Western Trips

Monday, May 28, 2012

Beartooth Highway

Running across the Beartooth Mountains of Montana is one of the finest and scenic National Byways of the northwest. The Beartooth Highway, a National Scenic Byway. If your western road trip takes you to this part of the country, you'll want to consider adding this drive to your vacation planner. The Beartooth Highway features the scenery of twenty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation.

Driving the Beartooth Highway

beartooth highway
Beartooth Highway switchbacks
The Beartooth Highway route will take you through high elevation zones, past mountain lakes and alpine tundra. When driving up through Beartooth Pass, the road goes above the tree line and takes you into through alpine terrain.

The Beartooth Highway is known to be the highest highway in the northern Rockies. The Scenic Byway will also offer entrance to Yellowstone National Park in it's northeast section along the Montana and Wyoming border. The Beartooth Highway is the a part of U.S. Hwy 212 and highway maps will show that  it runs between Red Lodge Montana and Cooke City Montana. (See Google Map below)

The History of a Scenic Byway

The history of the Beartooth National Scenic Byway is very interesting and it's origin dates back to 1872 and an expedition commander by General Phillip Sheridan. After inspecting Yellowstone with some 120 men, Sheridan followed a route related to him by a hunter. Although Sheridan was advised against accepting this advice he did decide to try it and some two days later, despite extremely deep snow and even forest fires, Sheridan's troops completed the first crossing of the Beartooth Mountains. The group came out near present day Red Lodge, Montana. 

The Beartooth Highway opened in the year 1936 after about five years of construction and when you drive this route today you are essentially following the same route that Sheridan and his men took in 1882. The route was made a National Scenic Byway in 1989.

The regions economy relied heavily on coal mining. The mining industry there grew not long after Sheridan's travels through the Beartooth Mountains. Excellent coal deposits had originally been identified as far back as 1866 and gold was discovered there in 1870. Gold mining fuels the great boom in Montana during the late 1860's and 1870's. The old Bozeman Trail was one of the busiest routes into Montana from Wyoming during the late 1860's.

An Historic Region
beartooth mountains
Beartooth Highway scenery

During this period of the late 1860's, prospectors and pioneers traveled the Bozeman Trail and eventually resulted in a conflict called Red Cloud's War. A treaty was signed with the Crow Indians in 1882 which allowed the area to be successfully settled.

Red Lodge Montana also received it's first U.S. Post Office in 1884. Red Lodge Montana today is the county seat of Carbon County Mountain. As an interesting side note, Red Lodge Montana experienced a hard time during the Great Depression of the 1930's and mining ceased up and the town was then known as a large manufacturer of bootleg liquor. The liquor produced at Red Lodge was distributed far and wide and into the larger cities of the east.

Points of Interest

the bears tooth montana
The Bear Tooth
Some of the points of interest you'll want to make note of in your trip planner include Lake Creek Falls at an elevation of over 7,000 feet. The 200 foot wide falls is a spectacular site.

Also check out the Top of The World Store which is along the highway's highest elevation at just under 11,000 feet. At Top of the World Store, drivers can rest up and replenish their food and fuel supplies. Another noteworthy and scenic site is the actual Bears Tooth. It's name was derived from the Crow Indians and was formed by glaciation. The Bear Tooth of course is also the namesake of the Bear Mountains themselves.

The Hellroaring Plateau will also be a great addition to your Montana trip planner. This area is above 10,000 feet in elevation and the area includes beautiful mountain lakes, alpine scenery and glaciated canyons. One of the most beautiful areas in North America.

Touring Montana
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Beartooth Mountains Twin Lakes

The state of Montana identifies six different tourism regions. These are the Glacier Country, Russell Country, Missouri River Country, Southeast Montana, Yellowstone Country and the Goldwest Country.

All of these regions are historic and can be a part of a terrific western vacation adventure.  You can visit sites going back to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and visit the famous Montana Gold Rush towns such as Virginia City. You can take a canoe down the wild and scenic Missouri River and fishing the streams of Montana is always popular for anglers.

Four additional articles you'll find interesting and make good vacation additions. A story about the smokejumpers and the Smokejumpers Museum ..Driving California State Rte 49 ...the Old Spanish Trail Highway from Florida to California and the. Chief Joseph Scenic Byway .

There's another unique opportunity for cyclists on the Beartooth Highway. There's a short period in the spring between when the snow crews clear the passes and open the gates for automobile traffic. Cyclists find that during this time they essentially have all of the roadway to themselves without concern for motorized vehicles.

The highway will typically see thousands of cyclists on the road during this short period. If you love cycling, this may be something to take note of.

Montana offers a wide variety of vacation destinations and activities. You may find scenic and historic Montana an excellent addition to your western road trip planner.

(Photos are from the public domain)

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