Scenic beauty of Beartooth All-American Road

Touted as being the most beautiful drive in America, the Beartooth All-American Road celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2011. What a road it is! Reaching heights of nearly 11,000 feet, this 53.7-mile, 3 hour drive offers skytop views of snow-capped peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes and plateaus.

Now a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, The Beartooth features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, and open high alpine plateaus dotted with countless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife.

Since its completion in 1936, the Highway has provided millions of visitors a rare opportunity to see the transition from a lush forest ecosystem to alpine tundra in the space of a few miles. The Beartooths are one of the highest elevation and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation. Glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet in these mountains.

Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid May through mid October, weather conditions permitting.

The Beartooth All-American Road passes through what is known today as the Beartooth Corridor. Surrounded by the Custer, Gallatin, and Shoshone National Forests, travelling parallel to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and abutting Yellowstone National Park, the Highway sits in a million-plus acre wilderness. Visitors have the rare opportunity to experience and explore pristine, untouched alpine and montane landscapes, lush forests, and alpine tundra in the space of a few miles.

Driving the Beartooth can sometimes be unpredictable.  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.

No Federal or State agency claims actual ownership of the highway and it is truly an “orphan” road.  Ownership of the highway right-of-way remains with the Federal Government, with the Forest Service assigned the responsibility for administering the land.    

The Beartooth Highway serves as the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  It is also known as the Red Lodge-Cooke City Highway, and carries US 212 route number for its entire length.

While the Highway begins and ends in Montana, a large portion lies within the northwest corner of the State of Wyoming. Because the Beartooth Highway lies within National Forest and National Wilderness boundaries services along the route are limited to rest areas and interpretive sites, with the exception of one commercial property, the Top of the World Store which is located close to Island Lake Campground.

The Beartooth Scenic Byway also hooks up with other scenic routes, including The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway in Wyoming, The Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway and the Montana Scenic Loop, all of which makes for some of the best driving you can do.

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