While America certainly isn’t short of amazing motorcycle rides, one that keeps coming out on top is the mountainous Beartooth Pass.
When the American Motorcyclist Association asked riders across the country to vote for their favourite roads, this adventure-filled ride took first place.
The highway runs through Montana and Wyoming, and with it being recognised as a National Scenic Byway you’re guaranteed to see some breathtaking sights as you take on the sharp turns.
Beartooth’s 68-mile route offers sublime views of mountain passes, dense forest, rivers and rocks, as well as snow even being seen during the height of summer.
Despite its popularity, the infamous route is definitely not for the faint hearted. With the highest elevation point reaching 11,000 feet, you can expect a lot of sudden drops, climbs and steep grades along the way.
But what else can you expect from one of the USA’s best ever rides?
The route begins at Red Lodge, Montana, which many call the ‘Gateway to Yellowstone’. Take US 212 south out of Red Lodge to start the journey down Beartooth Pass. Riders are faced with two options as they navigate down Beartooth Highway. The most common route takes you west towards Yellowstone, continuing on 212 until you reach Cooke City. This option takes you near to the Northeast Entrance Station to Yellowstone National Park for those who want to explore the volcanic hot spot. If you’re not looking to visit Yellowstone, then head down Chief Joseph Scenic Byway southeast toward the city of Cody, Wyoming. After you’ve drove for around 50 miles out of Red Lodge, look out for signs for Wyoming Highway 296. Turn left onto 296, coming off 212, and ride through northern Wyoming and Dead Indian Pass. After around 50 miles, bear right on Wyoming Highway 120 and head south toward Cody.
On The Road
The town of Red Lodge, where you’ll begin your adventure, is home to around 2,500 people. It’s the perfect place to spend a few days before you hit the road. The town celebrates everything great about its Wild Wild West history, with old west-style saloons still open for business. Head to Broadway Avenue – Red Lodge’s main street – for your fix of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and a grocery store.
Foster & Logan’s Pub and Grill is just one of the many food joints you can visit in the town. Red Lodge Ales is also worthy of a visit even though it’s slightly more downtown. It’s a great place to soak in the mountain air while enjoying the brewery’s original ales such as the ‘Beartooth Pale Ale’. Red Lodge is also the perfect place to gas up before your long trip, with very little fuel stops along the Beartooth Highway. From Phillips 66 to Conoco, there are several gas stations to choose from.
As you begin the Beartooth Pass, you’ll immediately become aware of just how steep the route is.
The ride snakes up the mountainside with several unexpected turns and tight switchbacks for at least six miles. The views both behind and in front of you are simply incredible at this point as you leave a trail of steep slopes in your path. Riders who have already experienced the Beartooth Pass claim that it is at this point of the ride where you can fully appreciate being on your bike. You meet very few bikers or restrictions here, so you can cross the road more freely and stop when you need to.
21 miles on from Red Lodge you’ll reach the Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area, standing at 9,190 feet. As well as a quick restroom stop, it’s the ideal opportunity to take in some of the overwhelming scenery of Rock Creek Canyon. The walkway also has information panels, teaching you about the area’s natural history and the construction of the highway.
Once you’re back on the road, you’ll go on to cross the 45th Parallel – the exact halfway point between the North Pole and equator! You’ll get a birds-eye view of just how hilly and mountainous Montana really is. Near the summit of Beartooth Pass, you’ll reach Beartooth Basin Summer Ski Area – one of the oldest alpine ski areas in America. It’s open during the summer when there is still enough snow, and is described as being a must-have experience for keen skiers.
Arguably the best view you will see along the way is The Bear’s Tooth, the mountain spire within the Beartooth Mountains. Due to its pyramid-like appearance, the Native American tribe ‘Crow’ gave the spire its infamous name. Near The Bear’s Tooth, on the other side of the pass, you can visit the Top of the World Store – the only shop in the uninhabited area. Whether you just want to stretch your legs or even buy an ice cream, it’s definitely worth a quick stop.
Within the Beartooth Mountain range itself there are over 950 lakes. Beartooth Lake isn’t far from the Top of the World Store, attracting kayakers, hikers and fishermen. Another six miles along, you’ll reach the Pilot and Index Overlook which offers a great view of the northeast corner of the Absaroka Mountains. It’s formed by volcanic debris accumulation from over 50 million years ago. After this the US 212 meets WY-296, where riders can choose how to end their adventure. You can either continue west on US 212 towards Cooke City and Yellowstone, or take Chief Joseph Scenic Highway to Cody, Wyoming. The second route crosses the Shoshone National Forest through the Absaroka Mountains to the Clarks Fork Valley.
From the extremely steep grades to the tiny curves and endless switchbacks, it’s safe to say the ride is challenging. But fortunately the quality of the road remains in a good condition as no cars or trucks attempt to go up it.