Motorcycle Riding Along The Beartooth Highway

Beartooth HighwayTHERE ARE FAVORITE MOTORBIKE ROADS ALL OVER THE WORLD. And within North America, there are countless roads that speak the language of motorcycles, luring riders far and wide, year in and year out.

One such road that truly bears the description “spectacular,” is the Beartooth Highway in Montana and Wyoming. This road has few peers. For North American motorcyclists, and for visiting bikers to this continent, this ride should be on your short list of excursions-of-a-lifetime.

Since its completion in 1936, the Beartooth Highway winds its way up, and up, and up and up, to the 10,947 ft high Beartooth Pass, while following a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border, before ultimately taking you down to the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park (when heading east to west).

Officially, the Beartooth Highway comprises a section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. (However, in between those two points, you’ll spend a lot of time in Wyoming.).

The Beartooth Highway is designated as an All-American Road and as a result of heavy snowfall in the higher elevations, the pass is typically only open from late May through early September.

Plan on at least two hours of saddle time for the 69-mile long ride from Red Lodge to Cooke City. It is a good idea to check with the Ranger station beforehand in case of road closures.

Beware: It can get chilly along the top, even in August! And the weather can be unpredictable up in those mountains. I experienced sunshine, light rain, extremely heavy rain, and there was snow off to the sides in some parts. I was wearing a heavy, one-piece riding suit with an electric vest, as well as my winter gloves, and was still cool at the top, which was just about 11,000 feet above sea level. The good news was that it got warmer, as I started to go down in elevation, before I hit a sheer grey-out of pouring rain as part of an intense mountain thunderstorm, which, apparently is not unusual.  (The grey in the photo above was part of the light rain).

I was inspired to take a photo of a large snow removal truck, that looked like it had just been parked that week, which was near an open gate with a sign that cautioned the Beartooth Highway can be closed at any time due to storm conditions.

The whole Beartooth region is one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states. As part of the Rocky Mountains, there are 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. Some of the last glaciers in the lower 48 can be found on the north flank of many of the tallest peaks.

The first recorded travel across the Beartooth Pass area occurred in 1882, when General Sheridan, with the help of an experience local hunter, pioneered and marked a route across the mountains from Cooke City to Billings.

If you are a motorcycle camping rider, there are 12 National Forest campgrounds in the area.

For an experience of majestic natural wonders, no ride delivers like the Beartooth Highway.

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9 thoughts on “Motorcycle Riding Along The Beartooth Highway

  • I plan on riding Beartooth on my bike June 9. I’m hoping the weather’s in my favor and I have the same kind of experience as SGT Bob.

  • I just finished a ride over the Beartooth Pass on June 17th. Boy, what a thrill it was.
    Starting out on the East side (Red Lodge, MT) we set out towards Cooke City, MT. I was leading the way (on a Suzuki DL650 Adventurer) with my wife and a friend behind me (in a car, for support). The temp was 82 degrees in Red Lodge and by the time we reached the top it was 55 degrees. The roads were clear, with a bit of dampness towards the top, with snow covering on the sides of the road along the way.
    Even when I was stuck behind a SMV (slow moving vehicle) I was still enjoying the ride.
    Once we reached the top, we stopped to take in the view. “MAGNIFICENT” is the only word to describe it, as the surrounding area was half covered in snow and the sky was a beautiful color of pale blue.
    We continued down the western (or southern, if you prefer) side of the Beartooth. With fewer switchbacks, one might think that it would not be as exhilarating, but one would be wrong. A spectacular ride with plenty of sightseeing possibilities, but since my focus was on the ride (and not crashing), the sightseeing would need to wait until we arrived in Cooke City.
    The whole ride from Red Lodge to Cooke City took around 45 minutes (riding) and about 15 minutes stopped (taking pictures and looking around).
    I will CERTAINLY to this ride again, perhaps alone or maybe invite one or both of my sons along, time will tell.

  • For me The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic coastal touring routes, spanning 243 kilometres along the stunning coastline of Victoria’s (Australia) south-west. You can take in the panoramic views as the road winds along cliff tops, up to breathtaking headlands, down onto the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through lush rainforests.
    The stretch between Lorne and Apollo Bay is the most picturesque section of the Great Ocean Road. The highway is carved into sheer cliffs that drop away into the ocean, offering commanding views of the waves from Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean swelling and crashing onto the rocks and beaches below.
    Most of the road is great for a bike, it has just about everything you need all on one road. High speed straights and bends to tight low speed bends and winding, up and down hill roads.
    Iin the rainforest section there are slippery conditions if the road is wet so you need to be awake. Not to forget out local wildlife such as emu and kangaroos that might want to meet you in a not so nice a way by jumping out in front of you.
    My other favourite road is the Eyre Highway which runs along the south coast of Australia and is the only East/West road that unites Western Australia to the rest of the country.
    Most of the road is fairly flat and some would say boring to travel on. One section of the road is dead straight for about 90 miles or 146.6 km, the longest in Australia. Now if you are into high speed roads for a bike this is it.

  • Rode Beartooth July 2, 2010, it was spectacular! The highway was clear and dry but snowbanks all around. As expected there is some road construction which leaves several gravel sections. This however is not a problem, the gravel is well packed and not loose. They are replacing a bridge near the Top of the World Store/Resort and this brings the road down to one lane but only until you get over the bridge. As for the Top of the World Store, it is the only business on the mountain between Cooke City and Red Lodge. It has a quaint well stocked store and is worth the stop. Was probably in the 80’s in Red Lodge and Cooke City but cool enough in the higher elevations that we needed jackets. This is a do not miss ride, if ever the opportunity, don’t miss-out on this one, you won’t be disappointed.

    I have some video of the ride from a Muvi video camera I attached to my mustache bar on my bike. Not the greatest but will give you an idea of the sights and the twisty roads. Give me a shout if your interested in seeing any of the video.

  • I’m taking notes. I have been trying to plan a trip to WY. FOR TWO YEARS. Maybe this year.I live in FL.

  • Did the Beartooth last August A truly wonderful ride and lots of fun..
    We found a road well worth the side trip on the way there…
    Take Hy 14 from Ranchester WY (not 14A) to Greybull and then Cody
    A great little known ride rivaling anything you can find anywhere in the mountains
    From Cody take HY 120 Northwest to Hy 296 to Cooke City
    All windy clean little traffic twisty roads with great elevations changes
    I will go back again some day soon

  • This is one of my favorite places in the world, and if it’s 80 degress in Cooke City, do yourself a favor and stay put, it will be 100 down on the plains! Mike

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