Well, that’s always going to be a matter of personal opinion. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure many would dispute this claim.
How about US101 on the West Coast for example, or iconic Route 66 (or what’s left of it)? Or some of the Fall Colors trails in the Appalachians or New England? Everyone will have their favorite neck of the woods and the roads that pass through. I have very limited experience of the eastern states – our travels have taken us mainly to the mid-West to visit family, and in the past four years we have chosen to head even further west for other vacation travels.
But I do agree that the Beartooth Highway (US212) between Red Lodge, Montana and the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and straddling the Montana-Wyoming state line, can surely claim to be up among the very best in the nation. It really is spectacular.
Last February, when we were planning our trip from St Paul, MN to Yellowstone, I laid out a broad itinerary I thought we could follow, taking in a number of iconic landscapes and attractions on the way: the Great Plains obviously, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills in South Dakota, Devil’s Tower, Wyoming and the Little Bighorn battlefield, Montana, before arriving at Yellowstone itself. It was more or less by chance that we decided to enter Yellowstone through the northeast entrance via US212. And since we made the trip in early June, we were lucky that the road had just re-opened after its annual winter closure due to snow.
So what makes the Beartooth Highway so spectacular? From Red Lodge (which lies at an elevation of 5,568 ft) the highway begins to climb quite quickly, and not that far south of the town there is an impressive climb of seven miles of switchbacks to bring you to the summit at Beartooth Pass (10,947 ft). Now I had imagined that we would actually pass through the mountains, but instead the road goes right over the top, and that’s where the state line separating Montana and Wyoming lies.
It’s a switchback down the other side, with magnificent panoramas over the Absaroka Range of the Rocky Mountains that skirt the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park. Landscapes to make your heart sing, and on the day we traveled the Highway, it was worthy of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah or Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem!