Beartooth Highway

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While we explore northwest Montana for the next few weeks, I’ll continue to share several more posts from our previous destination stay-over in Billings.

One of the reasons for our stay-over in Billings was to check out the once a western mining/now a big ski resort town of Red Lodge and from there drive across the Beartooth Highway.

The Beartooth Highway is considered one of the best scenic drives in the U.S. and is listed as one of our “National Scenic Byways All-American Roads”.  It features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, as well as open high alpine plateaus dotted with countless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife.

This area is one of the highest and most rugged in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation.  Glaciers are found on the north flank of nearly every mountain peak over 11,500 feet high year-round.

Beartooth Highway itself is the highest elevation highway in Wyoming (10,947 feet) and Montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies.

We started at 5,500 feet elevation in Red Lodge and impressively climbed 4,000 feet in seven miles full of twisting turns and switchbacks, and ever-changing landscapes.

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Check out the three levels of roads (one is at the tiptop) that switched back and forth.  There was some serious, quick climbing here!

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It wasn’t long before we started getting peeks of the snow glaciers still present on the highest mountains.

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A very rugged, dangerous dirt road with no guard rails travels through the mountains also, following some of the Beartooth Highway; it can be seen in this shot faintly.  I read it is not for the faint of heart.

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Reaching almost the highest point, we came to this beautiful sight of glacial lakes.

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Close-up of the small glacial lake in upper left of previous photo

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A couple more steep climbing turns from that awesome view, and we finally reached the pullout at the highest point at 10,947 feet.

The air was crisp and cool, the view breathtaking.

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Clouds shadowed the foreground in this shot, but look to the left snow, you’ll see another person taking in the views, to give some perspective.

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Another similar shot with no cloud shadowing.

While standing on dry dirt and rocks, there was snow behind us off to one side where you could stand.  It was here I captured two alpine wildlife species, very exciting!

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Snow in July!

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Alpine plateau, sprinkled with wildflowers

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From here the highway continued a bit further on to the north entrance of Yellowstone NP, but it was already getting late and we had to return on this highway to get back, and didn’t want to do it in the dark.  We planned on returning a few days later and start earlier/not waste time in Red Lodge, but strong winds and storms sent smoke from one of the nearby wildfires into the Beartooth Mountains, so we didn’t go back.

For this one day cruise, in all, I captured six wildlife species and lots of beautiful wildflowers from the viewpoint pullouts, those posts to come!

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69 thoughts on “Beartooth Highway

  1. It’s beautiful at the top of the world! I don’t think we drove that highway on our Epic trip. We missed a treat!

    I bet I can guess what one of those wildlife species are. I’m looking forward to finding out if I’m right!

  2. FANTASTIC SCENERY, I have gone up switchbacks and found it scary, especially because I didn’t know how to navigate using a stick shift. Was so scared I would stall, but geared down and got going.Watched a dump truck pull off onto one of the pull-off lanes. I must keep Beartooth highway in mind in case I get down that way. Spectacular scenery!

    • Thank you, Jane! Oh wow, doing switchbacks with a stick shift could be hairy, or even getting behind someone else who is having any kind of problem. As the driver, it is hard to enjoy the views because you cannot take your eyes off the road but for fleeting moments. I’m a great passenger and like it that way! 😁

  3. Wow! What gorgeous scenery, and obviously these photos were taken before any impact from the wildfires to the west. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Susan! Yes, really just perfect timing for us, we didn’t go back because the smoke had blown in. I had a hard time with the sun’s glare the day we went, it always seemed like the best shot was towards the sun, lol.

  4. Wow, the ones you showed, especially that lake shot, were super, can’t wait for the rest!

  5. This is so magnificent and espectacular awes me every time that I see open country like this one!
    You have a lot of credit for showing what a lot of people misses by not visiting the treasures of Nature. Thank you Donna. Your photos are beautiful as always. 🙂

    • I am with you, HJ, I am in awe with our spectacular country and its diversity, my mind starts thinking about how it was created over millions of years, how brave humans traveled through to explore the unknown. Thank you, my friend!

    • Thank you very much, so glad you enjoyed them! Oh boy, when we stepped out at the 10,947 view point, the air literally did take our breath away. But that didn’t stop me from taking photos!

  6. I’m so glad you caught these views before the smoke moved in. The Rockies are simply magnificent. It’s been so long since I was up in the part of the country, I’d forgotten how jaw-dropping gorgeous it can be. Thanks for the refresher!

    • I am so thankful that region hadn’t gotten any smoke yet the day we went, it arrived days later. It’s crazy how fast and far smoke travels. So happy to give you a refresher, Gunta!

      • It’s even crazier when you see the fire and smoke clouds from your house! Given the drought, fire and smoke are getting increasingly scary. It’s something that hovers in the back of my mind. Used to be the Pacific Northwest had two seasons: Wet and Dry. Now we’ve added Fire Season and it’s not much fun. My first summer here, the evacuation area kept inching closer and closer to us until the wind shifted and brought in some rain and cooler weather from the ocean. I remember thick smoke and hot embers floating down from the sky. It was that close. Hoping it doesn’t come to my Paradise.
        But I watched a Heron float by the house following the creek. Could be the one we caught on the Trail Cam.
        And I’m STILL working on the darling little Quail chick saga… (spoiler: we didn’t have nearly as many chicks as last year.) 😔

        • Rick wants the hell out of here if it gets bad around us, and I know we can just pick up and roll out. I cannot imagine the fears you feel, but I know it has to be frightening because it is your home and life. I’ll keep you in my prayers!!

          Oooh, could be your GBH! 🤗 🤗 But sad on less quail chicks this year. Looking forward to your story and photos!

          • Yeah… it could be getting close to the time to pack the camper on the back of the pickup and throw together some “go bags”. Thanks for the prayers. 🙏 But it’s not just about me. It would break my heart to think of my chipmunks and quail babies and all the others being in harm’s way. A stepson lost his home in a fire just over the mountain from us. The grandkids had to evacuate last summer, but the fire was stopped just outside their town… This is not normal.

  7. Oh, my, you were on top of the world up there! What incredible views, was it hard to breathe? I get headaches at 5,000 ft, I can’t imagine twice that. 😉

    • I was, Eliza, and it was awesome! When we got out of the car at the 10,947 ft viewpoint, it did take our breath away at first. It didn’t hinder us at all, until we walked down to the snow glacier and then had to walk back up, we were out of breath, almost embarrassingly. So glad we could blame the altitude and not old age and out of shape. 😉

      • I once hiked/backpacked in the Andes at 12,000′ and the most I could manage was 20 steps (I would count them!) before I had to rest and I was 21, ha! So glad I did things like that then, as it would be impossible now. It was tough to see the locals breeze right by us as if it was nothing. No wonder they had barrel chests, well-adapted!

  8. Breathtaking! Years ago I got the worst migraine of my life going up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. (6,288 ft.) I can’t imagine how I’d fare at 10,947 feet. But your pictures are stunning, what a beautiful place with snow in July! The small glacial lake looks like a little jewel in the vast landscape. Thank you for sharing so I can imagine the experience!

    • Thank you so much, Barbara! As we drive all these different scenic highways, up and down, Rick and I have both gotten slight headaches, but nothing bad. At this high altitude here, we neither had any headaches but we did feel the difference in oxygen. Took both our breaths away when we got out of the car. It was chilly too, maybe 40’s. So cool for July!

  9. The Beartooth Highway is an amazing road; probably one of the most scenic in the US. We loved it when we did it in Sept 2006. There had been a snow storm just before we travelled through it. Actually, the road had only reopened from the storm when we crossed it…It was great. (Suzanne)

    • I agree, it’s been one of the best scenic highways for us. Wow, that sounds scary to go just after it reopened. I would be scared of ice! Oh but it had to be absolutely stunning to see the fresh snow though!!!

      • Well, I guess we did take a chance but as Canadian we have a certain experience of driving on ice but in the end the road was very good. It was indeed very beautiful with the fresh snow. We were glad we had continue to drive despite the snow storm…

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