The Beartooth Highway traverses the Beartooth Plateau in the Absaraka-Beartooth mountain range, climbing to just under 11,000 feet as it winds through southern Montana and northern Wyoming. The east end lies near Red Lodge, MT, and the west end in Cooke City, MT (also the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park). It’s a National Scenic Byway, and for good reason! The full length of the highway is 68 miles – though of course this doesn’t tell you much about how long the drive will take, since you’ll want to make as many stops as you have time for.
We drove the highway at the end of July. By that point the weather was relatively summery, with a high temperature around 50 F, but you’ll want to bring a jacket any time of year. If driving mountain roads makes you nervous, this one’s relatively tame; while it’s steep with many tight turns, it also has guardrails at the scary spots (or at least the spots I thought were most scary).
We drove the highway east to west, so that’s the order these stops are in. These 5 stops alone would give you a good mix of panoramic views, alpine lakes, and waterfalls, but you could easily spend multiple days exploring along the highway. There are campgrounds, several hiking trails (some good for multi-day backpacking trips), and numerous pull offs to stop and take in the views.
Rock Creek Vista
This viewpoint lies along one of the (many) hairpin turns that climb from the valley at the east end of the Beartooth Highway to the pass. The header image is a view of the vista from further up the highway. There is a short paved and guardrail-ed path to a lookout point. This was the only place we stopped that was even remotely busy – I guess some visitors just head up for the viewpoint before turning around.
The high point along the road, at 10,947 feet. There’s surprisingly little signage for it – we missed the turnoff and had to turn around because the only sign we saw was the one at the parking area. You can walk a short ways to a rocky outcrop for better views down the highway, or a longer distance up a hill for views in all directions.
The sky decided to start spitting hail at us, so we only pulled over for some quick photos here. I actually thought this was Island Lake – which is a bit further west, and has a campground and picnic area – when we stopped. If you want to get out at Long Lake, turn down a dirt road shortly after you see the lake for a parking area with a path leading down to the lake. (I got these directions from looking at the satellite imagery on Google Maps – so if you go, do let me know if they’re correct!)
We stopped at the picnic area here for lunch, but actually ended up eating in the car because the mosquitoes were so bad. You should fare better if you come armed with bug spray when it hasn’t just rained. There’s also a boat input by the picnic area and a campground further down the road.
Lake Creek Falls
A short dirt path from the parking area (which is really just a wide shoulder along the road) takes you to these falls. You can take in the view from a footbridge and also follow the trail further towards the top of the falls. There’s also a Beartooth Falls a bit east of these falls that we planned to stop at, but never saw a turnoff for. Basically, if you see something along the Beartooth Highway that looks like it might be interesting, pull over; it probably is something interesting that just doesn’t have any signage.
Bonus: Clay Butte Lookout
There’s a 3-mile gravel road shortly after Beartooth Lake that leads to this lookout. Unfortunately, the road was under repair when we drove through; you can climb the lookout to get 360 views, and it’s also a volunteer-staffed visitors’ center.
If you had to choose: panoramic views, alpine lakes, or waterfalls?