Beartooth Highway Scenic Drive

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The Beartooth Highway was completed in 1936 and is one of the most scenic drives in America.  It connects Red Lodge, Montana to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park while climbing to 10,947. 

The Beartooth Highway travels from lodge pole pine forest to alpine tundra as it winds through some of the most rugged areas in the lower 48 states.

With 20 peaks over 12,000 feet in the surrounding Beartooth Mountains, Beartooth Highway features spectacular views, hundreds of alpine lakes, magnificent wildflowers, and a plethora of wildlife.

island lake on beartooth highway

The winding 64-mile drive through majestic landscape may be driven in a few hours, but I highly recommend taking at least a few days to explore the area.  At minimum pick up a brochure at the Red Lodge Visitor Center to appreciate numerous roadside attractions but recognize there are many hikes in the area that are not mentioned. 

In fact, most people who drive the Beartooth Highway only make short stops, so despite some traffic, there is a good chance you’ll have many of the trails to yourselves. 

The Beartooth Highway affords some camping opportunities, though rigs over 40 feet are not recommended.  That said, I’ve seen a truck pulling a 5th wheel towing a boat.  I have also seen a semi get stuck. So, choose wisely, especially if sheer drop offs make you woozy!

Anyway, beginning from Red Lodge, a wonderful mountain town which deserves a visit in its own right, below are just a few highlights on Beartooth Highway.

Gardner Lake
Line Lake

Welcome to Montana

The Welcome to Montana sign may be found at the state line which is also very near the 45th parallel where you are precisely halfway between the North Pole and equator.  The parking lot below the state sign provides access to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness via the Mount Maurice Trail.

welcome to Montana sign
state sign challenge – bear and pot of gold

Hike to Line Lake

A popular 4.5-mile hike among local fishermen which is not marked at the trailhead goes to Line Lake.  The trail descends through the alpine tundra and past a lake in view of the parking lot.  It continues its descent through wildflower meadows, past patches of forest and across a creek which requires forging ankle-deep water.

Soon it climbs a ridge, where hikers must leave the trail at a rocky patch and easily descend to Line Lake, appropriately named for it being on the Montana/Wyoming State Line.  It is best to hike with the AllTrails app which will point in the right direction to the lake.

Line Lake

Beartooth Basin

Beartooth Basin, formerly the Red Lodge International Ski and Snowboard Camp, was established in the mid-1960’s.  One of North America’s oldest alpine ski training areas is open to the public, snow and weather dependent.  In the summertime, the area on either side of basin is frequented by bighorn sheep.

Gardner Lake Pullout

This dirt parking area provides access to Littlerock Creek Trail which goes to a few lakes and Camp Sawtooth.  The closest lake, which may be seen from the parking area is Gardner Lake.  A popular fishing lake, the roundtrip is only 1.5 miles.

gardner lake on Beartooth highway

For a longer hike across the alpine tundra with a variety of views, continue to Losekamp Lake.  This hike is a moderate six-miles.  While the lake isn’t as pretty as Gardner Lake, it is a nice way to stretch your legs.

losekamp lake

The Bear’s Tooth

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the pullout for the Bear’s Tooth, for which the mountain range is named.  The narrow spire, carved by glaciation, was named by the Crow Indians, Na Piet Say which means the Bear’s Tooth.

Island Lake

Descending from the west summit overlook, you will find Island Lake, a popular first come, first served camping destination.  Hiking, fishing, and boating are common activities among the campers.  There are stunning views around this primitive campground without cell service.

island lake on beartooth highway

Top of the World Resort on Beartooth Highway

Two miles from the campground, is Top of the World Resort.  This is the only place on the highway which offers fuel, food, and accommodations.  It also rent ATVs and kayaks which they will shuttle to Island Lake or Beartooth Lake.

If I were doing a week trip with friends, I would stay in Yellowstone National Park a few days, on Beartooth Highway a few days, and in Red Lodge a few days and hike until my heart is content.  Visit my post, Things to Do in Red Lodge for more information about this fantastic town.

In summary, of all my road trips across the USA, the Beartooth Highway goes through some of the most stunning and dramatic landscape in the USA.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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