Stunning views over Beartooth Highway, with panoramic views of winding road in forefront and lush landscape and hills behind
Beach Creatives/

Where does Beartooth Highway Start and End?

Published by Pat Dorri on September 5 2023

Beartooth Highway is a scenic drive through the magnificent mountains of Montana and is considered by many as one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. The views are incredible at the highest elevations before winding its way towards Yellowstone National Park.

Beartooth Highway starts in Red Lodge, Montana, and is an exhilarating drive through the wilds of Montana and Wyoming, reaching an altitude of almost 11,000 feet. The scenery is spectacular throughout as the 68-mile journey leads you to Cooke City.

A drive along Beartooth Highway is the perfect opportunity to marvel at the mountains, forests, and natural beauty that embrace the route. Keep on reading to find out more about the Beartooth Highway, some important travel tips, and some of the best places to enjoy the glorious panoramic vistas.

Where is the Beartooth Highway located and where does it start and end?

Beartooth Highway covers a section of US Route 212, in the northwestern United States, leading you from Red Lodge, Montana, to Wyoming, ending near the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

Montana is known for its vast wilderness and amazing mountainscapes, and the Beartooth Highway is a fantastic way to experience the stunning panoramic views, the many waterfalls, lakes, and pullouts where you can breathe in the crystal clear mountain air and stand in awe at the incredible landscape that surrounds you.

If you would like to learn more about this drive, here is our guide on whether the Beartooth Highway is challenging and how to drive in the safest way possible.

Aerial view view of winding Beartooth Highway amongst lush rolling hills and cloudy blue skies
Travel the Beartooth Highway and you can enjoy unrivalled views of the stunning landscapes across Montana.

The starting point of Beartooth Highway

While it is possible to drive the Beartooth Highway with the start and end points being interchangeable, the most popular option is to drive east to west, starting at Red Lodge, Montana.

Red Lodge itself was initially signed over to the Crow Nation, and you can learn all about the birth of Red Lodge and the Native American Crow Indians at the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum.

Red Lodge today is a beautiful mountain town, with plenty of choice of accommodation and restaurants serving delicious local cuisine, and spending a night or two here before driving the Beartooth Highway is an excellent way to discover more about the area and its warm and welcoming inhabitants.

Red Lodge is around 5,500 feet, and the route begins by winding its way northwesterly, climbing steadily toward the Beartooth Pass. This is the highest point along the Highway at just under 11,000 feet and while stopping to admire the scenery, you can visit the Beartooth Pass Discovery Center.

It is a stunning and spectacular drive, which some may find challenging at altitude, but the views are well worth it. The road then heads down towards Cooke City, descending to 6,500 feet.

View across the rugged landscape of the Beartooth mountains from the Beartooth Highway near Red Lodge
Begin your memorable trip across the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, where rugged Beartooth mountains and sprawling landscapes make for an incredible journey start.
Daniel J. Rao/

The endpoint of Beartooth Highway

The official endpoint of Beartooth Highway lies in Cooke City, Montana close to the border with neighbouring Wyoming and situated a stone's throw from the northeasterly entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The area is surrounded by lush forests and snow-capped peaks, with Pilot Peak and Amphitheater Mountain close by.

Cooke City itself is only a small town but is extremely popular with visitors looking to explore the wilderness. You can visit Beartooth National Forest, swim or fish in the Yellowstone River, and depending on the weather, visit the Cooke City Snowmobile Area and take to the slopes on skis or snowboard.

It is also home to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park and many visitors choose to drive the Beartooth Highway before visiting Yellowstone.

While the entrance is open all year round, Beartooth Highway is not, and the winter conditions will stop you from traveling east of Cooke City to Yellowstone between mid-October and May when the road is closed.

Did Beartooth Highway change over time?

Beartooth Highway was constructed in the 1930s and the start and end points are still the same to this day. Originally completed in 1936, it was intended to be a military road, and its development was seen as a way to create jobs during the Great Depression.

Its construction was a tremendous feat of engineering, going through mountains, building many bridges, and also contending with the local bears and wolves.

Summer view of Shoshone National Forest, with tall green greens and lush landscape, with mountains in the background
As you make this journey you can see why it has been popular for over 100 years, with treasured stop offs, including Shoshone National Forest, along the way.

The route was quickly popular with tourists and as demand increased, the original gravel highway was replaced with a much improved paved surface and guardrails and signs were introduced to improve safety, and the road itself was widened.

As the popularity of the route increased, so did the services and visitor centers that line the route. In the 1960s the Top of the World store was built, at 9,400 feet.

Situated in Shoshone National Forest, a little over halfway along the Beartooth Highway, you can stock up on supplies at the general store, get fishing licenses, or even stay in the unique Motel.

Where can I start my Beartooth Highway road trip?

While the official start and end points of the Beartooth Highway are well recognized, you may be wondering how long it takes to arrive at Red Lodge or Cooke City before venturing along the route.

Our table below gives handy information on travel times from some of the major cities you may travel from. Please assume Red Lodge is used as the starting point unless otherwise specified.

Driving on Beartooth Highway from major cities
Major city / via pointFrom the startFrom the end
Billings, MT65 miles130 miles
Salt Lake City
Starting from Cooke City
410 miles475 miles
Cheyenne, WY455 miles520 miles
Boise, ID
Starting from Cooke City
475 miles540 miles
Denver, CO555 miles620 miles
Portland, OR
Starting from Cooke City
885 miles945 miles
Minneapolis, MN900 miles965 miles

How long does it take to drive on Beartooth Highway?

Driving the 68-mile route along Beartooth Highway through the magical mountain scenery of Montana can be completed in around 1 hour and 45 minutes.

This can vary at peak times, such as the summer holiday season, and at weekends, when traffic will be much heavier. With so many scenic pullouts, hikes, and other attractions to explore along the way, you'll want to allow plenty of time to enjoy everything the route has to offer.

It is advisable to plan ahead and pick out some of the stops and attractions you definitely don't want to miss, but staying flexible with your schedule will allow you to enjoy the many viewpoints and make the most of the journey.

There are many campgrounds along the route, and stopping off to spend a night under the stars in this magnificent wilderness can really enhance the adventure, making it even more memorable.

Snow capped Pilot Peak and Index Peak in the distance, set against clear blue skies, as seen from the winding, empty, Beartooth Highway
With amazing views such as Pilot Peak and Index Peak to admire, while the journey along Beartooth Highway may be short, you will want to make plenty of scenic stop-offs.
Steve Cukrov/

Attractions and scenic areas on Beartooth Highway

A journey along Beartooth Highway is a fantastic way to explore the great mountain wilderness of northeastern America. With an abundance of outdoor opportunities, hiking trails, waterfalls, and beautiful lakes, it is the perfect trip for those who love the outdoors.

Here are some of our recommendations for enjoying the views, and exploring the area:

  • Beartooth Ranger Station
  • Rock Creek Vista
  • Vista Point Observation Site
  • Quad Creek Scenic Overlook
  • Shoshone National Forest
  • Beartooth Pass Vista
  • Yellowstone Overlook from Beartooth Highway
  • Crazy Creek Falls

Given its location between Custer Gallatin National Forest and Yellowstone National Park, exploring the Beartooth Highway and the surrounding areas is a trip to be savored, and staying overnight is an excellent way to discover more of the Montana wilderness.

Here are some of the best places to stay and some excellent hiking trails to consider:

  • Perry's RV Park and Campgrounds
  • Mount Maurice Trailhead
  • Rattin Campground
  • Bear Track Trailhead
  • Island Lake Campground
  • Beartooth Lake Campground
  • Crazy Creek Campground
  • Fox Creek Campground
  • Clarks Fork Picnic Area
  • Soda Butte Campground

Things to know that can impact your driving time

Here are some of our top tips for making the drive along Beartooth Highway as enjoyable and stress-free as possible:

  • Have two drivers available so you can alternate and stay fresh.
  • Choose an economical car, rather than a gas-guzzler to minimize refueling stops.
  • Drive early in the morning when there is likely to be less traffic.
  • Late afternoon is also a quieter time when visitors have finished the drive.
  • Avoid major holidays and long weekends.
  • Drive midweek, especially Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, these days are quieter compared to weekends.
  • Make the journey in Spring or Fall. May, early June, September, and October are considered shoulder seasons. Temperatures will be cooler than the peak summer months, but mild enough to enjoy the outdoors and less traffic.
  • Remember to check the closure dates. Every year, opening times change due to different weather patterns. As a general rule, Beartooth Highway is open from late May to mid-October.
  • Plan ahead and prioritize your stops.
  • Keep your eye out for the wildlife - bears, wolves, and other animals call this place home and may stray into the road.
  • Always check the weather forecast before setting off - the weather can change quickly driving at altitude and you don't want to get stuck in the mountains.

Beartooth Highway is a breathtaking drive through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The drive can be challenging at times, but with its many pullouts and viewpoints, plan ahead, drive safely, and enjoy one of the unforgettable driving experiences.