Near Yellowstone National Park, you can go from summer to winter in half an hour
By Carol Vinzant
Have you ever wished you could change the season? Just outside Yellowstone National Park, all it takes is about half an hour to go from summer to 12-foot snow banks. And the 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe—with the strength and capability to pull off anything—is the vehicle to do it in.
Exit the park through the Northeast Gate, head onto the Beartooth Highway, also known as U.S. 212, and you’ll quickly find yourself in a Winter Wonderland, even in the middle of summer.
My husband David and I got to experience this winding road a few years ago. To be honest, we were looking not for a driving adventure but for a candy store. We share a child-like fascination with candy and had heard that the Montana Candy Emporium in Red Lodge, MT was one of the most wonderful and weird sweet shops in the country.
The map didn’t give us a clue about the spectacular journey of switchback turns we were headed into, through some of the highest elevations in the northern Rockies. We figured we’d cover the 70-some miles in an hour or so. We stopped for a delicious pancake breakfast at the 75-year-old Log Cabin Cafe Bed and Breakfast in Silver Gate. A moose chewed grass next door in the sun.
We took off down the road, not really expecting to be wowed after spending a week in Yellowstone. “Oh, is that snow way up on those mountain tops?” we’d become accustomed to saying. We were delighted at the novelty. Soon, however, we started to see snow beside us right out the window. We stopped at a small lake to marvel—and of course to take pictures of the snow to show off online. Just the day before we’d been sweating on the Plains, worried about having enough sunscreen and water. Now we were pulling shirts and fleeces out of our luggage to keep warm.
The road, which opened in 1936 and is now a National Scenic Byway, peaks at just below 11,000 feet. Within 12 miles it climbs from 5,000 to 8,000 feet—about the elevation people start feeling altitude sickness. It was either that or the incoming weather that made David want to stop driving. In our family, I am the driver and he is the cook. While he was nervously looking at the blind hairpin turns, I felt gleeful, taking in the beautiful scenery and looking forward to the driving challenge. The road demands complete focus—even though all you want to do is look out the window at a landscape that changes every minute.
Even growing up in Chicago, I had never seen snow banks so tall. The plows sliced a clean wall of snow about 12 feet high right up to the edge of the road.
And then, just as suddenly as the mountains came up around us, they disappeared. It was a sunny summer day again, and our destination was in range. The rumors about Montana Candy Emporium were right; it is now our favorite candy store anywhere. Based in an old theater, they make their own chocolate; offer treats in the favorite local flavor, huckleberry; and stock hundreds of candies you haven’t seen in years—or ever. It was the perfect treat at the end of a rugged drive.
The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.
Carol Vinzant edits AnimalTourism.com and has written for Fortune, The Washington Post and Slate, among other publications.