Closest entrance and distance: 29 miles to the Cooke City (northeast) entrance
The dramatic scenery of the park’s Northeast Entrance Road remains something of a secret. It’s far enough removed from the Grand Loop Road to shake most of the hordes—all the better for those with the time to cruise the area’s wildlife-packed valleys, idyllic creeks, and striking peaks. Just beyond the park boundary and the towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City, the high-mountain Beartooth Highway picks up for one of the prettiest drives in the Rockies.
Driving east from Tower Junction on the Northeast Entrance Road, you’ll quickly enter the Lamar Valley ★★★. This grand expanse is one of the park’s best zones for wildlife-watching: You might see elk, deer, badgers, bison, osprey, and bears, but the area’s real stars are the wolves. Biologists reintroduced this native predator to Yellowstone in 1995 and 1996. Today, almost 100 wolves in 10 packs inhabit the park. For your best chance of spotting them, head to the Lamar Valley at dawn and look for the park’s wolf-watchers set up at pullouts with large spotting scopes. These volunteers often have the most up-to-date intel on where the wolves are and will usually let you take a peek through their scopes.
Continuing east, you’ll pass the turnoff to Slough Creek Campground (one of the best in the park) and the historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch, where a bison-breeding program ran from 1906 to the 1950s to replenish the species’ dwindled population. The scenery grows more striking as you press on along Soda Butte Creek, with views of summits like 9,583-foot Druid Peak and 10,404-foot Barronette Peak rising before you. Pebble Creek Campground, another choice place to pitch a tent, is in this area, as are several lovely hiking trails.
The northeast gateway towns of Silver Gate and Cooke City don’t offer much in the way of dining and lodging choices, but they’re gorgeous, quiet, and make an excellent base for exploring this forgotten end of the park. See chapter 8, “Gateways to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks,” for details.
Now, begin your climb into the high country on the spectacular Beartooth Highway ★★, a 68-mile stretch of U.S. 212 connecting Cooke City to Red Lodge, Montana. The summer-only route delves into a far-reaching wilderness with views of lakes, flowery alpine meadows, and the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, hitting its apex on 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass. I’d go at least this far for the best sampling of the highway’s charms; then, you can backtrack to the northeast entrance or swing southeast on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway ★★ (Wyo. 296), which connects to Wyo. 120 into Cody. This highway, also called the Sunlight Basin Road, offers great opportunities for viewing wildlife.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.