Drive the Beartooth Scenic Highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City

When driving the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City (68.7 miles), you’ll pass through sylvan stretches, fragile tundra, alpine lakes, hanging valleys and a landscape that normally takes a day of hiking to get to.

Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Highway

Here’s a little history of the highway:
• The First crossing was made by General Phillip Sheridan on an inspection tour from Fort Washakie (near present day Lander, Wyoming) to Billings, Montana where he would catch a train to Chicago.
o An old hunter named Geer convinced Sheridan that traveling over the Beartooth Plateau was a quicker route from Cooke City to Red Lodge than the four month journey up the Clark Fork River.
o Sheridan and his company arrived near Red Lodge two days after leaving Cooke despite forest fires and forty foot snow drifts settled into the many depressions in the tundra.
• In 1936 the Beartooth Highway was built along the route Sheridan took.
• In 1989 the highway was designated a National Scenic Byway.
• You can’t talk about the Beartooth Highway without mentioning that Charles Kuralt called it “America’s most beautiful road”. Everyone needs their claim to fame, I suppose.

Above the fog on the Beartooth Highway

Above the fog on the Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway is the highest elevation road in the northern Rockies. Be sure to use the pull-outs, because gaping at all the dramatic scenery can lead to poor driving decisions.

Beartooth Plateau

Beartooth Plateau

Even better, stop at one of the many trailheads along the way and take a little walk. The trail along Island and Night Lakes is almost perfectly flat, so anyone can get out and explore a bit.

Island Lake

Island Lake

At about halfway you’ll reach the top of the world. Actually the “Top of the World” gas station and store. It really does seem like the top of the world up there and if you need a snack, you are all set.

Top of the World sign

Just the Facts
Distance: (Red Lodge to Cooke City) 68.7 miles
Amenities: Top of the World Gas Station, Store and Motel, open Memorial Day-October 15
Check out the map.

Other Red Lodge posts

(Mostly) camping in Red Lodge

Red Lodge Road Trip–Are we there, yet? from Montana Parent magazine

Hike the Silver Run Ski Trails Near Red Lodge, Montana

Hike South Fork Grove Creek Near Red Lodge, Montana

Hike to Island and Night Lakes in the Beartooths

Drive the Beartooth Scenic Highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City

Beartooth Nature Center: Red Lodge, Montana

Field Trip Friday: Beartooth Nature Center

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