The Beartooth Highway is an All-American Road that has been called "the most beautiful drive in America," by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt. Due to heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from Memorial Day in late May through Labor Day in September.
The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 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 high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 to 8,000 feet in 12 miles (1,600 to 2,400 m in 20 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 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.
Due to 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. Plan on a driving time of at least two hours for the long trip from Red Lodge to Cooke City. It is a good idea to check with the Ranger station beforehand in case of road closures.
The Beartooth Highway passes through portions of Custer National Forest, and Shoshone National Forest and near the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
The pass was crossed by Civil War
General Phillip Sheridan
and 120 men on an inspection tour of Yellowstone
, which had just been made a national park, in August 1882. Rather than take the long detour down the Clarks Fork River
to return to Billings
, Sheridan took the advice of an old hunter named Greer, who claimed intimate knowledge of the Beartooth Mountains
. Fifty years later, the road over the pass was opened in 1936. It essentially follows Sheridan's route.
Several large mudslides
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 and the road was re-opened.
An estimated of rock were removed from a half-mile (800 m) 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
Repairs to the Beartooth Highway (Hwy 212) are now complete and the road was opened to traffic for a few short days in October 2005. 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 Highway 212 from its intersection with the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, (WY 296) 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.