The Beartooth Highway is a 68 mile All American Road that winds its way through Montana and Wyoming, leading its travellers to the iconic Yellowstone National Park. At 3,337m high, there is some serious elevation – a bag of chip bursting elevation in fact! Starting from around 1,600m in elevation, you start your climb starts in grassy meadows, travelling through switch-backs and steep zigzags, past banks of snow, and skiers blasting past your window.
We flew into Billings Airport, as the closest airport we could find to Yellowstone National Park, that didn’t cost an extremely exorbitant amount (i.e. Jackson Hole). Billings turned out to be a great place to pick up a rental, stock up the car, and find cheap accommodation. I have to provide a recommendation here for the Hilltop Inn. This was the cheapest hotel accommodation in our entire trip, and it provided free breakfast. The room was huge, and to top it off there was a microwave and a fridge so we could self-cater a family dinner (with the help of a hot chicken from Walmart!). Would love it if they didn’t use disposable plastic for EVERYTHING though, a little better for the environment if they used glasses, plates, knives, forks etc instead of the single-use plastic variety – wrapped in another layer of plastic for hygiene.
The Beartooth Highway
We had three amazing All American Roads on our bucket list for our US Trip – the Beartooth Highway, the Big Sur Coast Highway, and the Tioga Pass (technically a National Scenic Byway). Unfortunately for us, a storm took out a key bridge on the Big Sur Coast Highway, and the snow didn’t clear from the Tioga Pass by the time we travelled through in early July – which left only the Beartooth Highway.
Even then, the Beartooth Highway was CLOSED the day before we left Billings. Hubby was devastated, knowing the Big Sur was closed, watching the snow reports daily for the Tioga Pass, and refreshing the Beartooth Highway website hourly for updates to see if it was going to open. In the morning when we were due to leave Billings the hotel staff gave us the good news – it was open. For now. Get moving… We knew we were still hours away from the start of the Highway, but we took the risk. We were very lucky. It was closed again the next day!
“Heralded as one of the most scenic drives in the United States, the Beartooth Highway, features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, and open high alpine plateaus dotted with countless glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls and wildlife” (Beartoothhighway.com).
It was somewhere between here and the start of the snow that we heard a large BANG in the back of the car. We pulled over to check it out. On opening the boot … we could all smell corn chips. The bag of chips had exploded all through the boot … thanks to the pressure from the elevation!
Snow, glorious snow!
Note the start of the snow markers (large sticks sticking up on side of the road):
Spot the snow markers again? And note the size of the truck in front of us:
Sorry for the crappy photo – but this time spot the truck… and note the size of the bank of snow beside it:
On our way back down.
History of the Beartooth Highway
In August 1872, the pass was crossed by Civil War General Philip Sheridan and 120 men returning from Yellowstone. Rather than take the long detour down the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River to return to Billings, Sheridan took the advice of an old hunter named Shuki Greer, who claimed intimate knowledge of the Beartooth Mountains. When the road was later opened in 1936, it essentially followed Sheridan’s route over the pass. [Wikipedia].
A picnic spot for lunch. This was ISOLATED! There was nobody around. We ate quickly and got out of there. Bear phobia was kicking in!
And here we are!
This blog is part of the Amazing Journey Series.
Five years ago we re-evaluated our lives and our goals after the sudden loss of my mother in law. We vowed to slow down and to enjoy life with our small children. We got outside and explored. And we travelled. This Amazing Journey series documents our journey through Canada and the US, provides an insight on travelling with children, local destination tips and tricks, and, of course, gives an Accountant’s perspective on making the most of your holiday dollar. Earlier entries are here:
Coming up – Yellowstone National Park…