MT-212 | Beartooth Pass
- Distance: 64.2 Miles (103.32 km)
- Rating: 5-C, From intensely technical to glorious sweepers, and the road surface is just as variable from pristine to crumbly – but almost always smooth Ratings Explained »
- Travel: South to North for best results
- Start: Cooke City, WY
- End: Red Lodge, MT
- Fuel: Available on either end
- Along the Way: Some of the most amazing views in the lower 48 states.
- Highlights: Some of the most epic riding we’ve yet to enjoy, with views unlike anything you’d expect to see in America.
- Advisories: Super high elevation means weather can change in a snap, snow is possible in August and if the clouds move in, visibility will be nil.
View Bear Tooth Pass in a larger map
SummaryFirst paved in 1936, Beartooth Pass is often called “one of the most spectacular routes on the continent”. The Beartooth area is one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching over 12,000 feet in elevation. Glaciers grace the north flank of nearly every towering mountain peak and just when you think the road has climbed as far as possible, it climbs some more.
Leaving Cooke City in Wyoming, you head mostly east as you begin the epic ascent into the Beartooth mountain range, for the first few miles, the road sweeps moderately south until the turnoff to Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. Turn south to take Chief Joseph or continue straight ahead to for Beartooth Pass. Almost immediately the road climbs steeply and begins thrashing its way up the side of the mountain through several 270-degree corners that seem endless.
After several miles of this, the road will emerge from the tree’s as you near the timberline – the point where their is not enough oxygen for tree’s to grow – and barely enough for your bike to run. However, it is at this point where the road becomes mightily glorious. Sparse vegetation provides glimpses into an endless see of nameless mountain peaks and ridges that stretch out impossibly into the distance. White craggy rocks becomes a larger part of the scenery and the blueness of the sky actually begins to change (if you are fortunate enough to be riding up here on a clear day). A few more series of fast kicking corners and you descend back into the tree’s past a perfect alpine lake and you’ll think you are at the very top as you pass some joint called “Top of the world”. Its not, keep going as you are not quite to the best part.
From here the tree’s are almost all behind you and you will be winding your way along between alpine lakes, more craggy white rocks and tundra looking grasses – the only vegetation able to grow this high. Look far ahead and you’ll see glints of light from cars on the highest mountain peaks in the distance. That is where you are going. Are you booking time off work yet?
The roads up this high endure unimaginably harsh winters, so the asphalt is not all that great as you begin ticking off several switchback that snake their way, each one, higher and higher up the formidable mountain slope. Be sure to at least slow down to look around – and its not a bad idea to plan on stopping at several of the pullouts to absorb the sights. When you have finished riding the final six or seven switchbacks you will have reached the pinnacle of Beartooth Pass. A dirt road spokes off the asphalt at the top, be sure to follow it to the most epic view we’ve ever found in the lower 48 states. Our pathetic little panorama does it little justice.
Think the fun is over? Think again, you have to get back down to the land of the living. Significantly less steep, the road begins its descent by throwing you into four or five more switchbacks and even past the top of a ski-lift. Keep your eyes to the north as you will ride the edge of a deep cliff with even more glorious and amazing scenery that include jagged rocks and more glacial lakes far below. The road becomes gentle for a few miles as you ride the vast, open butte but a quick left corner begins the steep descent into Red Lodge, Mt via the biggest series of switchbacks you could imagine. The seemingly endless series of 20 and 30mph switchbacks are all that remains of the is awesome road. I don’t know if there is anything more we can say beyond saying that if you can at all find yourself in this part of the world, this is a road that must be ridden – Just avoid the last part of July when the Red Lodge Biker Rally and subsequent Poker Run are taking place as the pass is overrun with literally, thousands of bikers.
Road Rating System
The first part of our rating describes how technical we feel that road is. Numbers one through five with five being the most technical and one being a more mellow road with few challenging corners. The second half of the rating is a letter grade. A rating of “A” would be a road that is in great condition and a grade-F would be a crumbly, slippery or degraded surface.