This is one of the most scenic and breathtaking drives in the country. Please note that due to weather conditions, the road is only open seasonally from late May to early October. Early and late season travelers should always check here for up to date road information, as it is not uncommon for the road to open late, close early, or be closed intermittently for bad weather.
Best Time of Year: Early June through September
Time Needed: Allow a minimum of 5 hours to tour this 150 mile loop. It is easy to make it a full day adventure!
Route Description: This description provides a loop drive including the Chief Joseph Hwy beginning from Red Lodge on Highway 212. Directions can be modified, for those approaching from different points. The incredible switchbacks to Vista Point begin 12 miles south of Red Lodge. After approximately 25 miles driving above the timberline, taking in high mountain scenery, the road begins to descend through alpine lakes and forests, to the intersection with the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (WY Hwy 296). At this junction you may detour from your route 2.5 miles to see Crazy Creek Cascades (an unbelievable show each June) and go on to have lunch in Cook City (24 miles RT from the Hwy 212 and Hwy 296 junction).
Proceeding on the Chief Joseph Hwy, another lunch stop is Painter Outpost, just 5 or 6 miles from the junction, on the left along the Clarks Fork River. The Chief Joseph wanders through beautiful mountain and valley ranch land, then over Dead Indian Pass (8,048’ elevation, overlook with restrooms) following the general route taken by Nez Pierce Chief Joseph in his attempt to lead his people to Canada in 1877. As you approach the intersection of the Chief Joseph and WY Hwy 120, keep an eye out for the Heart (shaped) Mountain to the southeast. Turn north onto WY Hwy 120 (changing to MT Hwy 72) to Belfry, MT. Turn left at the stop sign onto MT Hwy 308 to Red Lodge.
With numerous walks to vistas, a picnic beside an alpine lake or in a wildflower meadow with spectacular views might easily make this a full day adventure. If you’re looking for an afternoon snack on the drive back to Red Lodge, try the banana cream pie at the little café in Bear Creek, MT, Hwy 308. If it’s dinner time, consider the Bear Creek Saloon & Steakhouse. This fine establishment is known for its good food and summer pig races. If you’re a quilter, visit The Washoe Quilt Shop located 3 miles east of Red Lodge on Hwy 308.
- Rock Creek Vista Point (9,190’ elevation with restrooms)
- The Beartooth Pass (10,937’ elevation)
- “The Bear’s Tooth”, view of a natural spire in the shape of a large tooth on a rocky crest.
- Island Creek Campground (9,518’ elevation)- enjoy spectacular views of Island Lake and the Beartooth Mountains. This is also the location of the trailhead for the Beartooth High Lake Trail to numerous alpine lakes.
- Clay Butte Lookout (9,811’ elevation-opened seasonally) Take the 3 mile unpaved road to visit and have your picnic on the grass next to the historic lookout tower and view Granite Peak, Montana’s highest.
- Sunlight Creek Bridge on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway ( said to be the highest bridge in Wyoming.) The Bridge spans across the gorge from sheer cliffs. From the Bridge you can see Sunlight Gorge below; and, view Steamboat Mountain in the distance.
- Elk, antelope, bighorn sheep and cattle are often spotted while driving the Chief Joseph.
Click here, for additional information on the Beartooth All-American Road.
Click here, for additional information on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.