Top Ten Scenic Mountain Drives
Although the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) passes through three national forests— Custer, Shoshone, and Gallatin —you're not here for the trees. From its starting point in Red Lodge, Montana, an old mining town, the Beartooth quickly ascends above the timberline, climbing into a land of glacier-carved cirques, alpine lakes—almost a thousand of them—and fragile tundra.
As you head south on the highway, stop at the aptly named Vista Point for a 9,200-foot view of the Beartooth Plateau across Rock Creek Canyon. Once you hit Wyoming, your southern view stretches across canyons carved by the Clarks Fork. To the north, look for the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness; here you'll find the fanglike namesake of the Beartooth Mountains.
The western summit of Beartooth Pass, where the route tops out at 10,947 feet, marks the high point of this high-country drive. If that's not high enough for you, take your mountaineering gear out of the trunk when you finish the drive and make the long trek to Granite Peak—at 12,799 feet, it's Montana's highest mountain.
On your descent from Beartooth Pass, look for Beartooth Falls, as well as another thunderous cascade near Lake Creek. For one last photo opportunity before the drive ends near Yellowstone National Park, climb the Clay Butte lookout (an old fire tower) for a killer vista of Montana mountains, including Pilot and Index Peaks.
Just the Facts
Route: From Red Lodge, Montana, to Cooke City, Wyoming, near the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone.
Length: 68 miles (three hours)
Season: Late spring to fall.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication