Wyoming Highway 296 (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway) near Cooke City, the northeast gateway to Yellowstone National Park. On the way one passes numerous lakes typical of the Absaroka–Beartooth Wilderness which borders the highway along much of its route.

The highway officially opened June 14, 1936.[4]

At this elevation and latitude, snowstorms can occur even in the middle of the summer, and the pass is also known for strong winds and severe thunderstorms. Drivers should plan on a driving time of at least two hours for the 69-mile (111 km) trip from Red Lodge to Cooke City, and it is advised to check with the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce or the Beartooth Ranger District beforehand in case of road closures.[3] Montana Traveler Information[5] and Wyoming Travel Information Service[6] both provide online information on Beartooth Highway travel conditions for their respective portions of the highway.

The Beartooth Highway passes through portions of Custer, Shoshone, and Gallatin national forests, and near the Absaroka–Beartooth Wilderness.

Despite this, and the U.S. highway number, and also connecting to state highway 296, it is not maintained by the Wyoming Department of Transportation or even the U.S. Forest Service, with WYDOT stating it does not meet standards for Wyoming state highways. It is instead maintained by the National Park Service, despite not being part of the park (like the Foothills Parkway or Skyline Drive) or being its own unit (like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Natchez Trace Parkway). The Montana Department of Transportation does maintain its portions in Custer and Gallatin national forests at the east and west ends of the highway, respectively.

Neither MDT nor NPS perform snow removal except for once in the spring, typically in May, but sometimes not until June if there has been heavy snowfall. Once the road opens, Beartooth Basin Ski Area opens near the state line at Beartooth Pass, for a short summer-only season that lasts until July.


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.

2005 closure

During the spring of 2005, several large mudslides and rockslides on May 19–20 damaged or destroyed the Montana side of the Beartooth Highway in a dozen places between mile markers 39 and 51. The road was closed for reconstruction, and a $20.4 million construction contract issued which stipulated an October 2005 completion date. Construction was completed ahead of schedule however the highway did not reopen for a year. An estimated 100,000 cubic yards (76,500 m3) of rock was removed from a 0.5-mile-long (0.8 km) section of the highway near the top of the switchbacks, and construction crews drilled down to solid bedrock to create new supports for the road.

Major intersections

MontanaParkYellowstone National Park0.000.00
US 212 west (Northeast Entrance Road)
Northeast Entrance Station; western end of US 212 concurrency; continuation beyond western terminus
WyomingPark17.728.5Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (WYO 296)Western terminus of Chief Joseph Scenic Byway
32.852.8Winter closure gate
Stretch of road closed Columbus Day to Memorial Day[7]
MontanaCarbonWyoming Creek54.988.4Winter closure gate at bridge
Red Lodge67.1108.0
S-308 east – Belfry
Western terminus of S-308

US 212 east (Broadway Avenue) / MT 78 north (Third Street) – Absarokee, Columbus
Eastern end of US 212 concurrency; eastern terminus; roundabout
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi



  1. ^ a b "Beartooth Highway". America's Byways. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  2. ^ Kulbacki, Michael; McCauley, Bert & Moler, Steve (July–August 2006). "An Orphaned Highway". Public Roads. Federal Highway Administration. Archived from the original on 2008-09-17. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
  3. ^ a b Beartooth Highway Points of Interest, Red Lodge Montana Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  4. ^ "Beartooth Highway's Wild Wild West". Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  5. ^ "Montana Traveler Information". Montana Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  6. ^ "Wyoming Travel Information Service". Wyoming Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2020-10-18.
  7. ^ FBaar (August 30, 2013). "Beartooth Highway – Season's End". Beartooth Highway. Friends of the Beartooth All-American Road. Retrieved May 15, 2020.

External links