The Beartooth Byway and northern Yellowstone

A day trip through the whole length of the Beartooth Byway before it closes for the winter. We also went through the northern part of Yellowstone National Park and visited the famous hot springs, Terraces of Mammoth.

City Bakery

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

I was looking for a bakery the first time we got there, and this tiny place (and the delicious foods) just caught my eye (and my nose).

City Bakery is small indeed (no restroom, so you'll have to run at the Pollard Hotel, but it's not far), but the pastries are delicious! There are cookies, Italian specialties (almond- and chocolate-dipped crescents and biscotti for example), macaroons, bread sticks, huge cinnamon rolls, and more!

The owner is as sweet as pie and really talkative. She travelled a lot through Europe to learn new recipes and cooking techniques, and if you start talking with her, you might end up staying there for a while. The Tuscan roast coffee is not bad either!
On Saturday, the bakery makes ciabattas, a special crusty Italian bread, so make sure to drop by and try it.

City Bakery
104 South Broadway Avenue
Red Lodge, Montana

Index and Pilot Peak

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

Index and Pilot Peak are amongst the most noticeable peaks on the Beartooth Byway. More than 11,000 feet high, they are the remnants of volcanic activity (the northeastern edge of the Absaroka is what's left of high volcanic activity, which is 50 million years old, which is pretty young, while the Beartooth is formed of granite, one of the oldest rocks on Earth).
Because of their uncanny shape, the peaks used to be a geographical bearing spot for the Crow Indians, trappers, etc., and that's where their names come from. The pullout will give you a great view of the peaks, the Ansaroka-Beartooth Wildreness, and the Clarck Fork Valley.
Index and Pilot Peak
Route 212
Billings, Montana

Soda Butte Creek

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 28, 2004

After the entrance at Silver Gate (coming from Cooke City and the Beartooth Highway), the first sight of Yellowstone is really pretty as the road goes along Soda Butte Creek. With golden hills shining in the sun and water flowers along the banks, it is very peaceful here. There are some picnic tables along the river, and you're welcome to drop by if you are an avid fisherman!

Anglers older than 12 years old need a permit (free for those between 12 and 15 years old). There are three kinds of permit: a three-day permit ($15), a seven-day permit ($20), and a season permit ($35).

Animals have precedence in the use of fish, and you are, of course, not allowed to use toxic material to fish (leave your lead material at home). At the entrance of the park, Soda Butte Creek looks pretty placid, but further up, it turns into a real mountain stream. We found this isolated place on our way to Tower-Roosevelt. Not far from the road, but it felt like we were miles away from everything.

Soda Butte Creek
Yellowstone National Park
Billings, Montana

Spotting Animals

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 4, 2005

My experience?

I wasn't too lucky with the big mammals, but we didn't stay long enough I guess. However, I had the chance to see an animal I had wanted to see in the wild for a long time!

Don't get me wrong - I love bears and I would have been thrilled to see one, but having seen one in Alaska, it was not on the top my list. Since moving to Montana, I wanted to see a buffalo and I got one! A lonely, massive bull on a big meadow, he was watching me as I was watching him. It was quite moving.

The American Bison or Buffalo, as it commonly named, is one of the symbols of the American West. Indians relied on it for food and clothing, and they were almost exterminated by white settlers on their way to conquer the West, but this shaggy cousin of the cow is now protected. And boy, are they big!
However, in Montana, it is now permitted to hunt buffaloes that are straying outside pf the park for their winter foraging. The hunting season will be limited for a month this year (and only 10 licenses allowed). Next year will see a 3-month hunt starting in November, with no limit of licenses decided yet. It is a highly controversial decision. Those animals are so used to people that they are not really afraid and not fair game.
One of the reasons of the pro-hunting groups is that ranchers are afraid that, during the winter migration, buffalos could transmit brucellosis to their cattle. It is a disease that causes cows to abort, although there is no proof that a buffalo can contaminate a cow in the wild.
My take is that it makes hunters happy as it is ballyhooed as the return of a "great Montana tradition."
Pay no heed to the homely appearance; you really don't want to stay too close, as these animals can run very fast!!! You really don't want to disturb one of them.

Spotting Animals
All over the park, especially in grassy meadows
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hike a trail

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 4, 2005

Yellowstone has many, many trails like this one to get you closer to nature. This boardwalk will also provide you with information about the landscape, geology, fauna, and flora of the area. The boardwalks trails are the shortest and most accessible, but the park is filled with hiking trails more or less difficult.

Check out the National Park Services' site about Yellowstone for more information about day hikes trails at

Trail Hiking
All over the park
Billings, Montana

Introduction to the Beartooth Highway

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

Montana and Wyoming are states where the adjective scenic is an understatement! There are rolling plains to the east, before they come crashing down in the central-west portion into the Rocky Mountains. The part where the plains meet the mountains in Montana is where I live. Montana is BIG. Actually, it is one of the biggest of the states, and there are many beautiful drives around, some amongst the most picturesque in the country. It so happens that one of these drives, called by a CBS correspondent the most beautiful drive in the US, is the Beartooth Scenic Highway. A 69-mile ride starting from the ski-resort town of Red Lodge slowly going up the mountains of the Beartooth Range, culminating at nearly 11,000 feet shortly after the Wyoming border, before a short loop back to Montana and the old mining town of Cooke City and the entrance of what is probably the country's best known natural treasure: Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
The Beartooth is a sub-range of the Absaroka Range, itself part of the Rocky Mountains system. Granite Peak (12,799 feet or 3,901m), Montana's highest mountain, is located in the Beartooth (and visible from my front yard).
After the closing of the mine of Red Lodge, prominent town citizens started to think about a way to bring prosperity back to the area. Thanks to the lobbying of the newspaper editor of the Carbon County News, Mr. Shelley, and a physician, Mr. Siegfriedt, Congress approved the money to build an access road through the mountain to reach Yellowstone National Park. President Hoover signed the bill and construction started. Road 212 was inaugurated in 1936, has been designated an "All American Road," and is listed as National Scenic Byway.
It is not open year-round though. Weather permitting, it is open between Memorial Day and mid-October.

Our starting point: Columbus and other direction to reach the Byway

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

Our trip starts at Columbus, Justin’s and my new hometown. It's a small town of 2,000 inhabitants and the seat of Stillwater County, just off Interstate 90 and one hour away from Billings. It's the "city by the road". It's also the city by the rivers, as it is located at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Stillwater rivers.

Just off the Union Pacific Railroad, Columbus grew when its quarry was used to supply stones for the building of the capitol in Helena. The quarry may have closed, but mining is still a big thing. The Stillwater mine is one of the largest employers in the area and has its seat in Columbus. Montana's not the Treasure State for nothing, since platinum and palladium are extracted by the local mines. Agriculture, especially ranching, is also still a big thing. Montana is an open-range state, and our subdivision, which used to be a huge ranch, allows cows to graze during spring and summer.

We took State Road 78 towards Absarokee, the county's second biggest town and one of the cutest too. Once Absarokee is passed, it's a lovely drive through the hills and farmland as the mountains are looming larger and larger until you reach the foot and drive along them until Red Lodge. For those of you coming from Billings, take I-90 West, and at Laurel, take US 212 until Red Lodge.

Red Lodge, the start of the Byway

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

Nestled at the foot of the Beartooth Mountain range, Red Lodge is a charming, unpretentious mountain resort town, far from the glitz of its Rocky Mountains sisters of Vail, Colorado Spring,s or even Big Sky.

Famous for being "Billings' ski resort" (it's only 60 to 70 miles away), the town is ruled by skiers and snowboarders during the winter. In the summer, Red Lodge is the starting point of the Beartooth Scenic Byway.
If you need a coffee or drinks or anything, it's a recommended stop, as you won't find anything (except a few rest stops on the way up on the highway) until Cooke City.
From Red Lodge, the road takes us south on US 212 along Rock Creek until you reach the Custer National Forest. Soon, the road starts going up and up. From this point on, it might take you a couple of hours, especially if you stop a lot on the way to admire the views, and it is awesome at this point, as a mountain circus is displayed in front of you.

Going up . . .

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

From Creek Valley, the road keeps going up pretty quickly. From 5,200 feet, the road rises to 8,000 feet within 12 miles along the mountain in numerous switchbacks! Stop at Vista Point for a bathroom break and the view! From Alpine (lots of evergreens), the vegetation becomes smaller and scarcer, from trees to grass, bushes, and finally, lichen and moss, with patches of snow that the sun never melts. You finally reach the top and the border with Wyoming, crossing the 45th parallel, halfway between the Pole and the Equator!

The first stop after that is the Red Lodge summer ski training camp at 10,700 feet. Should you decide to get out the car and walk to have a better view of the mountain range (like this picture), be careful, as the altitude will play tricks on your body. The air is rarefied already, so DO NOT RUN. Go slowly or you'll black out. Justin and I almost did going back to the car. We did not feel a thing at first (except a little shortness of breath), but then, as I was rushing towards the car, I felt dizzy and big black spots started dancing in front of my eyes, and Justin had the same thing happen to him almost at the same time, so be careful there! The culminating point of the road, Beartooth Pass, is 10,974 feet at the West Summit Overlook, and there is the amazing display of windswept tundra, mountain peaks, and Beartooth Plateau.

Going down and Cooke City, the end of the Byway

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 19, 2004

After driving pretty much on a plateau, quite desolate and filled with glacial lakes, the road starts to go down. The main feature on the other side of the pass is the odd Pilot and Index Peak, a mountain with two peaks that you just cannot miss. At 11,000 feet, those peaks are the remnant of a volcano. The scenic overlook will offer a great view of these spectacular peaks, as well as the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and the Clarck Fork Valley. After the Shoshone National Forest, the road loops back into Montana and finally reaches its first sign of civilization - Cooke City.
Cooke City is an old mining town and the end of the highway. Dominated by the towering Soda Butte, this sleepy little town offers a rest for the traveller and is one of the access points to Yellowstone National Park. Coffee can be drunk, bikes can be rented, and a few miles further, you will reach Silver Gates and the entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

Introduction to Yellowstone National Park

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on December 28, 2004

Yellowstone: a name that makes outdoors lovers shiver with delight. It is the oldest and one of the largest parks in the country. Located mainly in Wyoming (with little bits in Montana and Idaho), it's also one of the most popular. Named after the river that crosses it, the first European to see this wonder (a scout from the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1807) had a hard time convincing people about his good faith, with his tales of colourful springs and water shooting from the ground. It was turned into a park in 1872 by an order of President Ulysses S. Grant and was the first national park.

Yellowstone is so spectacular because it is so rich in sceneries: swift mountain streams and glacial lakes, towering snowy mountains and rolling hills, little plains and canyons, grassy meadows and pine-tree groves, awesome geysers and serene alpine solitude... But it is also rich in wildlife. You will probably read about the "big three" of Yellowstone:

1. The grizzly bear has found a haven here and feeds on the trouts provided by the river. It is probably the most popular.
2. The grey wolf, nearly extinct and completely wiped out of the Yellowstone area, it was reintroduced in the mid '90s with packs from Canada. They now thrive in their new habitat, but you'll still be lucky to see one.
3. American bison (buffalo): Those impressive, placid-looking ruminants are a symbol of the West and one of the easiest of the big mammals to spot. It was actually the only one I saw on my trip. You'll find them in grassy open fields, quietly chewing their food. Don't get too close, especially to a mother and calf. You don't want a 2,000-pound bulldozer running over you!

You'll find many more animals, too: mountain goats, mountains lions, otters, elks, moose, birds (amongst them the majestic golden and bald eagles), insects, fish, amphibians...
Unfortunately, Yellowstone is victim of its popularity. The number of tourists keeps on growing and is interfering with the habitat. Because cars are allowed freely in the park, noise and exhaust fumes are a real problem. In winter, it's the snowmobile. This is a recent debate. President Clinton, in the waning days of his administration, decided to bar snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP at the ire of the tourism industry. After a new administration friendlier to their interests took a look at a second study of the effects of snowmobiles and a lawsuit against the National Parks Service, the snowmobile industry has the upper hand. Seven hundred-twenty snowmobiles will be allowed in the park everyday. However, this year, because winter is unusually dry and warm (so far, writing in December 2004), many roads remain closed to snow vehicles, especially in the northern part.
Pollution is not Yellowstone's only enemy; geology is also one of them. The basin is located on an underground super-volcano, in a huge lava chamber that gives fuel to those beautiful geysers and hot springs you can find among the park. Unfortunately, it's like a pressure cooker, and it'll have to blow up someday. When it happens, it will be catastrophic. Signs of warning? If Yellowstone Lake suddenly empties, take cover.
That day is not here yet, and although I was only able to visit the very northern part of the park, it is best to devote at least three days to see everything and enjoy the trails. Another bit of advice: avoid summer holidays if you can and come in May and June or September and October, when temperatures are okay and you won't get swamped in tourist hell.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by melissa_bel on January 4, 2005

The hot springs terraces are one of the most accessible and incredible features of natural wonder in the park. Close to the park's headquarters, you can see them from afar, as they are a patch of white on a dark hill. A boardwalk trail will take you up, down, and close to the springs.

How were they born?
Well... as I said earlier, Yellowstone is in fact living under a magma chamber. When ground water seeps down, it comes in contact with carbon dioxide rising from the chamber. Some of the carbon will dissolve in the hot water and form a mild acidic solution. This mix will dissolve the limestone as it slowly makes its way up through the rock layers as a hot spring. When the steams comes up, the water is released but the limestone becomes solid and makes a deposit forming the terrace travertine we can see today.

Seeing the springs from the first time is quite amazing, especially when one is active (they are not active all the time; when we were there, the activity was quite low and it can remain like that for years). One of the first things you will notice is the smell of rotten eggs so characteristic for hot springs.

The colours, diversity of formations, and eeriness are things to behold. With names such as Palette, New Blue, Minerva, Jupiter, etc., this is a place that is out of this world. We only visited the Lower Terraces, as we had to be home before dark, but the higher terraces can be accessed by a road.

When visiting, please be careful. Do not get off the boardwalk, as you may be scalded by hot water and steam. This is not a joke; some deaths have been reported.

You can get more information about the spring at

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