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Beartooth Highway - 2011 Trip - Day 3

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Start Location: Livingston, MT
Ending Location: Billings, MT
Miles Today: 232
Trip Miles: 957
States Visited: 4
Provinces Visited: 0
Low Temp: 52.2° F
High Temp: 84.4° F
Min Elevation: 3173'
Max Elevation: 10984'

Route Map:


We started out a little later than normal today since we lost an hour yesterday due to entering the Mountain Time Zone.  We weren't too worried since we knew we had a relatively short day.  The ride began with a short 50 mile ride from Livingston to Gardiner and the entrance to Yellowstone.  We entered Yellowstone under the Roosevelt Arch at around 10:00.  We missed a picture of the iconic arch so here's a picture for folks who haven't been there before.  After purchasing our second lifetime senior pass for $10 (cheaper than the single day motorcycle pass fee of $20) and proceeded to the Welcome Center at Mammoth Hot Springs.  Our first encounter was a small group of elk lounging in the front yard of the Welcome Center.  We have been here before and each time there seem to be elk here.  We checked weather and pass conditions at the Center and, as we left the center, were greeted with some light rain.  We didn't bother with rain gear and the rain didn't last too long.  The 50 mile ride from the Welcome Center to the Northeast entrance was a nice ride with light traffic and comfortable temperatures.  There was one short construction zone but no delay.  While in the park we saw deer, elk, and hundreds of bison.

Just outside the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone you enter Route 212 and the Beartooth Highway.  We stopped at a Visitor Center in Cooke City which is about 3 miles outside of the park and had a pleasant lunch where we met a nice couple from England who were visiting the states and had come from Cody, Wyoming and were headed to Yellowstone.  This was their first time in this part of the country and they amazed by everything they saw.  We have seen quite a few foreign visitors on this trip so far.  After lunch we headed out on the road.

The road, which had risen to about 8000' as we arrived in Cooke City, actually dropped about 1000' and then began to climb all the way to Beartooth Pass.  The road wound through pine forests and incredible alpine meadows and awarded us with amazing views either above us where we were heading or to the rivers and glacial pools we had driven through.  There were literally dozens of switchbacks and the riding was great fun.  There was one construction zone where the road was down to one lane and they were escorting groups of vehicles in one direction at a time with a pilot vehicle.  We had to wait 15 or 20 minutes and, when we finally got our turn, the road was just a single lane of packed dirt and gravel for about a mile and a half.  This didn't really bother us too much because we have run into construction zones like this in the past that went on for many miles.  We were just glad it was dry - mud would have been much more of a challenge.  At around 9000' we began to pick up some stiff wind and it increased until it was very stiff at the top with gusts that had to be 30 or 40 miles per hour.  As you can probably tell from the graph, the road actually peaked twice and the rain started somewhere around the second peak.  With the wind and the cold, it was almost freezing rain and made the driving a little more treacherous but still doable.  The rain stayed with us until we had descended to about 8500' to 9000' and then the roads began to dry up and the temperatures crept back up to a comfortable range.

We reached Red Lodge at around 3:00 and, since it was still pretty early, went another 50 miles and stopped in Billings for the evening.  

All in all the day certainly met our expectations and this is definitely a ride we would do again.  We were a little concerned about possible weather conditions since they have been known to have occasional snow this time of the year, but everything worked out just fine.

We head towards Mandan, ND tomorrow and need to pick a route that will get us there Friday afternoon.