Places to Visit: Beartooth Mountains

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Beartooth Mountains

To the south of Bozeman, on the way to Yellowstone National Park, lies the rugged Beartooth Mountains.

  • Located approximately 170 miles southeast of Bozeman are the Beartooth Mountains and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area.
  • The Beartooth Mountains are known for the Beartooth Highway, numerous hiking trails, and excellent opportunities for camping.
  • Due to high accumulations of snow during the winter, the prime time to visit this area is May to October.

The Beartooth Mountains are the highest range in Montana with numerous peaks higher than 12,000 feet elevation, and there are many permanent snowfields and a few glaciers. They lie to the immediate northeast of Yellowstone National Park. Their north face -- the Beartooth Front -- is abrupt, one of the most impressive mountain fronts in the Rockies. Their gradually rising high southern flank, which begins in Wyoming, is referred to as the Beartooth Plateau.

Most of the Beartooths are permanently protected by means of Wilderness designation and are a part of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

As a designated Wilderness Area, the Beartooth Mountains are open year round. However, the amount of snow that can accumulate at the higher regions – up to 30 feet in any one winter – can be a deterrent to out door activities during those months.

The best time to visit the area is May to October.

There are no fees, i.e. entrance fees, camping fees, etc. associated with the use of the Beartooth Mountains.

If you arrange to use the services of an outfitter or guide for a hike, backpacking trip, horsepack trip, snowmobiling, etc, there will be fees and costs associated with that activity.

Beartooth Ranger District
HC 49, Box 3420
Red Lodge, MT 59068
(406) 446-2103
fax: (406) 446-3918


The Beartooth Highway

The Beartooth Highway is probably the best-known feature of the Beartooth Mountains. The Beartooth Highway is the section of US 212 that winds through Beartooth Pass to Cooke City and through the northeast gate of Yellowstone National Park.

The highway was built in the 1930s and is considered an engineering feat--even by today's standards. The 68-mile road hugs the mountain-side along curving switchbacks that traverse up, across and back down the alpine plateau.

Access to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is excellent. Numerous roads flank the wilderness area and in a few cases parallel the border. A few other roads, such as south of Big Timber, actually penetrate into the wilderness area (the boundary is on either side of the road). All these roads allow hikers a wide variety of places of access points and places to hike.
An example of just two of the many hiking trails follows:

  • Bannock Trail
    The Bannock Trail is an excellent trail for individuals of all ages. It is a short portion of the Bannock Indian route used to reach buffalo hunting grounds. Beginning at the small community of Silver Gate Montana the almost level terrain parallels Soda Butte Creek, a major tributary of the Lamar River, into Yellowstone National Park. The trail crosses several streams through open meadows and forest groves. This trail is best hiked from May to mid-October.

    Total Distance – 4.8 miles
    Elevation gain – 130 feet
    Trail Type – Out and Back
    Skill Level – Easy to Moderate
  • Corral Creek Trail
    Beginning near the town of Red Lodge, the Corral Creek Trail follows a narrow mountain drainage curving around Sheridan Point. The trail leads to the headwaters of Corral Creek on the Line Creek Plateau. The well-defined trail has five creek crossings in the first mile. It is a beautiful but strenuous hike, gaining more than 3,000 feet.

    Total Distance – 8 miles
    Elevation gain – 3200 feet
    Trail Type – Out and Back
    Skill Level – Moderate to Strenuous

Camping in or around the wilderness area is also excellent. Many designated campgrounds, combined with virtually unlimited informal campsites, provide for plenty of places for camping, whether it is for a night or for a week.

Getting Here
If you are visiting either Yellowstone National Park or Cody Wyoming, you will venture into the Beartooth Mountains as you continue to travel north. Both routes will eventually take you to Cooke City, Montana.

A scenic, majestic drive over the Beartooth Highway brings you to Red Lodge, MT. From Red Lodge, head on US 212 to the junction with I 90. Then travel west along I-90 to Bozeman. The total distance from Red Lodge to Bozeman is 170 miles.