Classic Roads: US 212 & Beartooth Hwy

Classic Roads: US 212 & Beartooth Hwy
If you’d like to ride through America the Beautiful, you can’t do much better than the Beartooth Highway. But don’t take just my word for it—this roughly 70-mile stretch of US 212 has been called “the most beautiful road in America” by both Charles Kuralt and our editor-in-chief.

An All-American Road

The Beartooth Highway, designated an All-American Road, covers the aforementioned distance between Red Lodge, MT, and the northeastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Our route, however, starts a bit farther away, in Laurel, MT. Riding this additional section of US 212 lets you ease into the foothills of Custer Gallatin National Forest before tackling the 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass.

You can, unsurprisingly, expect a mountainous climate on this road. The best time to ride is from late spring to fall—if only because Beartooth Highway is closed between October and May. You may still encounter snow year round, so it’s best to bring wet and cold weather gear with you.

US 212 is paved throughout its entire length, so you don’t necessarily need an ADV bike or a dual sport. Some of the paths leading to hiking trails and points of interest are gravel or dirt, though. And finally, it’s not called Beartooth Highway for nothing—keep an eye out for wildlife and don’t camp on the roadside. You might find more bear teeth than you’ve bargained for.

If you do want to stay the night along the road, you’ll find multiple lodges and campgrounds. They fill quickly, though, so it’s best to make reservations well ahead of time.

To the Top of the World

Heading south from Laurel, motor some 50 miles through open farmland with leafy woods and gentle hills. The road is mostly straight and you can’t take a wrong turn pretty much anywhere along the route, so enjoy the ride. Once you reach Red Lodge, make sure to fill up your tank and stock up on food if need be. This will be the last vestige of civilization for a while.

Soon after Red Lodge, you’ll encounter your first gray-and-red mottled cliffs while the trees become decidedly more coniferous. Congratulations, you’re on Beartooth Highway.

Going through a series of thrilling switchbacks, you’ll ascend up the mountains until hitting the highest part of the route at Beartooth Pass. You know you’re there when the views open up under a vast blue sky. Beartooth Pass Vista is a good location to stretch your legs and take in the scenery.

Continue west and you’ll pass Top of the World Resort. Soon after, the mountain switchbacks come to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over. You still have many miles of long stretches left, perfect for soaking in the wildness around you and realizing how small we actually are.

Beartooth Highway ends at the intersection with Grand Loop Rd, near Roosevelt Lodge. This is a great place to call it a day before continuing into Yellowstone. Or, if you want to get the most out of Beartooth Highway, spend the night and ride this route in reverse. You won’t regret it.

Points of Interest

Red Lodge, MT

The mountain town of Red Lodge marks the eastern terminus of Beartooth Highway. It’s a pretty and quiet little place with plenty of food and lodging options for moto travelers getting on or off Beartooth. Red Lodge is also the hosting location for the annual Beartooth Rally and Iron Horse Rodeo.

Beartooth Pass Summit

The east summit sign for Beartooth Pass is by the roadside just after the Wyoming border. However, if you ride down a short, rutted dirt road, you’ll get to a parking lot overlooking the switchbacks you just rode. In short, get off the saddle and whip out your camera.

Top of the World Resort

Nobody comes to Beartooth Highway to shop, but the Top of the World store and resort is still worth a stop, even just for a couple of photos. They sell fuel and food, have lodging available, and have info boards with interesting tidbits about Beartooth. Find it at 2823 US 212, Cody, WY, (307) 587-5368.

Clay Butte Lookout

This is another scenic spot just past Beartooth Lake that lets you appreciate the vastness of your surroundings. You’ll again have to ride up a short dirt road, but the views will definitely be worth it. If you’re on a bike that can’t make the climb, don’t worry—Yellowstone Overlook just down the road is more accessible and just as gorgeous.