he Beartooth Highway is something everyone needs to add to their bucket list. Seriously. Write it down. Beartooth!
I have wanted to get to the Beartooth Highway for several years since I had read that Charles Kuralt of CBS fame had considered it the most beautiful drive in America. That is a bold statement and I can say that I find it one of the best drives in America too.
It was getting here that lead me over the scenic Chief Joseph Highway. I made it to one of the open NFS campgrounds near where the Chief Joseph and the Beartooth Highways meet late in the day. Quickly pitched my tent, paid for two nights and was driving up the pass after 7pm. The higher I sent the colder it got and the more scenic it became. This was all new territory and I was torn between stopping at each new view and driving to the summit of the pass.
Driving on won out as a huge thunderstorm cloud loomed at the top of the pass and I decided the cloud had great potential toward sunset. I occasionally stopped and made a quick image, most out the window of the car, but I kept driving up the pass. Up past treeline, I saw frozen lakes, big peaks, and many distant mountains.
Finally I reached the summit, views in every direction were of mountains, ice, and snow. I grabbed my gear, put on a jacket, hat and gloves and started walking trying to take it all in and find great compositions.
The big thunderstorm cloud moved off east and dissipated by sunset, but other clouds hung around the peaks. I stayed until sunset and drove down the mountain in the dark thinking this indeed is a fantastic road.
The next morning I was out the tent and up the highway early. It was a clear morning (seemed to be a running theme on this trip), and I stopped at a frozen lake and worked images along the edge of the lake with peaks. I spent a few hours in the wind along the top of the pass. The thermometer in the car read 27. When the light got harsh, I slowly drove down the far side of the pass into Red Lodge, looking for some breakfast.
This drive had it all. Forested lower reaches at either end, the road goes up and up into the heart of the mountains. You drive past alpine lakes, rocky cliffs, big peaks, and have amazing views. I have never been on a road that puts into this type of high alpine environment where you were among the summits like this.
I spent all afternoon walking in the wind around the summit. I caught another nice sunset that afternoon (the top image here), and made my way down in the dark again.
Needless to say after being out in the sun and wind all day, I was tired. You forget how long the days are this far north. I would be out on location before 5:30am and dark was not until almost 10pm. Long days.
The next morning, I was out early again, this time breaking camp in the dark. Again it was clear but I went to the summit for the sunrise anyway.
The views were spectacular even without the clouds I had hoped for. I can only imagine how incredible a great sunrise must be up here.
As the sun quickly turned to daylight, I started down the mountain. In the wooded part of the drive toward the bottom of the pass I saw a grizzly bear in some grass near the trees. He saw me and darted into the forest before I could even think about a camera.
As I drove into Cooke City, I thought about what a great day and half it had been on the Beartooth. It truly is a fantastic highway. I'd say it just beats out the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP and it trounces Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain NP. On a ten point scale: Beartooth 10, Going to the Sun 9, Trailridge 4.
It really is that awesome. Go.