Beartooth. America’s Most Beautiful Highway
What is the most beautiful road in the U.S.A.? And who says so?
TV journalist Charles Kuralt traveled the country for 25 years hosting “On the Road,” segments featured on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Kuralt was like a favorite uncle as he spun up heartwarming stories and interviewed ordinary Americans he met criss-crossing the country’s back roads in a motor home.
He wore out six motor homes during these travels, so he obviously got to know the hidden corners of the U.S.A. pretty well. And it was during these travels that Kuralt deemed the Beartooth Highway the most beautiful road in the U.S.
Maps identify the Beartooth as Highway 212 as it winds its way along the Wyoming/Montana state line eastward from inside Yellowstone National Park to Red Lodge, Montana.
Ride out of Red Lodge and the Beartooth quickly enters the Custer National Forest for the ultimate high-country experience, slicing through the Custer, Shoshone and Gallatin National Forests to the highway’s end near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone Park.
This genuinely gorgeous route features nonstop rugged mountains, icy glaciers and alpine meadows full of wildflowers, cresting at the 10,947-foot high Beartooth Pass. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a moose or a grizzly bear during your ride.
Since its completion in 1936, the Beartooth has treated millions of visitors to the rapid transition from lush forest ecosystem to alpine tundra in the space of just a few miles. It’s also one of the highest and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks reaching more than 12,000 feet in elevation. Glaciers grace the north flank of nearly every towering mountain peak.
Since the Beartooth Highway merges into Yellowstone Park, there’s plenty to do and see in this part of the country. So plan on spending a couple days or more enjoying the area. You can stay within the park (reservations a must in high season), or sleep in the little town of Cooke City, which rests just outside Yellowstone’s east gate.
Like Red Lodge, it offers just a handful of motels that can fill up quickly so plan ahead. Not far away in Wyoming, the town of Cody offers significantly more lodging options, along with a must-see attraction; the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a five-museum complex that offers something—actually, a lot of somethings—for everybody.
Established in 1873 as the first national park in the world, Yellowstone continues as a well-known destination today. Archeological sites, trails, and oral histories show that people have been in Yellowstone for more than 11,000 years, drawn to the many fascinating geological attractions.
The many hot springs and famous stops such as Old Faithful, Fountain Paint Pot and Inspiration Point deserve their reputations but in truth, avid motorcyclists will find the roads within the park are equally magnificent and perhaps even more entertaining.
From Highway 212, hook up with Grand Loop Road, which does indeed trace a grand loop through the center of Yellowstone Park as it carves through miles of gorgeous scenery. From the north, either leg of the loop will take you to the impressive reaches of Yellowstone Lake.
From the lake, Highway 191 courses its way south to more fantastic mountain roads in Grand Teton National Park. Take the time to explore the cool town of Jackson, with it’s famous antler arches in the town square, great places to eat, and scenic roads that run through the Jackson Hole valley alongside the Elk Preserve where you can spot herds of elk, moose and bison.
If you’ve packed your fly-fishing gear, cast into the Snake river that runs through town; you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful river in the whole country. And the trout are always biting.
Have more time? Do it all over again by grabbing Highway 14 east to the town of Cody. From there it’s an easy ride to back to Red Lodge where you can kick off another run on the spectacular Beartooth Highway, the most beautiful road in America.
Beartooth Highway – Places to Visit
Yellowstone National Park
Ranked in the top five among National Parks, Yellowstone is known the world over for its wildlife and its many geothermal sites. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. Grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in the park—the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a complex of five museums and a research library featuring art and artifacts of the American West located in Cody, Wyoming. The five museums include the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indians Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum.
Founded in 1917 to preserve the legacy and vision of Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the oldest and most comprehensive museum complex of the West. The seven-acre building holds more than 50,000 artifacts and since 2008, the Center of the West has been part of the Smithsonian Affiliates program. The New York Times described it as “among the nation’s most remarkable museums.” Each museum is noteworthy on its own merit; together, they comprise a must-see stop if you’re anywhere close to this part of the country.
Beartooth | America’s Most Beautiful Highway for Motorcyclists