Beartooth Scenic Byway

An abundance of lakes and wildflowers make for a spectacular drive.

An abundance of mountains, lakes and colorful wildflowers make for a spectacular drive.

After a few days in the Gardiner camp it was finally time to drive the Beartooth Scenic Byway. As far as I know, I’ve never driven it before, at least I can’t remember driving it. However, one picture from my 1979 motorcycle trip looks like I may have driven it then. Unfortunately, that was so long ago I can’t remember for sure.

The magic of the Beartooth is in the variety. on top it's broad tundra-like plateau filled with fields of wildflowers.

The magic of the Beartooth is in the variety. On top it’s a broad tundra-like plateau filled with fields of wildflowers.

Either way, I’ve been tremendously looking forward to driving it because of the extreme amount of praise that I continually hear about it; everyone says it’s just fantastic! It turns out they were right! Words actually fail to describe not only how beautiful it is, but the amazing job they did of building it. Many times these extreme mountain roads have very steep grades that overly tax many big, heavy, overloaded rigs. Although the elevation gain on the Beartooth is extreme, somehow they made it easy to go up and down. At no time going up it did I have to slow down because my van just couldn’t go any faster, and at no time going down it did I worry about how hard the brakes were working. If you have an RV, are overloaded or bigger rig, you are still going to go up it slowly, but you can make it and you shouldn’t do any damage along the way.

Bears-peaks-flowers-use-001

Hey, who invited you into the picture!?

Hey! Who invited you into the picture!?

They did that by the use of many switchbacks—they seem endless! At several overlooks you can look almost straight down and see the road going back and forth constantly on the steep mountain-side below you. I think part of that was sheer luck because the shape of the mountains allowed it, but part of it is brilliant engineering to take advantage of every possible chance to make it easier.

The road winds back-and-forth many times to get to the top. They did a great job, t’s a remarkably easy climb.

In the middle of the rive it's big rolling hills and they mean more switchbacks.

In the middle of the drive it’s big rolling hills and they mean more switchbacks.

One of the reasons it is so stunning is that you have such a variety of terrain in a very short period of time. Coming from Red Lodge MT in the north you are in a beautiful, heavily forested valley following Rock Creek. Then you start climbing up this seemingly straight-up-and-down mountain-side and keep making continual switchbacks until you come out on top. At the top you are in a plateau with rolling hills and mountains that has almost no trees because it is tundra. All the vegetation is very low and small to the ground because it is continually cold, windswept and covered with snow much of the year. It’s almost Arctic-like in its appearance. I was there at just the right time in the middle of June for the wildflowers to be in full bloom, so you will see quite a few photos of them. In this extreme environment they don’t grow very big or showy, summer is too short and cool for that. Instead they are mostly small, bright and low to the ground

bear-wild

You’re on top of the world with big views!

In some places on top the landscape is very smooth, round, rolling and green, and in some places it is tortured, rocky and rough. The variety makes it incredibly amazing! The absence of trees and the relative flatness of the area gives you very broad views. On top of some of the hills you can see for a long ways all around you. The one constant everywhere is lakes. Where ever you look in a 360 degree circle you are likely to see lakes from the massive amount of snow that falls every year. It’s so much snow that it’s impossible to keep the road open in the winter so it’s closed most of the year.

bear-goats-fight

I was very lucky on this trip and found a herd of wild Mountain Goats grazing just a short distance from the road. I pulled over and parked and hiked over close–but not too close–to them. I was careful to stay far enough way that I did not disturb them. I just stood there for a long time and photographed them and after a few glances at first they just ignored me. As usually happens in these instances, they moved as they grazed and instead of moving away from me, they moved toward me. I’ve seen this happen so often I expect it to happen, but I don’t know why. You’d think they would move further away as they graze, but they rarely do.

This goat kept a close eye on me for awhile, but he soon went  back to grazing.

This goat kept a close eye on me for awhile, but he soon went back to grazing.

I’m not complaining though, I had a wonderful time standing there watching them with their spring lambs and the big males bossing the others around and warning any others that grazed too close. They are a very aggressive, dominate animal with a very distinct pecking order. Unfortunately their coats weren’t very pretty, they were in the process of shedding their massive winter coats for their smaller summer coats and some of them had fur hanging and shredding off. Oh well, it makes for interesting shots.

Bear-wide-van-wild

As you drive further west you drop elevation and the forest slowly takes over until finally you are fully into the forest just like any other forest. But it is still pretty with lots of mountains and rivers to stop and see. Finally you come to Cooke City, which is nothing but a tourist trap and then back into Yellowstone NP.

I gotta tell you that I think the Beartooth Scenic Drive is probably the single most spectacular highway in all of America and seeing it should be a top priority for anyone visiting the Rocky Mountain States. I think it’s more worth seeing than Yellowstone NP. Fortunately it’s not an either-or choice, since they are right beside each other you can easily see both. But I’d make the Beartooth a greater priority.

bear-lakes-flowers-great

Bear-goats-shredding

The goat on the right is really shedding! It’s like he unzipped his coat and it’s just falling off. Notice the three lambs on the left, they were very rambunctious!

bear-yellow-purple-tundra

Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

36 comments on “Beartooth Scenic Byway
  1. Linda in Ky. says:

    Bob, I’m so happy you did the Beartooth. I went over it about 5 years ago with my sisters on a trip to Yellowstone in early June, and it was spectacular! We loved our trip to YS but the Beartooth is what really sticks in my memory. Love all your pictures! Linda

  2. Bill says:

    Gmornin Bob. Wowser you got to see all that plus up close live wild mountain goats!!! Thats the life!!!

    Bill n Ssdie plus Mic
    Bill recently posted…Its Mic, The Hangin Tree StockdogMy Profile

  3. Teri Live Oak, Fl says:

    Omg your pics are fantastic. Can’t wait to breathe the air and feel the breeze. Thanks for sharing

  4. PamP says:

    Dear Cody; Don’t mind Bob and his infernal camera. I was smiling at his beautiful shots, then got a real big grin and chuckle when I saw your smiling face. Were you sniffing the flowers? Love you! Pam P

  5. T says:

    Spectacular photos, but you already know that. I sure am enjoying this trip of yours!

  6. Scott says:

    Wow…Lucky you, I’ve been through Beartooth a bunch of time and never seen mountain goat.

  7. Sameer says:

    The pictures are remarkable. What a beautiful part of the Country. How is the weather where you are? It looks deliciously cool and crisp.
    Sameer recently posted…Beartooth Scenic BywayMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Sameer, it’s been a cool and wet summer for the most part. It’s never been over 85 in any of my camps. Cody, Wyoming was the hottest but it had lots of wind and wasn’t that bad.

      Right now I am at 9000 feet in the Bighorns in Wyoming and it’s perfect temps! But, like most of the Rockies it gets thunderstorms most afternoons then it’s clear overnight and clear the next morning.

      Are you in Colorado yet?
      Bob

      • Sameer says:

        Yes…This year my goal is to escape the Arizona Monsoons…In Durango…But I know that August will be warm so going higher up. Will stay in Colorado for August and September…may be longer. Your adventures are inspiring me!!!!
        Sameer recently posted…Beartooth Scenic BywayMy Profile

  8. jeff johnston says:

    Cody is a cutie! Jeff the nomad.

    • Bob Bob says:

      He really is Jeff! I enjoy just watching him and his antics. As soon as I saw such a pretty dog, and he laid his head on my chest for me to pet him more, I was smitten. Still am!
      Bob

  9. Carla says:

    You hit the jackpot of the wildflowers, Bob! Caught them at their seeming peak as they do not last all that long as you pointed out. Your terrific pics bring back such great memories for me. I lived in Montana for 10 years (the 90s) and, doing a lot of tourism promotion work during that time, I was privileged to make that drive a number of times. (speaking of tourism: I noticed that Montana was not in your keyword tags for this post even though the drive begins and ends in Montana LOL)

    If you get near that corner again when you come back through WY, you might consider taking another pretty nice switchback highway up to the plateau — the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Hwy 296). It connects with the Beartooth highway about 14 miles east of Cooke City.

    If I was advising someone who was going to visit Yellowstone NP, I’d suggest they take the Beartooth Hwy up from Red Lodge, go in and take at least a few days to visit the whole park, and then come back out via Chief Joseph. It is not nearly as spectacular as Beartooth (which is the greatest in the US as you noted), but it is still quite beautiful. On Joseph, you get lots of views of mountain range beyond mountain range — in some places like the Smokey Mtns on steroids. Coming down Chief Joseph, you’ll join another Highway going quickly into Cody.

    One of the best sites for an overall view of how these highways connect with each other and the park and Red Lodge is: http://beartoothhighway.com/beartooth-highway-maps/
    Carla recently posted…Baking Soda & Vinegar for Hair — Why?My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Carla. Thanks for pointing out the missing tag, that was an oversight I’ll correct.

      I did the Chief Joseph later on, I’ll post on it soon. It was very pretty!
      Bob

  10. Shawna says:

    Gorgeous area and you captured it beautifully! And mountain goats! How lucky can one guy get, huh?
    Shawna recently posted…Finding a CampMy Profile

  11. Marie Watts says:

    Perhaps the most beautiful drive in the world… Well, Montana anyway! P.S. When I lived in Cooke City – many years ago, it had not yet turned into the tourist trap it is today. It was a hidden little treasure that no one had discovered! I lived in an old mining cabin on Lulu Pass…. I could go on and on, but I won’t! Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Marie, Cooke City is in a spectacular area! Yu were lucky to live there when it was still just a friendly little town.
      Bob

  12. Openspaceman says:

    Bob_

    When I seen those goats I thought you might have drove your van onto a military transport plane and got dropped off in Greenland. Nice post!

  13. Brigitta says:

    Beautiful!
    I think the goats, like other herd animals have a wonderful sense of curiosity. I’ve seen the same with horses, cattle, goats, sheep – they eventually need to check out what your doing.

  14. jeff johnston says:

    Remember; dog spelled backwards is god! Might be some truth to it.

  15. HOTROD says:

    Bob,

    Guess maybe i missed it …where is your trailer? are you gearing up for that new truck with a camper?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hotrod, my trailer is in storage in Prescott, AZ. I’m traveling so I’m not making any changes until fall when I’m back inn AZ.
      Bob

  16. Ming says:

    lovely photos! I just came back from a mountain trip with lots of photos too, a too short trip. Do you use HDR much in your photography? I’ve seen some results that have an unreal look to them but yours look great.

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