July 15th marked the start of the 23rd annual Beartooth bike rally. Motorcyclists gather from all over the US to ride the highway, and use the town of Red Lodge as a base.
Bikers gathered in Red Lodge on Friday night, filling the streets and bars with the scent of Bud Light and cigarettes–but in the best way possible.
Many people set up tents where they sold rings and leather accessories among other things–and there was even a pop up tattoo shop open though the weekend. One couple was selling rings and metals that were “true frequency” products–meant to “generate fluctuating anisotropic energetic potential”, “increasing coordination and strength and enabling you to fulfill energy demands with greater efficiency” (from their flyer).
This rally is huge for the small town of Red Lodge, and an extremely interesting gathering of a unique culture and group of people, who all come here with the same intent of rallying through the Beartooth Highway with other like minded individuals.
Part of what makes Red Lodge so incredible is its proximity to not only the Beartooth highway and mountain range, but also the national forests and hiking spots located all over the area. There are definitely plenty of options to get outside and even save some money on a hotel room in town. (Just don’t forget your bear spray).
There are around 20 Campgrounds within the Beartooth Ranger District. The different grounds vary in terms of size, camper or trailer access, dates open, price, and whether or not they have bathrooms, water, hosts, etc. With so much variety, it is easy to find a site that fits specific need and wants of campers.
Due to my status as a broke college student, I focused on finding sites with no fees associated–and still managed to stay in some incredible spots.
The Palisade campground is located off the West Fork Road just a few miles outside of town. There are only four spots–so if trying to camp here during peak tourist season it is wise to get here and set up camp fairly early. While visiting in late May/early June I didn’t run into any problems getting a spot here later in the afternoon.
The area features many hiking trails and is friendly towards larger groups trying to camp in one spot. It is very ideal if you’re wanting to get away but still be able to reach town fairly quickly.
If you’re willing to drive a little further outside of town, or are coming from the scenic Beartooth Highway, the M-K site is another incredible, free option. It is off of the same road as two other campgrounds, so there are multiple options within the same area if you’re looking for something a little different.
This campground is not hosted and has no amenities aside from a rock fire-pit. It has about ten sites and offers some incredible views of the Beartooths, the mountain highway, and the night sky.
Whether you’re trying to get away for the night and not looking to stay in a hotel, or are planning an intensive get away, Red Lodge and the surrounding area offers plenty of options that can fit a variety of camping experiences.
If you’ve heard anything about Red Lodge, it’s likely that you’re familiar with the Beartooth Highway. Proclaimed “the most beautiful roadway in America” by “On the Road” correspondent Charles Kuralt, the highway offers unparalleled views and scenery as it acts as a pass between Red Lodge and Cooke City, and into Yellowstone.
The highway climbs to 10,947 ft. above sea level and features over 20 mountain peaks. It is also home to a plethora of wildlife and is home to over 900 alpine lakes and hundreds of miles of trails. Pull-offs along the way make it easy to experience the monumental sights or spend some time hiking–there is even a functional summer ski area near the summit that features one lift and a variety of terrain.
The highway features many switchbacks and roadways that have the potential to keep drivers and passengers on the edge of their seat. That being said, it is also a hugely popular spot for motorcyclists–and was voted #1 motorcycling road in America.
About 24 miles into the drive (from Red Lodge) is the boarder between Montana and Wyoming. Though if you continue on the pass you will cross back and forth a couple times, this spot is significant because it is the 45th parallel and exactly between the North Pole and the Equator.
Just after hitting the peak of the highway comes a somewhat unlikely attraction. The Top of the World store on the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming is somewhat of a last-stop-shop for gas, food, and a restroom. It features a single old fashioned gas pump, outhouses, and various Beartooth souvenirs as well as snacks and drinks for purchase. The employees bring new stock to the store once a week from Billings. It’s definitely worth a stop even just to stretch your legs.
After hitting these points it is essentially smooth sailing to Cooke City and then Yellowstone. This highway is incredible and after driving it it is easy to see what all the hype’s about. Incredible views and scenery unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Driving this highway is definitely a bucket list worthy activity and something that anyone in the area between May and August should consider. It’s more than just a pass or roadway–driving it is an experience in itself.