Travel the Most Beautiful Drive in America
A number of years ago I caught part of a show with some really nice Italian sports cars. I’m not a car guy, so I couldn’t tell you what type of cars they were, but they were cruising through the mountains. I watched the rest of the show wondering where they were, I figured it was the Alps. Right before the credits there was a thank you to the Beartooth Highway for letting them use the road.
If you have read many of my posts you will know that I like to get out there and explore. Often in places that most people do not care to go. But if you want to explore the mountains, and see the Beartooths without learning the ins and outs of mountaineering, take a drive down the road that Charles Kuralt once said was the “most beautiful drive in America.”
Most people know that Highway 212 goes from Laurel to Red Lodge. But it keeps going for another 69 miles all the way to Cooke City and the East entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Switchbacking up the side of the mountains make sure to stop at the overlook vista and see the valley you just drove through. Keep going up and over the tops of the plateaus, you can get as high as 11,000 feet without ever leaving the car. Once on top there will be snow in the middle of summer that you can stop and have a snowball fight, or head up earlier in the summer and ski the many chutes and bowls that line the road. In the tundra on top of the plateaus there are great views in nearly all directions, but some of the most exciting things to do is scout the rocky piles for pikas and marmots. Shortly before arriving at Cooke City, the Chief Joseph Campground is near the trailhead of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, and provides some amazing mountain fishing. Continuing shortly past Cooke City and you will find yourself getting into Yellowstone Park, another whole adventure in itself.
To get to the pass, head south from Laurel. Leave early in the day and you can have breakfast at the Red Lodge Café and take a little time to walk the historic Main Street. After Red Lodge plan to be driving for another 2 hours before arriving in Cooke City. When there learn about the town, and have lunch. If you choose to hike in the area, make sure you have bear protection as it is prime grizzly country. For those who want some adventure up on top, bring a jacket as even during the summer it can get quite cool. And make sure to wear sunscreen, the snow reflects the sun in the thin atmosphere and can cause anyone to burn quickly. Currently there are fires burning near the pass, so be aware of slowed traffic. When you do get to drive this magnificent road, take a lot of pictures.
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