Beartooth Pass South Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

6.8
FIETS
21.5 mi
DISTANCE
4,329 ft
GAINED
3.6 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

INTRO

"The south side of Beartooth Pass is a long and shallow ascent in isolated northern Wyoming. While not quite as massive or spectacular as its north side (that begins in Montana) it is still a big hill. Down low the grade is shallow but through very scenic terrain. The middle of the climb is over variable grade and of course continued alpine terrain. There are a few descents along the way but this is true high altitude riding, particularly toward the top. The grade eases near the top and the climb ends at mighty Beartooth Pass with long and incredible views of the surrounding mountains and down into the valleys. Keep in mind Beartooth Pass is quite isolated climbing so make sure you carry whatever you may need..." (This quote presented with the approval of John Summerson from The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, p 232.)
3.6% average grade (4.3% climb only).  53% of the climb is at 0-5% and 35% is at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter-mile is 9% and steepest mile 6.5%.

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Roadway:  Two lane Highway 212 with a good shoulder all the way and in excellent condition. 

Traffic:  As a general rule, light. 

Parking:  On the side of the road at near the start of the climb (Map; Street View). 
Provisions:  None on the ride.  The closest food and beverages are in Cooke City-Silver Gate, 12 miles northwest, towards Yellowstone National Park Eastern Entrance (Map).  

Clothing: This climb finishes above 10,000', which is 5,000' above the start. Consult the PJAMM "Full Forecast" feature for the time you expect to arrive at the finish to assess what clothing to bring on your ride. 
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
The Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is only 16 miles from the start of this climb (Map).   

A challenging and long out and back is to include Beartooth Pass North in your day - 100 miles gaining 10,400' (Map). 

Consider visiting the Cooke City Montana Museum and, of course, Yellowstone National Park.  See PJAMM's Yellowstone National Park page.  You can check out things to do in Yellowstone here: Google Map + Things to Do + Reviews.

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cyclist rides on two-lane highway roadway looking down on mountains, panoramic photo

Cycling Beartooth Pass (Montana) is one of the greatest bike climbs in the United States

This climb is has been hailed for the past 50 years as “the most beautiful road in the United States.”

Ride 30 miles gaining 6,040’ to elevation 10,949 at 3.4% average grade.

Before heading out to Montana on your cycling adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

Cycling Beartooth Pass North, Montana - photo collage, US Forestry service sign reds "Welcome to Wyoming," PJAMM Cyclist stands next to Beartooth Pass elevation summit sign, panoramic views of PJAMM Cyclist riding on two-lane mountain roadway

This is a US Top 10 Most Scenic Bike Climb.

This is an absolutely gorgeous climb - there is no room for debate about this.  The climb throughout is fairly mild and it is the length, elevation gain and altitude that puts the climb legitimately in the Top 100 U.S. Climbs - it would be in the Top 25 Most Scenic Climbs if we were to create such a list.  

Climbing Bear Tooth Pass North by bike - start of climb - roadway sign

Beartooth Pass from the north begins in Redlands, Montana.

Population 68,747 (2017); elevation 1,358’.

We enter Custer National Forest at mile 4.8 and begin climbing up a canyon where the roadway begins a six mile series of spectacular switchbacks (see slideshow) at mile 14.  

Bike climb up Bear Tooth Pass North - roadway and Custer Gallatin National Forest sign

Mile 7.3 - Custer National Forest

Established 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt; 1,188,130 acres.

This is the alternate start spot - paved parking here.

The more scenic Beartooth North route begins eight miles from Red Lodge at the beginning of the Beartooth Scenic Byway.  At this location, there is a public parking lot where you can park your car and begin our climb, thus eliminating 7.3 miles from Red Lodge that gain you only 790’ at 2% (dropping the FIETS index only a bit from 7.80 to 7.62).  Here is a link to the RideWithGPS map for this alternate climb route.

Beartooth Pass is, not surprisingly, in the Beartooth Mountains of south central Montana and northwest Wyoming.

photo collage, views on the climb headed toward the switchbacks, including green space along roadways, freshly paved two-lane roadway, mountains, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Exceptional views as we climb towards the switchbacks.

Bicycle ride up Bear Tooth Pass North - roadway far below

Very few trees - minimal visual obstructions of the surrounding views.

Seven giant hairpins for six miles from mile 14.3 to 20.2

The hairpin section is 6 miles at 4.5% from elevation 7,900’ to 9,300’ at 4.5%.

The views up towards the roadway to come, and back at the roadway already travelled are magnificent along the switchback corridor (see slideshow).  It is along this stretch that we fully appreciate being on the bike as we have none of the restrictions of motorists along this scenic route - we can stop where we please, cross the road (when safe, of course), go any speed we please and, quite simply, fully appreciate the splendor of this magnificent climb.  Words do not do justice to the climb, although we believe the photographs in the slideshow above prove our point.  

photo collage, Rock Creek Vista Point, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

This climb is never “difficult” in the sense of steepness or challenging grade, but it is long and climbs to high elevation.  We had trained and were prepared for many days of back-to-back-to-back Top 100 climbs, yet Beartooth was more demanding than anticipated.  We feel it’s primarily the altitude that taxes the rider, particularly those from lower elevation venues that cannot train for altitude before tackling this climb.  The first ten miles of the full route gain only 1,165' at 2% average grade, while miles 10-26.5 pick up to 4.5% average grade, gaining  4,075' along the way.  At mile 26.5 there is a 1.3 mile -4.9% average grade descent (-350') followed by a final two miles at 3.8% (we could have gone without that 350’ ascent on the way back to Red Lodge!).  

Photo collage, signs along the route, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner 

Some of the informative signs along the way . . .

Montana and Wyoming state lines

Enter Wyoming and Leave Montana at mile 23.7.

The route itself is very simple:  Climb east on Highway 212 (Beartooth Highway) out of Red Lodge, MT  for 30 miles until you reach Beartooth Pass.  

Cycling to summit of Bear Tooth Pass North - Cyclists with bike at pass and and elevation sign.

Summit.

Beartooth Highway is the highest paved highway in the northern Rocky Mountains and was referred to by the late CBS news correspondent Charles Kuralt as "the most beautiful drive in America” which offers the following description of the roadway:

The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile travel corridor, beginning (at its easternmost terminus), just south of Red Lodge, Montana at an elevation of 6400 feet and ending (at its westernmost terminus) near the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, at an elevation of 7500 feet. In between those two elevations, the road rises to 10, 947 feet at Beartooth Pass in Wyoming. The section of the Beartooth Highway that has been awarded the National Scenic Byways “All-American Road” status is a 54 mile section of the Highway beginning 8 miles south and east of Red Lodge and ending just east of Cooke City, Montana.

Cycling Beartooth Pass North, Montana - wildflowers along the route

Our research indicates there had been a race up Beartooth from Red Lodge in recent years past, but it is unclear if it has survived - we welcome and will include any input regarding the viability of this event.  A past post for the event Beartooth Blitz notes, “The run up Beartooth Pass was recently named one of the 5 top bike climbs in the nation, the Beartooth Pass is a once-in-a-lifetime ride.”

Roadway Surface and Traffic Report:  The roadway is in excellent condition.  Traffic was fairly heavy when we climbed the pass on August 3, 2015.  We were surprised that there were many more motorcyclists (the touring, not low slung racers) than cars on Beartooth - we later learned this was related to the beginning of the annual Sturgis SD Harley Davidson week-long festival was about to begin.

Bike climb Bear Tooth Pass North - cyclist on perfect road

The roadway is in pristine condition. 

In a nutshell - if you ever have the opportunity to do this climb - DO IT!  Do not pass up the opportunity - it is a Bucket List Climb.  We loved the scenery, the altitude challenge, the spectacular views and, although we are very partial to these, the switchback views, particularly looking back at the roadway that we had already travelled in the far distance well below us (representative photograph).

The Challenge:  We have mapped and recommend for anyone interested in: (a) a significant climbing day/challenge, and (b) expanding the spectacular experience of Beartooth Pass North - the following out-and-back ride from the beginning of Beartooth Scenic Highway North to the start of Beartooth Highway Climb South and back which involved 88 miles riding and 9,866’ of climbing (Map).