Beartooth Highway Will Finally Be Fully Open After Snowstorm, Repair Delays

After a monster snowstorm and corresponding avalanches, the entire 69 miles of the Beartooth Highway should finally be open Saturday morning — and hopefully stay open for the summer season.

AR
Andrew Rossi

May 31, 20244 min read

Crews in Yellowstone National Park work Thursday to clear parts of the Beartooth Highway, which still has up to 6 feet of wet, heavy snow on it.
Crews in Yellowstone National Park work Thursday to clear parts of the Beartooth Highway, which still has up to 6 feet of wet, heavy snow on it. (Yellowstone National Park)

The Beartooth Highway will finally be fully open for the summer season Saturday. And if Wyoming’s weather holds, it should stay open for the rest of the summer.

A furious snowstorm and unexpected road repair on the Montana side of U.S. Highway 212 (aka the scenic Beartooth Highway) delayed the intended Memorial Day opening of the All-American Road. There’s still plenty of snow in the Beartooth Mountains, but the roads are clear.

Better yet, there aren’t any threats in the weekend forecast that could impact the already-delayed opening of the highway. While there is a chance of overnight snow, it shouldn’t impede any daytime travel.

“I would say it's going be a pretty good weekend on Beartooth Pass, and chances are they’ll be able to keep it open this time,” said Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day.

Setbacks On Both Sides

The Beartooth Highway is jointly managed by the National Park Service and Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT). Over the last week, both agencies encountered setbacks that prevented the opening for Memorial Day weekend.

First, a spring snowstorm smothered northern Wyoming, dumping 2 feet of snow on the Beartooth Highway and delaying the intended 8 a.m. opening May 24 and temporarily closing several roads in Yellowstone National Park.

MDOT opened the 19-mile section of U.S. 212 between Red Lodge and Vista Point on May 25. That section was closed again May 28 to do some road work that had been falsely attributed to damage caused by an avalanche.

“The closures (were) planned,” MDOT spokesperson Charity Burns told Cowboy State Daily. “They were doing some paving and work on rock fencing. The fencing was in an avalanche chute, but there was no avalanche, which is where the avalanche rumor must have come from.”

MDOT reopened the 19-mile Red Lodge-Vista Point section at 11 a.m. Friday. The entire reopening is scheduled for Saturday morning so the NPS can complete “additional repairs and plowing” on the other 50 miles from Vista Point to Cooke City.

Weather Is Permitting

The ultimate arbiter of the Beartooth Highway’s status is the often-erratic spring weather, as was demonstrated by the May 23 snowstorm. Fortunately, Day said Wyoming’s weather is finally permitting a free-and-clear weekend opening.

“This weekend is looking a lot better than last weekend,” he said. “There is going to be a little shower and thunderstorm activity up there, but most of it is on Sunday. During the day, it should warm up into the 40s and 50s on the pass.”

Temperatures could dip into the low 20s overnight, which means there’s a chance any rain showers could turn into snow showers. That could be problematic, but Day isn’t concerned.

“I don't see the snow being a factor,” he said. “If any snow falls, it'll be overnight and early in the morning on the highest peaks with those Sunday rain showers, but not enough to cause any significant accumulations.”

Precipitation on the pavement could also freeze overnight, but Day said daytime temperatures should be warm enough to melt any ice. The precipitation shouldn’t be perilous on the panoramic pass on its opening weekend.

Over The Hump

The opening of the Beartooth Highway unofficially ushers in the summer season in the Greater Yellowstone Region, but it’s also a good sign for Wyomingites. Day said that after a long whiplash winter, Wyoming is safely “over the hump” of winter weather.

“It was 24 in Jackson on Friday morning, but that’s not usual for Jackson in late May,” he said. “There's going to be afternoon and evening thunderstorms in places this weekend, but you expect that the first weekend in June. It's going to be pretty mild in most areas and a little cooler on Sunday.”

Traffic and tourism will be picking up across Wyoming this weekend, including a steady stream of vehicles safely driving along the Beartooth Highway. After several setbacks and false starts, Day can safely say it’s summer.

“We should be in early summer pattern now,” he said. “Other than those late-day thunderstorms, both days this weekend look pretty good, and it looks like good weekend weather on the Beartooth Highway.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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