Beartooth Highway

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US 212.svg MUTCD D6-4.svg

Beartooth Highway
Route information
Length: 68.7 mi[1] (110.6 km)
Major junctions
West end: US 212 at Wyoming state line
East end: US 212 / MT 78 in Red Lodge
Highway system
BeartoothHwy near BeartoothPass.jpg
Approaching Beartooth Pass from the East along the Beartooth Highway
Elevation 10,947 ft (3,337 m)
Traversed by U.S. Route 212
Location Montana / Wyoming, United States
Range Beartooth Mountains
Coordinates 44°58.1′N 109°27.9′W / 44.9683°N 109.4650°W / 44.9683; -109.4650
The sign marking the beginning of Beartooth Highway at the exit to Yellowstone National Park

The Beartooth Highway is an All-American Road on a section of U.S. Route 212 in Montana between Red Lodge and the Wyoming state line at Beartooth Pass, located 10,947 feet (3,337 m) above sea level near Yellowstone National Park. It has been called "the most beautiful drive in America," by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt.[2] Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid May through mid October, weather conditions permitting.[3]

Route description[edit]

The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947 ft (3,337 m) high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft (1,600 m) to 8,000 ft (2,400 m) in 12 mi (19 km) in the most daring landscapes.

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

The highway officially opened June 14, 1936.[citation needed]

Because of the high altitudes, 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) long trip from Red Lodge to Cooke City. It is a good idea to check with the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce or the Beartooth Ranger District beforehand in case of road closures.[3] Montana Traveler Information[4] and Wyoming Travel Information Service[5] both provide online information on Beartooth Highway travel conditions for their respective portions of the highway.

The Beartooth Highway passes through portions of Custer National Forest, and Shoshone National Forest and near the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.


Beartooth Highway weaving its way through the Beartooth Mountains

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[edit]

Several large mudslides and rockslides on May 19 and May 20, 2005 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 never reopened for the year. An estimated 100,000 cubic yards (76,000 m3) of rock were removed from a 0.5-mile-long (0.80 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.

2006 road opening[edit]

Repairs to the Beartooth Highway were completed but the highway never opened for the 2005 season. This All-American Road, which closes each winter because of excessive snow and adverse winter conditions re-opens in May of each year. The section of US Route 212 from its intersection with WY 296 (Chief Joseph Scenic Highway) to Cooke City and into the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is usually open to traffic during the first 10 days in May. The entire highway from Red Lodge over the Beartooth Plateau and on to Cooke City has its official opening each year on the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend.


  1. ^ "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. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  3. ^ a b Beartooth Highway Points of Interest, Red Lodge Montana Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  4. ^ Montana Traveler Information, Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  5. ^ Wyoming Travel Information Service, Retrieved 2010-08-25.

External links[edit]

Route map: Bing / Google

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