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Beartooth Highway Drive

Billings, Montana to Yellowstone N.P.

This summer route was described as the "most beautiful drive in America" by the late Broadcaster Charles Kuralt, and there is s grest deal of justification for that well-promoted thought. Our drive begins in the city of Billings.

Leading southwest from Interstate 90 near Laurel, through the town of Red Lodge (hotels and motels) to the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, Highway 212 offers unparalleled mountain views. and a very different way to go to Yellowstone than to the usual entrances via Montana and Idaho.


61 miles from Billings and 45 miles from Laurel, the town of Red Lodge features a rustic main street with several motels and private campgrounds. The town is a National Historic District with buildings constructed between 1893 and 1910, during the town's coal mining boom.

Laurel to Mammoth - map

You may wish to drive four miles east of town to the site of the Smith Mine Disaster where 74 men died in an underground explosion in 1943. In town, the Carbon County Museum displays Red Lodge history with pioneer artifacts and the homestead cabin of John Garrison. South of Red Lodge, Rock Creek Resort provides sophisticated accommodations, at the foot of the Beartooth Range.

From Red Lodge, the road has been designated a National Forest Scenic Byway and the highway begins its steep climb toward the summit. There are frequent switchbacks with fresh views at every turn and hikers will enjoy the Gardiner Lake Trail which leads to the small, blue alpine lake.

Switchbacks abound as the route ascends the Beartooth Range to a height of almost 11,000 feet. This is truly a "skyline drive," passing glaciers and pristine little mountain lakes, and leading across an alpine plateau at the summit.

The early part of the drive does not forecast the mountains ahead, as it crosses the Montana prairie lands between Laurel and Red Lodge.

The Cooney Reservoir offers recreation sites in Cooney State Park, not too far off the highway via a county road. This loop road leads from Boyd, past the park to meet with Highway 78 which leads south, back to Highway 212. This loop provides an alternate route for those who wish to explore or stay in the park.

Reaching the Beartooth Summit

The Beartooth Summit lies at an elevation of 10,947 feet. There is snow at the summit for much of the year, although summer driving is painless. Those with 4WD vehicles may want to explore two sideroads leading across the plateau near the summit. Morrison Jeep Road leads south from the highway to the Dollar Lake Trailhead. Fantan Lake Road provides a 2.5-mile drive to this scenic little lake.

Two campgrounds are situated north of the highway just past the summit. The Top of the World Resort, with a store and small motel, is also located here.

Between the summit and Cooke City -- near the park entrance -- are several forest campgrounds and two overlooks with splendid views of the Clarks Fork River. Clay Butte is a high peak accessed by a short sideroad which leads three miles to another lookout.

Still in high country, Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Road # 296) leads southeast, past Sawtooth Mountain to the Sunlight Wildlife Habitat. Past the junction, there is another overlook pulloff with views of the high Absarokas. Chief Joseph Highway runs 57 miles to Cody, Wyoming.

There are four additional forest campgrounds past the scenic highway junction. Goose Creek Jeep Trail leads five miles to Lulu Pass and more thrilling views.

Cooke City is a small gold mining town, dating from 1876, lying just east of the Yellowstone National Park boundary. Right at the boundary is the village of Silver Gate, with gas, a cafe and a general store.

In Yellowstone National Park

From the park gate, the highway leads for 47 miles to the park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs. Just past the Warm Creek Picnic Area the highway enters Montana and cuts through Icebox Canyon. There are several park trails leading from the highway between the boundary and Pebble Creek Campground where another trail is available to hike.

After descending through the canyon, the road enters the wide Lamar River Valley, where bison spend the winter months. The Specimen Ridge Trail crosses sub-alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, past the summit of Amethyst Mountain (at 11.5 miles). A shorter walk provides views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Tower Junction is a major crossroads in the park. Here is Roosevelt Lodge, open during summer months. From the junction, the highway continues for 18 miles to Mammoth Hot Springs. The junction is on the Yellowstone Park Loop and the loop road leads south toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and on toward Old Faithful and other park attractions. The loop is another of our scenic drives.

Hellroaring Creek Trail leads from the highway to the northern boundary of the park and into the Gallatin National Forest. Just one mile from the trailhead is a suspension bridge over the Yellowstone River, reached after descending 600 feet. Past the bridge is sage land and the trail connects with the Buffalo Plateau Trail (at 1.5 miles) and the Yellowstone River Trail (at 2 miles). The trail then heads upward to a bridge over Hellroaring Creek. (3.5 miles).

The highway continues. passing the Lava Creek Picnic Area, to Mammoth Hot Springs, where you may elk relaxing on the lawn next to the park information center.

Highway Log

172 miles (277 KM)—4 hours
Montana • Billings to Mammoth Hot Springs

Billings The largest city in Montana is home to several institutions of higher education including Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College. The drive starts by taking Interstate 90 toward Laurel and Red Lodge.
Laurel
16 miles west of Billings via Interstate 90. The drive begins at the junction of I-90 and Highway 212. Take Hwy. 212 southwest toward Red Lodge.
Rockvale & Junction–Hwy. 72 Continue on Hwy. 212.
Joliet Village with gas & store.
Boyd Village with store & road (# 78) to Cooney State Park (camping on reservoir).
Red Lodge Town with gas, motels, B & B, cafes, stores, camping- 45 miles from Laurel.
Junction–Road to Sundance At milepost 65.
Rock Creek Resort Hotel With restaurant.
Forest Campground at MP 57 The road crosses the tree line at MP 47. The road now climbs toward the Beartooth Summit with switch-backs & sharp turns.
Gardiner Lake Trailhead Walk-in campsites.
Picnic Area Near the summit.
Summit Beartooth Pass (elevation: 10,947 ft.)
Morrison Jeep Road (#120) South to Dollar Lake Trail (2 miles).
Fantan Lake Road Across the hills to the lake (2.5 miles)
Island Lake Campground to north of highway.
Beartooth Lake Campground North of highway.
Top of the World Store and motel, 1.5 miles east of the campground.
Clay Butte Lookout Via sideroad (3 miles).
Overlook Clark's Fork and mountains with spire at west end of range.
Junction—Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Road #296) To Sunlight Wildlife Habitat.
Overlook To the south with views of the Absaroka Range.
Crazy Creek Campground South of highway beside creek. Pilot Creek Trailhead–to south.
Fox Creek Campground & Chief Joseph Campground Access to Clark's Fork Trail.
Coulter Creek Campground To north 6 miles from Yellow-stone Park boundary.
Goose Creek Jeep Trail To Lulu Pass (5 miles).
Soda Creek Campground
Cooke City Small 1876 gold mining town, 4 miles from park. Gas, store, motels, cafes, cabins.
Silver Gate At park entrance with gas, cafes, Grizzly Lodge, store.
Yellowstone National Park:
Northeast Entrance 128 miles from Billings. Entrance fee.
Warm Creek Picnic Area South of highway.
Montana/Wyoming Border
Soda Butte Creek Bridge Barronette Peak is to the north.
Icebox Canyon Bridge across Soda Butte Creek. The highway continues descending through the canyon.
Thunderer Cutoff Trailhead South of road.
Pebble Creek Trailhead North from highway below bridge. Trail loops to Warm Creek Picnic Area (12 miles).
Pebble Creek Campground To north of highway. Trailhead.
Soda Butte (marker)
Lamar Trailhead South of Soda Butte, along river through valley.
Lamar Valley Geology Exhibit To south, near picnic site.
Lamar River Picnic Area South of highway.
Lamar River Valley There are scenic pulloffs including a view of the Lamar River cataract.
Slough Creek Campground North of highway, with trailhead.
Lamar River Bridge Pulloffs on both sides of bridge.
Specimen Trail Leads across the series of hills, south of hwy.
Yellowstone River Picnic Area South of Highway, at top of hill.
Yellowstone River Bridge
Tower Junction (el. 6,278) Ranger station to south of hwy. before junction. Roosevelt Lodge 18 miles to Mammoth Hot Springs.
Petrified tree 1/4 mile south of junction.
Hellroaring Trail Via road leading north.
Wraith Falls Pulloff to south.
Lava Creek Picnic Area
Undine Falls Pulloff to north.
Gardiner River Bridge At east end of Mammoth Hot Springs.
Mammoth Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center, lodge, store, restaurant. Watch for elk on highway and lawn of visitor center.

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