Over the last fifteen years I have had the privilege and blessing to have ridden almost all of the top motorcycle roads in the country. Practically every bike magazine and web site has at one time or another published their own list of the top roads. All the lists are a little different. Some list many of the same roads, but in a different order. Some add a different road and leave another out. I really don’t think anyone can rank these roads for anyone but themselves. Your opinion might be quite different from mine, but you won’t know that until you ride these roads for yourself. So I encourage you to quit reading articles like this and get out there and ride them for yourself!
So why eleven parts to the series on the top ten roads? That’s because there are many GREAT roads that didn’t make my top ten that just might be on YOUR top ten list.
Part One – Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Highway #1
The Beartooth Highway is on 99% of all the lists. Some rank it first, but others don’t. The late and famous correspondent for CBS’s On the Road, Charles Kuralt, called it “the most beautiful drive in America.” The highway officially opened on June 14, 1936.
Some folks have been surprised when they have asked me my absolute favorite road in the country and I answer with the Beartooth Highway combined with the Chief Joseph Highway.
In my opinion, there are no other roads that deliver such consistently awesome scenery for more than 100 miles. And the highways do it with a combination of road typography that includes the sweeping turns of the Chief Joseph Highway with the tight climbing switchbacks of the Beartooth Highway.
For my money this is the best 100 miles to ride in the whole country. Better yet leave Cody in the morning, ride to Red Lodge, MT and have lunch and then ride back to Cody. I promise you, it will be one of the best days you have ever spent on two wheels.
There are lots of things to do and see in Cody, WY so plan to spend a few days there. Use one of those days for this magnificent ride to Red Lodge and back to Cody.
Start off in Cody with a big breakfast at Granny’s Restaurant on Sheridan Avenue and then head north out of town on Highway 120. Be sure and gas up in Cody before you leave.
Approximately 17 miles north of Cody you will turn left onto the Chief Joseph Highway (296). The intersection is well marked so you can’t miss it. The Chief Joseph offers big sweeping turns that remind me of the Cherohala Skyway here closer to home. Be sure and stop at scenic overlooks and read the historical markers that tell the story of the Nez Perce. The following clip is from a web site telling the Chief Joseph story:
The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway is named after the Native American chief of the Nez Perce Tribe. Following the Battle of the Big Hole in Idaho in 1877, Chief Joseph fled east through Yellowstone. He and 1,000 members of his tribe ran from the US Cavalry, who were trying to force the tribe onto a reservation so that white ranchers could have their lands. While crossing Yellowstone, the Nez Perce briefly captured several tourists before going north up the Clarks Fork River. The Nez Perce were trying to flee to Canada (an 1,800 mile trek), but surrendered after the six-day Battle of the Bear Paw in northeastern Montana. The tribe was stopped only 30 miles from their destination, the Canadian border..
In his speech of surrender, Chief Joseph expressed dignity and defeat with his famous words, 'Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.' The Nez Perce tribe was forced onto reservations in Oklahoma and Washington despite promises to allow them back on their lands. Yellowstone's Nez Perce Creek is named for this valiant attempt at freedom.
The 46 miles of the Chief Joseph Highway pass through Dead Indian Pass then wind through the Absaroka Mountains and through the Shoshone National Forest. It connects CO120 to the Beartooth Highway.
Enjoy this great road but watch out for livestock as this is free range territory. Also be aware that the Wyoming Highway Patrol is out there, too. In fact, if you run into Trooper Scotty, tell him I said hello.
The Chief Joseph Highway t-bone intersects with the Beartooth Highway (US 212). Stop at this intersection for a few pictures. The Chief Joseph Highway sign makes a good picture and if you look to the North and just a little West you will see Beartooth Peak in the distance.
Because of heavy snowfall at the top, Beartooth Pass is usually open each year only from mid-May through mid-October.
As you head toward Red Lodge on the Beartooth Highway you starting climbing. You are headed for an elevation of 10,947 feet. As you climb, the curves are more sweeping at first and then as the climb steepens the curves become tight switchbacks. Pray that you don’t get stuck behind a camper. There is a stopping point called the Top of the World that is worth pulling over for. This is a good opportunity for a cup of coffee and a little rest before taking on the rest of the highway. The next opportunity for a stop near the top is the Wyoming – Montana state line. There is a pullout there and a good photo op. At the top of the pass is a large stopping area that has rest rooms and a short walk out to a scenic overlook. From here you have a steep descent with more switchbacks and sweepers into Red Lodge.
Red Lodge is a little town but has plenty of gas stations and a main street with some souvenir shops and eateries. I recommend lunch at the Red Lodge Café. After you and your buddies reflect on the ride over lunch, walk through some of the shops, and buy a souvenir or a t-shirt then head back to Cody. The road is the same but the experience of riding it in the other direction is totally different.
When you get back to Cody have a nice dinner, light up a good cigar and say, “Ole Buck was right about this one!”
The next article in the series is coming soon so I encourage you to quit reading articles like this and get out there and ride them for yourself!