Just a short rural vacation post, especially for Yellowstone or Teton vacationers! If you are looking for a scenic route into Yellowstone National Park, let me introduce you to Highway 212, better known as “The Beartooth Highway“. This 54 mile stretch of road will take you into rugged backroad, Big Sky Country in a few tips of a hat. It’s not the fastest, or easiest route into Yellowstone, but it sure offers the wildest and most scenic route into the park. It was always a bucket-list of mine to take the family into Yellowstone driving the Beartooth highway, and coming into the North-East entrance of the park. It’s about a 3-hour drive from Red Lodge (historic home of town marshal Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson) into Cooke City and following the entrance into Yellowstone. So, come prepared with plenty of water, and snacks, and make sure you take your bathroom break before hitting the road!
Beartooth will go through some steep climbs as it takes you by 20 different peaks higher than 12,000 feet, through both Montana and Wyoming and three different National Forests (Custer, Shoshone, and Gallatin).
In certain areas looking over, you can see the Van Dyke trail (not pictured above) with its distinct marking of a Z into the mountainside, which marked the old trail (the only way to pass through this area) before the Beartooth Highway was finished in 1936.
The Beartooth is only open for about 4 months of the year (depending on weather) and typically opens Memorial Day and runs to about Oct 14th or Columbus Day. The thing to remember with elevation is how cold it gets (EVEN IN THE SUMMER!) The picture below is my family taking a quick picture in JULY with shorts and a t-shirt and FREEZING in the elements at the top!
It was a beautiful scenic route to take and I would advise anyone to take the time and do it. I had a conversation with a friend a while back about it, and he said: “Yeah, but it’s out of your way?” My answer to that is, depending on what type of trip you are going on, if you aren’t in a hurry and have time, slow down a bit and enjoy your vacation. Go off the main path, explore the backcountry and take time to smell the pine forest, the sea breeze, and in this case with the Beartooth highway-take time to take in the scenery! It’s a big wild world out there and its sensory overload! Take it all in! This, of course, is the country pilgrim spirit and the ONLY way I recommend travel!
Last, but not least on this rural scenic route, you will wind down to Cooke City where the road starts to follow the Clarks Fork River and gets you closer to the NE Yellowstone entrance. You will begin to wind through the Absaroka Mountains and passing through the entrance to the park you will begin to wind through the Lamar Valley. Slow down and enjoy this part of the park. If you look at a map of Yellowstone, you will see a “figure eight” where the park is divided into “loops” (North and South). Upon entering the Lamar Valley you are NE of the loop and pretty far away from the rest of the park. You might not get back to this part of the park the rest of the way, so enjoy the Lamar Valley as a mecca for wildlife, and prepare to encounter bears, wolves, and bison.
I remind everyone to slow down because there is plenty of traffic in the park, and sadly during our visit, a couple Grizzley cubs were hit and killed by traffic. Just a friendly reminder that we are guests…and to consider the park and all of its inhabitants. Don’t take anything from the park, leave it as you find it, but take it all in otherwise!
If you have any questions about this route, don’t hesitate to contact me! – Dan