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Yellowstone National Park/ Beartooth Highway, Montana

Great Destination:

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Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The Army protected Yellowstone from poachers, developers — and tourists — from 1886 to 1918.
  • The park has more geysers and hot springs than the rest of the world combined.
  • No one can fish from the park’s Fishing Bridge on the Yellowstone River.
  • Until 1883, hunting was allowed in the park as a way to feed visitors.
  • The Yellowstone National Park and area average about 2,000 earthquakes a year.

Hot springs and summer snow

America’s Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth Highway give access to a wide array of outstanding natural wonders, some of the grandest in the country and, in some instances, tops in the world.

The 2.2 million-acre park, already noteworthy for its wildlife, mountains, rivers and Yellowstone Lake, is distinguished from all other U.S. parks by its geothermal activity. Its best known attractions are Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces and the geyser, Old Faithful. In fact, the park has 10,000 thermal features and 300-plus active geysers — two-thirds of all Earth’s geysers! No wonder Yellowstone was the world’s first national park (1872).

Beartooth Highway belongs to that top tier of American national scenic byways called an All-American Road. It extends from Red Lodge to Yellowstone’s northeast entrance at Cooke City. The highway is surrounded by the Custer, Gallatin and Shoshone national forests. For extra drama in the landscape, the road also lies parallel to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area (a subset of those national forests) and crosses the steep Beartooth Mountains.

That high-altitude route makes for the topnotch scenic drive, plus summer skiing. It also means the highway is closed in winter.

The park and the highway draw those who are happy to look at scenery and wildlife as well as the venturesome sorts who hike and camp in the Yellowstone backcountry or climb a waterfall.

Much of the highway and the vast bulk of the national park are in Wyoming. Nevertheless, Travel Montana highlights both in its promotions as if they were fully in Montana. There are reasons — the highway begins and ends in Montana, and three of the five entrances to the park are in Montana. The entrances include the north gateway at Gardiner, which has the only year-round drive-in entry. West Yellowstone, west of the park, is the busiest of the gateway towns.

Red Lodge and the three gateway towns, plus the areas around them, are attractive tourist destinations in their own right because of their Old West history, scenery, wildlife and great terrain for all sorts of outdoor activities. In these ways, they resemble the park, but they are far from the same thing.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Put on your shorts and ski — cross-country or downhill — in the Beartooth Corridor on a summer’s day (June or July).
  • Near Gardiner, go whitewater rafting on the Yellowstone River, which flows right through the town. (With “guts, skill and your own boat,” you could raft right in town!) Gardiner, which is barely outside of Yellowstone National Park, regularly sees bison, deer, elk and pronghorn roaming its streets.
  • Find your inner artist. Take canvas and paints to Yellowstone, and capture your favorite scenes your way, with a paintbrush.
  • Compete in a cross-country ski race or snowmobile race in West Yellowstone. The town grooms hundreds of miles of trails for the sports and hosts races for both.
  • In winter, roughly follow the Beartooth route on a snowmobile.
  • Camp in Yellowstone National Park (with a permit to use the designated backcountry campsite system). Or camp in one of the 13 National Forest Service campgrounds in the area around Beartooth Highway.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Rely on a suggested full-blown sightseeing approach to driving the Beartooth Highway. The National Scenic Byways Program within the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests a trip that requires about nine hours (two and a half hours of driving) covering a distance of 83.5 miles.
  • On a winter’s visit, ski at Red Lodge Mountain.
  • Take a guided horseback trip in the Beartooth Corridor. Or, arrange a riding excursion in the area of Cooke City, at one end of the Beartooth Highway.
  • Also, in the Beartooth Corridor, go fishing for trout in the adjacent streams or lakes — or fish for trout at West Yellowstone, sometimes dubbed the trout fishing capital of the world.
  • Cycle in Yellowstone National Park. Several gravel roads are open to both bicycles and cars.
  • Take a hike. Yellowstone has 950 miles of trails, providing latitude for the length and difficulty of your choice.

Things to do for Authentics

  • On Beartooth Highway, step out of the car on a July day and put your foot into snow.
  • Enter Yellowstone National Park with a mission, to see some of its thousands of bison, elk and pronghorn. Or, from Cooke City, in summer, take the county road to Daisy or Lulu pass to see bighorn sheep or mountain goats.
  • Be a sightseeing tourist in the Red Lodge Historic District, which highlights buildings dating from 1880 to 1915. Come in August to attend the three-day Festival of Nations here.
  • From the highway lookout points, photograph gorgeous mountain scenery plus elk, mountain goats or other wildlife if they are good enough to show up for you.
  • Photograph the eruption of Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s most famous geyser but one of hundreds.
  • Stop at the Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area on the Beartooth Highway to view interpretive panels portraying the history of the road and mining in the area. While there, follow a short trail to a ridge with a grand view.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Montana Office of Tourism at www.visitmt.com