While there are several entrances to Yellowstone National Park, in my opinion there is none more amazing than the Northeast Entrance via the Beartooth Highway. No matter your age or physical condition, you can look out your window during this awe-inspiring drive and experience the various ecosystems that make up the Yellowstone area. It is the perfect way to introduce you to the unforgettable Yellowstone National Park. When we started our 3 month National Park Road Trip, we were a party of 5 as Maya, Naomi and I along with two teenage friends (Meg and Aubrey) had set off in our camper van from Cincinnati. After camping in the Badlands, exploring Custer State Park, visiting Devil’s Tower and the Battle Of Little Bighorn National Historic Site, we arrived in Billings, Montana to pick up 2 new passengers- Sophie and my nephew Ryan. While not a peaceful wilderness experience, camping at the Billings KOA allowed us to take much needed showers, do laundry and even take a dip in the pool while we waited for their late night flight into Montana. I had been somewhat nervous about navigating the airport for their late night flight, but I shouldn’t have worried. Billings Logan Airport is quite small and very easy to get around with ample parking located right outside the entrance doors. Happy to be reunited, we headed back to the KOA and went right to bed.After a quiet night’s sleep, we hit the road fairly early since we were all very excited to drive the Beartooth Highway and get to Yellowstone. While my family had visited Yellowstone before, this was Ryan, Meg and Aubrey’s first visit and we couldn’t wait until they got to experience it for themselves. While only 130 miles or so from the Billings KOA until the Northeast Entrance Station at Yellowstone National Park, this is not a route you can speed through so plan on 4-5 hours or so to drive the Beartooth Highway from Billings. The first 60 miles of the drive from Billings was just a regular highway route as the actual Beartooth Highway National Scenic Route starts in Red Lodge, Montana. This quaint gateway town to Yellowstone National Park is a convenient place to fill up the gas tank and grab some snacks before getting on the 68 mile section of the Beartooth Highway to the Northeast Entrance Station. Once on the Beartooth Highway, be ready for some serious elevation change as the 6,400 feet elevation at Red Lodge rises to 10,947 feet at Beartooth Pass before dropping back down as you enter Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance. Along the way you will experience thrilling hairpin turns, snow throughout the entire year, and amazing vistas of the beautiful tundra like area. The amount of snow along the side of the road was truly awe inspiring and the immense plows used to clear the road were unlike anything I’ve seen. We got out at various pull off along the highway to take in the views, play in the snow and take pictures. There is a parking lot at Beartooth Pass with an overlook that you should take the time to get out and look around.Driving the Beartooth Highway truly is a feast for the eyes and the perfect introduction to the amazing Yellowstone National Park. Called “the most beautiful drive in America by Charles Kuralt, be prepared to be impressed. Once note of warning, if you are traveling with anyone prone to carsickness, the Beartooth Highway may be a struggle for them. While no one in our car actually got sick, we did have bags available just in case.
If you go on the Beartooth Highway-
- Wear layers. While it was warm in Billings, it was windy and cold at the overlooks and at Beartooth Pass. A sweatshirt is a good idea.
- Once you leave Red Lodge, there aren’t many places to buy food so bring plenty of snacks and water. You could also plan a stop at the Top of the World Store about 38 miles from Red Lodge which offers a small selection of groceries, gas and outdoor gear.
- Bring bags in case of carsickness. The sharp hairpin turns are no joke.
- Allow plenty of time to make this beautiful drive. Not only is the road steep and curvy, you will surely want to look around at the amazing views. It took us about 4 hours to reach Yellowstone where we stopped for a picnic.
- Due to the large amount of snow that occurs in the part of the country, the Beartooth Highway is only open in the summer from Memorial Day to mid October. Click HERE for more information.
- Once at the Northeast Entrance, Yellowstone Entrance Fees are $30 for a 7 day pass. Each year we buy the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass which allows free entry to all National Parks, Monuments and Forests for $80.
- For more information about this amazing roadway, check out The Beartooth Highway: A History of America’s Most Beautiful Drive. We also found Fodor’s National Parks of the American West to be an indispensable resource when planning for our National Park Road Trip.
- To keep track of your National Park travels, check out our free printable National Parks Checklist.
While not a straight shot, making the drive along the Beartooth Highway into Yellowstone National Park is well worth your time. If you decide to do it, I can’t imagine you will be disappointed. Happy Travels!
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