Lonely Planet Writer

Beartooth Highway: ‘the most beautiful drive in America’ opens this weekend

Running 68 miles through Montana and Wyoming and climbing to nearly 11,000ft elevation, the Beartooth Highway winds through some of America’s most beautiful landscapes. But from October until May the road is closed due to unsafe weather conditions on parts of the mountainous highway.

Beartooth Highway.
Beartooth Highway. Image by m01229 / CC BY 2.0

On Friday the road will open for the season, allowing motorists to begin their trips through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, passing snow-topped peaks of over 12,000ft, as well as three national forests. After the approximately 3-hour drive, travelers will head into the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

Eager motorists begin planning trips as early as January, when phone calls start coming into the Red Lodge Visitor Center in Montana asking when the highway will open. Locals know it’s usually Memorial Day Weekend, and this year is no different.

Red Lodge will throw a free party to celebrate the beginning of the driving season. The party begins at noon on 28 May and will include live music and snacks in the parking lot of Beartooth Ranger District.

It’s just an electric atmosphere here; you can just feel it,’ Laurel Larson, marketing director of the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce, told the Montana Standard. ‘We’ve already had quite a few visitors in town and phone calls, asking when the pass will open.’

Officially opened in 1936, Beartooth Highway was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. CBS travel correspondent Charles Kuralt once called the road ‘the most beautiful drive in America’.