Dream Highway: US Highway 212 and the Beartooth Highway

IMG_6519Like so many other people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit in my lifetime. On my trip in May 2014 I was able to scratch off TWO of them!  The first was a trip across US Route 2 from Michigan to Montana, with a stop in Bemidji, MN to see the giant Paul Bunyan and Ox statues (so it was kind of a three for the price of two really).  You can read about that portion of the trip HERE.

Beartooth Highway
Sumoflam on the Beartooth Highway (All-American Road)
US 212 East on Beartooth Highway
US 212 East on Beartooth Highway

The second, and perhaps more thrilling and fulfilling to me, was being able to travel US Highway 212 across Yellowstone and then over the Beartooth Highway, one of America’s greatest Scenic Byways.  This 68 mile trip makes its way through Yellowstone and then from the Northeast Entrance across northwest Wyoming and winds its way into southwest Montana ending at Red Lodge. I have dreamed of taking this highway for almost a long time.

US212Map
US 212 Map from NE corner of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, MT

I actually started the day in way up north  in Shelby, Montana and drove down US Highway 89 and the King’s Hill Scenic Byway into Yellowstone (see post here). I continued with a drive to Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The hot springs are most certainly one  of the spectacular sites in Yellowstone.

Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
Looking north to Roosevelt Arch and Montana from Yellowstone entrance
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, still on US 89 in Montana
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Road into Mammoth Hot Springs
Road into Mammoth Hot Springs
A shot of Mammoth Hot Springs
A shot of Mammoth Hot Springs
Another view of the Mammoth Hot Springs
Another view of the Mammoth Hot Springs
Liberty Cap (the big cone) and the hot springs in the background
Liberty Cap (the big cone) and the hot springs in the background

While entering the Hot Springs area, I came across a beautiful elk.

An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs
An elk was seen roaming the area around Mammoth Hot Springs

Just south of Mammoth Hot Springs I finally left US Highway 89 and got on to the Grand Loop Road, which goes across the northern section of Yellowstone to the beginning of US Highway 212. at the Northeast section of the park. The Grand Loop is a very scenic drive and features mountain vistas, lakes and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

Grand Loop Road as seen from Mammoth Hot Springs
Grand Loop Road as seen from Mammoth Hot Springs
The Blacktail Lakes in Yellowstone
The Blacktail Lakes in Yellowstone

In May 2013 I visited Yellowstone and saw a few bison, but on this northern part of the loop, there were hundreds of them.

Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
Bison roam freely along the Grand Loop road
A big bison poses for me
A big bison poses for me
Bison and calves relax by a lake
Bison and calves relax by a lake

A good part of the Grand Loop Road runs alongside Lava Creek, which was full to overflowing due to snow runoff.  There were plenty of scenic views with mountains, meadows, lakes and the creek.

Lava Creek with snow capped mountains in the background
Lava Creek with snow capped mountains in the background
Eastern potion of Grand Loop Road
Eastern potion of Grand Loop Road
Bison relax along Lava Creek while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Bison relax along Lava Creek while pronghorned antelope look on from the background
Another splendid mountain scene from Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone
Another splendid mountain scene from Grand Loop Road in Yellowstone
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone

Once I arrived at the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, I began my journey on US Highway 212.  I felt very fortunate that the Beartooth Highway was open for travel.  They had opened it only five days prior to my visit so my timing was perfect!

Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone
Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone
A welcome sign for me. I had a smile at this point
A welcome sign for me. I had a smile at this point
Goodbye Yellowstone
Goodbye Yellowstone
Hello Beartooth Highway
Hello Beartooth Highway

The first stop along the way, after leaving Wyoming, was Silver Gate, Montana. Silver Gate is located just one mile from the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park and is only three miles from Cooke City. The small town is located on land homesteaded by Horace S. Double, for which he was granted a patent on May 2, 1897.

Welcome to Silver Gate, Montana
Welcome to Silver Gate, Montana

And just past there was Cooke City, Montana. The town of about 100 people was at one time a mining camp for gold and had The population consisted of 227 voters who that supported two smelters, two sawmills, three general stores, two hotels, two livery stables and the local meat market.

Cooke City, Montana
Cooke City, Montana
Cooke City, Coolest Small Town in America
Cooke City, Coolest Small Town in America

And Cooke City is also the real gateway to the Beartooth Highway.  Just three minutes form downtown I was already high up in snow country and heading higher in altitude.

The Beartooth highway just east of Cooke City, Montana
The Beartooth highway just east of Cooke City, Montana

The road then veers southward again and back into Wyoming for the fun stuff!

Welcome "back" to Wyoming
Welcome “back” to Wyoming
Heading into the mountains.  Snow depth on the side of the road was about two feet at this point
Heading into the mountains. Snow depth on the side of the road was about two feet at this point
View of the Beartooths from the highway was awesome
First view of the Beartooths from the highway was awesome

As the highway climbed the grand views were amazing

Amazing view of the Beartooths
Amazing view of the Beartooths

The road continued to climb and the snow grew ever deeper. The snow on the side of the road, as seen below, was the actual depth…it was not scooped there….

First view of really deep snow
First view of really deep snow
Snow walls
Snow walls

The road from Cooke City dropped for a while so I was in some prairie with mountains.  I took this panorama photo with my iPhone.

Panorama of the Beartooths from east of Cooke City
Panorama of the Beartooths from east of Cooke City

After about 25 miles of driving and continuing the climb, I got to the Top of the World Store which sits at 9,400 feet altitude. I had to stop for some photos and a snack and a restroom break before the great ascent to Beartooth Pass.

Welcome to Top of the World Store
Welcome to Top of the World Store
Top of the World Store - technically has a Cody, Wyoming address, but it is a long way from Cody
Top of the World Store – technically has a Cody, Wyoming address, but it is a long way from Cody
Sumoflam at Top of the World
Sumoflam at Top of the World Store
Found the sign "Follow Your Bliss" in the store and I was already with my bliss!
Found the sign “Follow Your Bliss” in the store and I was already with my bliss!
I parked next to this stop sign which was covered by the snow...it was this deep all around
I parked next to this stop sign which was covered by the snow…it was this deep all around

From Top of the World the winter wonderland became more amazing as walls of snow grew higher. I was loving it!

Walls of snow continue along the Beartooth Highway
Walls of snow continue along the Beartooth Highway

From this point the road was switchbacks all the way up to the pass.  I actually took a video of some of the drive through this winding wall of snow.

As I got to the top of the pass, at nearly 11,000 feet, I truly felt like I was on top of the world.  Following are more photos of the spectacular scenes from the highway.

At Beartooth Pass
At Beartooth Pass
Mountains as seen from the top
Mountains as seen from the top
The Bear's Tooth (Middle left)
The Bear’s Tooth (Middle left)
Glorious Mountain Vista from 11,000 feet
Glorious Mountain Vista from 11,000 feet
Another panorama from Beartooth Pass
Another panorama from Beartooth Pass

And how about a Panorama 360 view?

[panoembed pano=”LLapRC” width=”500″ height=”250″]

The view from the Driver's Seat
The view from the Driver’s Seat
At Beartooth Level
At Beartooth Level

From the pass, the road still wound its way slowly down hill as I went north back into Montana.  The views and scenery just kept coming.

Welcome back to Montana
Welcome back to Montana
Mountains and valleys in southern Montana
Mountains and valleys in southern Montana

I finally made my way through the switchbacks and then down the hills for the 30 mile drive to Red Lodge, Montana, which is the northern gateway to the Beartooths.

US 212 drops considerably as it continues north of the Beartooths
US 212 drops considerably as it continues north of the Beartooths
Welcome to Red Lodge, Montana
Welcome to Red Lodge, Montana

Basically, from the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone to Red Lodge, Montana, via US 212, took me about two hours and 15 minutes, including stops along the way.  One of the most amazing and beautiful 2 hours of my life (not counting marriage and children being born of course!!).

Downtown Red Lodge, Montana
Downtown Red Lodge, Montana

Red Lodge, Montana is a nice little town booming with personality.  There are old neon signs, unique eateries, a Peter Toth “Whispering Giant” (see my writeup from Idaho Falls’ “Whispering Giant”), and I even came across a unique art shop that makes animals out of juniper.

The Red Lodge Cafe sports an old classic neon sign.
The Red Lodge Cafe sports an old classic neon sign.
Took this photo for all of my cycle friends (you know who you are) - Bone Daddy's Custom Cycle in Red Lodge
Took this photo for all of my cycle friends (you know who you are) – Bone Daddy’s Custom Cycle in Red Lodge

Hungarian-born and American immigrant sculptor Peter Toth has made a name for himself fomr his awe-inspiring giant wood-carved “Whispering Giants.”  Over the years Toth has created at least one of these huge statues (all different) for each state in the United States.  All of them collectively (at least 74 are documented) are known as the “Whispering Giants”.  This was the third one I have seen on my trips in the past three years.  Many of the Whispering Giants can been here.

Peter Toth's "Whispering Giant" of Red Lodge, Montana
Peter Toth’s “Whispering Giant” of Red Lodge, Montana
Detail of the "Whispering Giant" of Red Lodge.
Detail of the “Whispering Giant” of Red Lodge.

Then there are those juniper animals. I love the creativity of artists around this country.  Rocky Fork Juniper is owned by Lee Kern and Pete Imbs and they have other artists as well. Here are a couple of their unique works (they were closed when I got there).

Rocky Fork Juniper, Red Lodge, Montana
Rocky Fork Juniper, Red Lodge, Montana
Rocky Fork Moose
Rocky Fork Moose
Rocky Fork Grizzly
Rocky Fork Grizzly
Whimsical Lamp made of juniper at Rock Fork
Whimsical Lamp made of juniper at Rocky Fork

As the day wound down I made my way east from Red Lodge on Montana 308 to Belfry, then south on Montana 72 towards Wyoming, which turns into Wyoming 120, to end up overnight in Cody, after a wonderful day of driving through some of the most beautiful country in America.

Belfry, Montana with sign to Cody, Wyoming in background
Belfry, Montana with sign to Cody, Wyoming in background
Welcome to Wyoming (again!)
Welcome to Wyoming (again!)
Highway to Cody, Wyoming
Highway to Cody, Wyoming

The next post will cover my return trip leg from Cody through Douglas, WY (the Jackalope capital of the World) and then on to Alliance, NE, the home of the famed Carhenge.

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