The Beartooth Highway connects Yellowstone's Northeast Entrance with the Montana town of Red Lodge. Journalist Charles Kuralt once called it 'the most beautiful road in America'. They use his words to advertise Yellow Bus tours of the highway - then add the comment that with their tour 'you won't have to drive the highway and you can just relax and enjoy the scenery.'
There's a reason why they say that.
You get to the Beartooth by driving through the Lamar Valley
, a place so wild and remote that people who love Yellowstone Park speak of it in tones that are almost reverential
. It's here that the Gray Wolves were reintroduced, and here the success of the wolf story unfolded. Today the valley is wet and the peaks are shrouded in mist
. The Lamar River is swollen with rain and two Mule Deer are all that we see
Originally we'd intended to drive to the summit and then return and spend our last night at Mammoth, but not being ones to retrace our steps we decided to leave the park by the Northeast Entrance and continue on our way to Glacier. This turned out to be a good decision.
Out of the park you pass the little towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City, and soon you start to climb. At first the road is wide and climbs gently
, but by the time you pass the turn off to Cody it starts to narrow and get steeper
. If you noted the elevation at the Northeast Entrance it was 7,365 feet
. The Beartooth Summit is 10,947 feet
. That's a climb of 3,582 feet to the top!
The road stayed narrow and winding until we reached the higher elevations, where it finally climbed more gradually and the curves were less precipitous
. As we rose above the tree line the road wove in and out of clouds, and the views were sometimes limited
, then suddenly they would open up and take your breath away
. The views from the top speak for themselves in the pictures above
, and need no further comment except to say that when the time came to start down it is much more intimidating than going up
The descent to Red Lodge and the rolling Montana farm land beyond it took us down almost twice as far as we'd climbed, or approximately 7,000 feet to a valley elevation of about 4,000 feet
. That's a daunting prospect when you're driving a 14,000 pound vehicle, but the road is so well engineered that it turned out to be a very easy descent
. I used second and third gears and barely had to touch my brakes all the way down
. There were rocks on the road, sometimes big ones that could have caused serious damage (or worse) but we managed to miss them all and emerge in one piece onto the farmland you see above
. Truly amazing!
We found a free city owned campground in Columbus and gave them a donation to camp for the night, once more on the banks of the Yellowstone River. We fell asleep to the sound of a million cicadas chirping away in the cottonwood trees. This life is not too bad!