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Old 05-30-2005, 07:43 AM   #1
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The Beartooth Highway is officially closed. The section of US-212 that leaves Red Lodge, MT and crosses the Beartooth Mountains before dropping down into Yellowstone National Park's northeast entrance is commonly known as the Beartooth Highway. Charles Kuralt referred to it as the most scenic road in the United States (and I wholeheartedly agree).

Last week a large mudslide careened down the switchbacks that climb the north face (Red Lodge side) of the Beartooths. Aerial photography revealed that 8 of the switchbacks were taken out. Severe undermining of the road meant this was a major repair project, not a cleanup. Because the city of Red Lodge depends upon this road for it's tourism economy federal funding will be applied for. Initial estimates are that reconstruction could take up to 2 years so all stops will be pulled out on this one.



Here's an aerial view of two of the affected switchbacks:




However, all is not lost. Rather than enter Yellowstone via one of the other 4 entrances you can still view at least half of what the Beartooths have to offer by following an alternate route. I've taken this route before with a 40' motorhome pulling a Grand Cherokee so it can be navigated by any RV.

You can head east from downtown Red Lodge via MT-308 for about 10 miles until it ends at Belfry. Then you head south on MT-72, which becomes WY-120 at the state line, foranotyher 25 miles until it intersects with WY-296. Head west on WY-296, which is also known as the Chief Joseph Highway, and you'll go through Dead Indian Pass and climb up into the Beartooths at their mid-point. It's not as steep as the initial switchbacks out of Red Lodge and you'll not be climbing as high either. Once you arrive at Sunlight Basin you'll intersect with US-212, the Beartooth Highway.

From here you have two options. You can turn left and head down through Cooke City into Yellowstone or you can turn right and backtrack up into the Beartooths. I definitely recommend the right turn.

If you head back up into the Beartooths you can park your rig at Top of the World Store where there's lots of room. Then unhook your towed (or tow) vehicle and do some side trips. You can take the toad a mile or two up the road to Long Lake. The road is open that far as of now but they will probably plow out more of it as the weeks go by.


Part of the valley area leading to Long Lake



One of the small glacial lakes in the valley


With any luck, they'll have the road open up over the alpine tundra all the way to West Summit, at 11,000'. After that it's the ski area and the switchbacks, which will be closed off.

West Summit


Just south of Top of the World Store you will see Beartooth Lake. This is a tight area for most RVs so this is one of the toad side trips and is within 1 mile of the store. Immediately across the lake is Beartooth Butte.


Beartooth Butte, as seen from the shore of Beartooth Lake


Right after that Crazy Creek runs through a valley. The waterfall is awesome in June and if you like to scramble down mountainsides you can get to the base of the falls.

Base of the Waterfall


After this you head down past Pilot and Index Peaks and through Cook City into Yellowstone's northeast entrance. Be sure to watch for moose in the meadows between Sunlight Basin and Cooke City.

One of the Locals


So, all is not lost. If you were planning on going this way, you can still see at least 1/2 of these magnificent mountains. Rather than reroute to an alternate entrance this small detour is not well publicised but there's certainly nothing wrong with it and you will be seriously impressed by the scenery. We've been there a number of times and just love it. We've even camped in the RV sites at Top of the World Store and it's a unique experience. I'm torn between keeping this secret for myself and sharing it with others so they can enoy it too. I guess as long as everyone isn't going when I want to go we'll be all right.
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Old 05-30-2005, 07:43 AM   #2
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The Beartooth Highway is officially closed. The section of US-212 that leaves Red Lodge, MT and crosses the Beartooth Mountains before dropping down into Yellowstone National Park's northeast entrance is commonly known as the Beartooth Highway. Charles Kuralt referred to it as the most scenic road in the United States (and I wholeheartedly agree).

Last week a large mudslide careened down the switchbacks that climb the north face (Red Lodge side) of the Beartooths. Aerial photography revealed that 8 of the switchbacks were taken out. Severe undermining of the road meant this was a major repair project, not a cleanup. Because the city of Red Lodge depends upon this road for it's tourism economy federal funding will be applied for. Initial estimates are that reconstruction could take up to 2 years so all stops will be pulled out on this one.



Here's an aerial view of two of the affected switchbacks:




However, all is not lost. Rather than enter Yellowstone via one of the other 4 entrances you can still view at least half of what the Beartooths have to offer by following an alternate route. I've taken this route before with a 40' motorhome pulling a Grand Cherokee so it can be navigated by any RV.

You can head east from downtown Red Lodge via MT-308 for about 10 miles until it ends at Belfry. Then you head south on MT-72, which becomes WY-120 at the state line, foranotyher 25 miles until it intersects with WY-296. Head west on WY-296, which is also known as the Chief Joseph Highway, and you'll go through Dead Indian Pass and climb up into the Beartooths at their mid-point. It's not as steep as the initial switchbacks out of Red Lodge and you'll not be climbing as high either. Once you arrive at Sunlight Basin you'll intersect with US-212, the Beartooth Highway.

From here you have two options. You can turn left and head down through Cooke City into Yellowstone or you can turn right and backtrack up into the Beartooths. I definitely recommend the right turn.

If you head back up into the Beartooths you can park your rig at Top of the World Store where there's lots of room. Then unhook your towed (or tow) vehicle and do some side trips. You can take the toad a mile or two up the road to Long Lake. The road is open that far as of now but they will probably plow out more of it as the weeks go by.


Part of the valley area leading to Long Lake



One of the small glacial lakes in the valley


With any luck, they'll have the road open up over the alpine tundra all the way to West Summit, at 11,000'. After that it's the ski area and the switchbacks, which will be closed off.

West Summit


Just south of Top of the World Store you will see Beartooth Lake. This is a tight area for most RVs so this is one of the toad side trips and is within 1 mile of the store. Immediately across the lake is Beartooth Butte.


Beartooth Butte, as seen from the shore of Beartooth Lake


Right after that Crazy Creek runs through a valley. The waterfall is awesome in June and if you like to scramble down mountainsides you can get to the base of the falls.

Base of the Waterfall


After this you head down past Pilot and Index Peaks and through Cook City into Yellowstone's northeast entrance. Be sure to watch for moose in the meadows between Sunlight Basin and Cooke City.

One of the Locals


So, all is not lost. If you were planning on going this way, you can still see at least 1/2 of these magnificent mountains. Rather than reroute to an alternate entrance this small detour is not well publicised but there's certainly nothing wrong with it and you will be seriously impressed by the scenery. We've been there a number of times and just love it. We've even camped in the RV sites at Top of the World Store and it's a unique experience. I'm torn between keeping this secret for myself and sharing it with others so they can enoy it too. I guess as long as everyone isn't going when I want to go we'll be all right.
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Old 06-09-2005, 08:03 PM   #3
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I just now discovered your post. That is awesome Cruzer! Thanks for the information and pictures. We will be in W.Montana this fall, perhaps we can find your alternate route and enjoy your find also.
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Old 06-10-2005, 05:27 AM   #4
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As of today the road is open from the south all the way to the West Summit so if you come in the Chief Joseph way you can backtrack and, with the exception of the mudslid switchbacks, you won't miss anything on this route. With any luck we'll be able to go this fall again.
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Old 07-17-2005, 08:12 PM   #5
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Last week, Hiway 78 out of Red Lodge up through Bear Tooth Pass is still closed approx 12 miles south of Red Lodge. They've graded a forestry road, beginning at the road block, thats pretty good, which runs about 4 miles and allows you to view the repair work going on and the apparent damage that this slide caused. Folks in Red Lodge are upset that its not already open as, according the the local paper, 50% of their business comes from people wanting to travel over that road/pass.
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Old 07-22-2005, 05:46 AM   #6
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Actually US-212 is the one that's closed for those few miles. You can still run most of US-212 by going around via 308, 72, 120, and 296 (Chief Joseph Highway) and reconnecting with US-212 in the middle of the Beartooths.
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Old 09-22-2005, 03:58 PM   #7
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Anyone have up-to-date info. We were all over the area this spring and hope to get back when the repairs are complete. Can't be beat.
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Old 10-01-2005, 09:54 AM   #8
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I just drove it a few weeks back. The switchbacks are still closed but they are making great progress on them and the work may even be completed yet this October, which is just in time to shut it down for winter.

The three contractors involved in the repair were basically given a very large scissors to cut any red tape so it was a "design as you go" thing. There are huge incentives to have it done early and it should all ready to go by Memorial Day 2006.

We drove up the Chief Joseph Highway and parked the coach at Top of the World, then took the Jeep all the way north to the Wyoming-Montana state line. The scenery was awesome (as always) and we enjoyed the minimal traffic while out there.

Best bet next spring is to camp at the Red Lodge KOA. If you want to drive through in a day and arrive in Yellowstone that night you can leave in the AM and make it easily with your setup. I did that in June 2003 with a Suncruiser 33V/W20 and had no problems. We did unhook the Jeep on the way up the initial climbs. You can make it either way but unhooking the toad gives you a bit more speed up the switchbacks and also gives you more flexibility in finding pullouts to fit into so you can stop and take a zillion photos on the way. Once up top, rehook.

Even better is to day trip it with the Jeep and stay in Red Lodge 2 (or more) days. Then you can really experience the various off-the-road places. Early June gets a bit early for some of them though because there's still plenty of snow up there on the forest side roads and many are closed.

It'll be a great trip.
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Old 10-04-2005, 01:31 PM   #9
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Thanks for the update. Ready to head back next year. Was fortunate to see the White Alpa Female Wolf in Yellowstone. Has her own pack. Also had a grizzly bear come right into our campsite (east of Yellowstone).

Come on spring.
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Old 10-05-2005, 03:38 PM   #10
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Just read in the Billing Gazette the Beartooth Highway is planned to be open on Friday at 10 AM. This despite the heavy snow they got this week.
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Old 10-08-2005, 05:56 AM   #11
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Yep, it's official. Here's The Link to the Billings Gazette coverage of it. It was an awesome feat to accomplish what they did in the time they did. And it turned out less than the original $20 million estimate too. See what happens when you cut out the red tape.

Now all Red Lodge needs to do is get the word out so that they can jump start their economy for next year. It was pretty slow this fall when I was there. I can't wait to get back and hike the Beartooths again.
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Old 11-17-2005, 02:41 PM   #12
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I just discovered this forum. I'd seen pix of the Beartooth before, but these were awesome.

Hope to get there in 2006.

Thanks again for the pix and news.
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Old 11-18-2005, 05:06 AM   #13
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Welcome to IRV2.
Glad to share the pics with you. I'm sure you'll find lots of helpful info from the friendly members over here. Be sure to share your experiences as well. We look forward to hearing from you.

With any luck, we'll get to the Beartooths sometime next year as well.
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Old 11-18-2005, 06:53 PM   #14
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We traveled all those roads in Aug. '03. We have a lot of the same pictures. What an amazing area. Thanks for bringing the memories out again. Looking forward to going back.
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