Gaining Altitude on Beartooth Pass Scenic Highway
This is a continuation of Part-2 HERE, of our 4000-mile journey to 4-Corners that led us through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota/Sturgis, Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington and then back to Oregon.
Billings to Bear Tooth Pass – Yellowstone – Bozeman, MT – On this morning we said “Hasta la vista, baby” to one of the riders in our group who had to peel off and take a more direct route home to Oregon.
On Beartooth Pass
The rest of the posse was heading to Wyoming’s highest paved primary road…the Beartooth Scenic Byway.
It’s on Highway 212 and runs about 70 miles south and then west from Red Lodge in Wyoming to Cooke City, in Montana. The online data states that the Beartooth Pass summit is at 10,947 feet although our GPS from the top was reading 10,957 feet.
Riding Across The Top Of Beartooth Pass
It didn’t matter because it felt like we were on the top of the world and could see 100’s of miles!
It is an incredible road to ride a motorcycle on and although I’ve never been there, I believe it would compete with riding through the Swiss Alps for excitement. The road is essentially in two parts – the lower section that rises as you head south out of Red Lodge and the upper part at the higher elevations.
Descending Beartooth Pass
The views on the way up are terrific and it is a difficult decision whether to continue riding or stop every ¼ mile and take pictures. We did some of both, including GoPro’s mounted on the helmets to video record parts of the trip. We met other riders along the road and they all had big smiles on their faces as if we had all found a long lost secret riding location.
Some parts of the upper section of Beartooth Pass had gusty winds that were inconsistent from bend-to-bend that required our attention and it was much colder at the higher altitude. Nothing more than leather jackets, and the slopes were steep and the views were spectacular. On top there was snow in the shadow parts of the mountain.
Northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park
We made several photo stops on the way down as we headed toward the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone Park.
In the summer this is a dramatic entrance with a rich diversity of landscape compared to other entrances to the park. Traffic was very light and just after we entered the park at 7,365-feet altitude, we cut between the 10,928-foot Abiathar Peak and the 10,404-foot Barronette Peak.
Bison in Lamar Valley
Lamar Valley is home to large amounts of Bison, some of which we met on the road meandering along without a care in the world. We exited the park at Gardiner where The Roosevelt Arch is located. The top of the Roosevelt Arch is inscribed with “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” which is from the Organic Act of 1872, the enabling legislation for Yellowstone National Park.
The Roosevelt Arch – Yellowstone National Park
We continued on to Bozeman, MT., and overnighted at the rather nice Best Western Plus Grantree Inn. There was an upscale sports bar and restaurant in the hotel and we grab dinner there and chatted with some of the locals.
Bozeman to Shelby, MT – The next morning we fueled up early and motored north on US Route 86. It’s also referred to as the Bridger Range Scenic Drive.
On US Route 86 – Bridger Range Scenic Drive
It’s about 40miles and intersects with Highway 89 north of the town of Wilsall. The road follows the eastern flank of the Bridger Mountains. Once the road enters the National Forest, the views are a bit more limited due to the thick forest, but there are still enough open areas to keep the drive interesting. The Bridger Bowl ski resort is about 20min from Bozeman.
Smith River Valley
There are no services along the route, but what an incredible scenic road! If you ever get a chance ride this route do it. The road is a nicely paved and provides excellent views of the mountains which dominated the view to the west.
We connected up with US Route 89 which is the “Backbone of the Rockies” and links seven National Parks across the Mountain West. We rode through the The Smith River Valley. Stopped for a late breakfast at the Branding Iron Café in White Sulphur Springs.
Departing White Sulphur Springs meant we were on the Kings Hill Scenic Byway as it winds through the Little Belt Mountains. We passed through the Lewis and Clark National Forest and savored the rugged beauty.
As the scenery turn flat there were gravel roads that crisscrossed US Route 89 all the way to Great Falls. It was hot with a lot of wind buffeting on this day and in Great Falls we stopped at Big Sky Harley-Davidson for a soda break and to look for a t-shirt.
Glacier National Park – Going To The Sun Road
We departed and connected with I-15 north and headed toward Shelby. Several miles up I-15 we stopped at the Mountain View Co-Op in Brady for fuel. We ran into some old farmers there and spend a good deal of time chatting about various items from how loud the bikes were to the price of wheat. It was almost like a TV show!
We arrived in Shelby and overnighted at the Comfort Inn. It was an interesting hotel with part of it being on Indian reservation and had gambling in the lobby, but the rooms in the new section had just opened and they had friendly service. We walked down the hill and ate dinner at the Ringside Ribs which was full of hungry truck drivers.
Riding the Going To The Sun Road – Glacier National Park
Shelby to Sandpoint, ID (via Going To The Sun Road and West Glacier) – We departed fairly early the next day and motored out on Highway 2 west bound. We were headed for the “Going To The Sun Road” at St. Mary and east entrance of Glacier National Park. We rode through Cut Bank then Browning and when refueling in St. Mary we took some time for refreshments.
If you’ve never driven a motorcycle on the Going-to-the-Sun Road it’s clearly one of the top 10 national park experiences.
Riding the Going To The Sun Road
There is significantly less traffic (shuttle buses and tourists) when traversing the park east to west and we didn’t have to contend with large crowds at any of the prime viewing pullouts. The road offers a visual assortment of moutain views that anyone will enjoy. It’s narrow in places, and in a constant state of repair due to the annual freeze-thaw cycle.
We didn’t pull off at the Logan Pass visitor center.
We’ve been down this road before and the visitor center crowds are not our gig. The view of the Clements Mountain and the southern tip of the Garden Wall were terrific. Many of the park visitors motor up the pass aboard a Red Jammer, one of Glacier’s renowned fire engine-red, open-air touring buses that debuted in 1937. Supposedly they gained their nickname for the way drivers “jammed” their way through the gears.
“Glides” on the Going To The Sun Road
We had GoPro camera’s running through much of our way down to West Glacier where it looks like time has stood still in this remote corner of Montana. The log buildings have changed very little since they were built in 1938. Any “inappropriate development” has been curtailed and the village has maintain its historic character. There was a quick break at the village and we were making good time so we continued on to Kalispell. We motored on and thought about stopping in Libby, but continued on to Bonners Ferry then connected with Highway 95 south for Sandpoint, ID.
Bonner’s Ferry, ID
We had left the plains-induced sweat running down our backs for cooler temperatures and it was nice riding. Although I have to admit that the cumulative riding over the previous 11 days had started to wear on me. We were heading toward home at this point so the time to pull off and take photos were few. We were really about getting through some miles.
It had been a 345 mile day through some slow going, RV and tourist ridden roads, but we were in Sandpoint and checked into the La Quinta Inn before 6pm.
Sandpoint, ID at the La Quinta Inn
We showered and had refreshments at Connie’s. We intended to eat at a Thai restaurant, but ran out of patience and instead had dinner at Connie’s.
Sandpoint to Portland – The next morning we were again up and on the road before 7:30am because we had a 430+ mile day and the forecast was searing heat. We headed out of town and caught a glimpse of the city’s new downtown by-pass as we headed across the Sandpoint Long Bridge. It was slow going on Highway 95 to Coeur d’Alene, but we pick up speed once we connected with I-90 and then Highway 395 through the Washington State farm land. We pulled into the Country Travel Plaza for a fuel and refreshment stop as the heat of the day wore on. We had a late lunch at C&D Drive In at Boardman and then rolled into Portland around 5pm.
The sun sets on the end of the 4-Corners “Glide” adventure
It’s not often that you get to ride for the pure enjoyment of the open road and the excitement of what’s around the next curve.
We were on the road for 12-days, visited eleven states, made new friends, discovered a part of history and rumbled across 4000 miles of the U.S. There were smells, wind gusts, moisture hungry lowland desert, tall pines and scented blooms along with blazing sun, searing heat, rugged landscape and mountain peaks that reached up and touched the clouds. It was a most rewarding trip and riding the adventure with some classy motorcycle buddies was priceless!
That was the 4-Corner’s ride in August 2012. It is now history forever saved on the internet!
This is multi-part blog post. Part 1 – HERE and Part 2 – HERE.
Photos by author.
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