Chief Joseph Scenic Highway is a 44.9 mile lightly trafficked point-to-point trail located near Cody, Wyoming that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for nature trips and scenic driving and is accessible year-round.
Also known as the Sunlight Basin Road, the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway Hwy 296 connects Cody, Wyoming to Cooke City, Montana and offers scenic views while passing the Yellowstone River and Heart Mountain. The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wyoming 296, links Cody with the Beartooth Highway and the Northeast Gate of Yellowstone National Park. The route crosses the Shoshone National Forest through the Absaroka Mountains to the Clarks Fork Valley. The 47 paved miles of the Scenic Byway run from the junction with U.S. 120, 17 miles north of Cody, northwest to their connection with U.S. 212, the Beartooth Highway. The Beartooth Mountains and the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River lie to the north of the road, and the Absaroka Mountains and North Absaroka Wilderness are to the south. The most predictable times to drive this highway are during the fall and summer. During the winter months snow plows keep the roadway open to just east of the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Allow one hour minimum driving time over this stretch of Byway. History: 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. Ref: http://www.wyomingtourism.org/thingstodo/detail/Chief-Joseph-Scenic-Byway/2721 Ref: http://www.codywyomingnet.com/scenic_drives/chief_joseph_scenic_highway.php
If you're into scenic vistas this will rank among one your favorite scenic drives. If you're in or near Cody and are wanting to access Yellowstone in the summer months via a more circuitous/less-travelled route, the Chief Joseph Highway will dump you out on an equally scenic US 212. Turning left (West) at the junction will lead you to Cooke City, MT and Yellowstone's Silver Gate, which will lead you to scenic Lamar Valley and eventually to Roosevelt/Tower Junction. Turning right (East) will lead up over the Beartooth Mountains (Montana's tallest range) and into Red Lodge, MT.
We drove the Beartooth Hwy first to Rock Creek Vista Point and then turned around. They were skiing on top of the Beartooth Hwy in late June. We saw Bear’s Tooth Peak and Granite Mountain, which at 12,799 ft., is the highest mountain in Montana. We missed the Clay Butte Lookout road due to closure and repairs, a 2 mi. spur with close-ups of Granite Peak and Pilot Index Overlook. We next retraced our steps to the Chief Joseph Hwy toward Cody, called the Sunlight Basin Road and full of little canyons and creeks. This snow-less highway had beautiful sights, a huge canyon with great views all around, including rock formations like natural fort walls. We crossed the gorge and river and ascended the other side of the canyon via switchbacks. Some bikers rode with us to the top of the hill; we left them and went down the other side with badlands off in the distance, Heart Mt. and red rock layers mixed with white rock layers, mixed with green grassy plains and blue sky made a nice mix. These were the wide-open spaces of Wyoming, as the downhill road to Cody was full of treeless grassy hills with grazing cattle. A beautiful drive not to miss!