The Most Scenic Way to Access Yellowstone National Park Is Called the 'Most Beautiful Roadway in America' — What to Know

Beartooth Highway opened on June 1.

<p>Noah Couser/Courtesy of Visit Montana</p>

Noah Couser/Courtesy of Visit Montana

Beautiful drives abound in the U.S., but it’s rare to find a route that makes you feel as though you’re driving in the Alps in another era — with constant mountain views, tight switchbacks, and an open road. It’s even rarer to find a drive that takes you deep enough into the wilderness that you can spot big, wild animals, including moose and grizzly bears, from the safety of your car.

Meet Montana's Beartooth Highway (US 212), an almost 69-mile stretch of highway that connects the mountain town of Red Lodge, Montana, with Yellowstone National Park. Yes, the route is as beautiful as you’ve heard, garnering nicknames like the “Highway to the Sky” and “The Most Beautiful Roadway in America.”

The road, which opens when the snow has melted enough to be plowed and closes when the snow returns, is typically drivable from Memorial Day to mid-October. This year it opened over a week late, on June 1, due to heavy snow buildup on the pass and a last-minute storm. Shortly after announcing the route’s full opening, an avalanche was triggered on the Gardiner Headwall, which led to the temporary closing of the highway. Even now, after reopening, towering snow walls remain on parts of the drive.

“I have never seen the snow so deep in some areas as it is right now,” wrote meteorologist Curtis Grevenitz for KTVH. “The Beartooth Highway and surrounding mountains are not for the faint of heart.”

<p>Noah Couser/Courtesy of Visit Montana</p>

Noah Couser/Courtesy of Visit Montana

While the highway can be touchy in the early season, with frequent closures due to weather, it is still what many people call a drive that everyone should do at least once — and easily the most stunning way to access Yellowstone National Park. Beartooth Highway leads to the park’s Northeast Entrance, which sits near the Montana-Wyoming border and is known for its wildlife.

Travelers who aren’t interested in visiting the park can either turn around at Beartooth Pass Summit, which sits at 10,947 feet above sea level or continue over the pass to the towns of Cooke City or Silver Gate, Montana. The Northeast Entrance is just over one mile beyond the town of Silver Gate.

The recent opening of Beartooth coincides with the launch of Montana’s Great Wide Open, a series of road trips that guide travelers through three distinct Montana landscapes. The routes include a three-day journey through the Beartooth Mountains (including the Beartooth Highway) and an eight-day, 1,319-mile road trip through the state’s most striking landscapes, which includes, of course, a jaunt on Beartooth.

You should never attempt a drive on the Beartooth Highway without first checking the status of the road and incoming weather. The Montana Department of Transportation is responsible for the highway to the Montana-Wyoming border, while the National Park Service is in charge of road maintenance from the road’s first border crossing and into Yellowstone National Park.

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