Beartooth Highway washed out, extensive repairs needed | News

The scenic Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge and Cooke City will need extensive repairs after rain fell on the pass’ snowpack, causing rapid flooding and washing out the highway in six places.

Aerial views show roads to Greenough Lake, Glacier Lake and Hellroaring Plateau are all washed out in the Beartooth Ranger District south of Red Lodge.

Severe flooding also struck the mountain communities of Red Lodge and Cooke City, which flank the pass, earlier this week. 

Three sections of the Beartooth Scenic Byway were washed out leaving 100-foot scours that will require extensive resources to repair, a Montana Department of Transportation official said Thursday. To fix the route quickly will require federal assistance to cut through red tape regarding work in a waterway and then a contractor will have to be hired.

Luckily, repairs made to the highway’s switchbacks following similar flooding in 2005 seemed to have worked as designed, diverting water through borrow pits and into culverts without damaging the roadway.

Fromberg sees historic flooding as the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone rises

Railway equipment in Fromberg is partially under water from historic flooding on Tuesday night.

The roadway is a lifeline for the community of Red Lodge during the summer months, funneling tourists to and from Yellowstone National Park over a scenic pass that climbs to 11,000 feet. 

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The news comes in the wake of President Joe Biden signing a national disaster declaration that will trigger statewide damage relief. Lt. Gov. Kristen Juras and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., toured the flood-weary community alongside FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on Tuesday, emphasizing that local, state and federal workers are already on the ground making assessments.

“We are facing a complex landscape of extreme weather events across our nation that is going to require all of us…to come together and work together to develop the solutions that are going to be needed to build the recovery and support the recovery,” Criswell said. “But also to build resilience, right? To build and recover and repair these projects so they are more resilient to the types of effects of the extreme weather that we’re seeing in the future.”

Highway 212

Highway 212 south of Red Lodge is damaged in several places due to mountain runoff.

Criswell thanked the “heroes on the front line” and said her agency has people on the ground ready to reimburse the state for major repairs and to help homeowners for as long as needed. 

Daines said the “shocking” images he saw of the flooding while still in Washington, D.C., were unbelievable. He thanked Criswell for visiting and for the Montana National Guard arriving in town to provide a calming effect.

Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz told the officials, “We have to make things happen in the next few weeks.” 

He stressed the tourist-dependent town needs help quickly to ensure businesses and employees can earn enough this summer to make it through the year. 

Scott Miller, a Carbon County Commissioner, was prompted by Kuntz’s message to add that the flood damage was not limited to Red Lodge. 

“This is a big county and everyone needs your help,” Miller said, noting that 85% of the county’s irrigation infrastructure was damaged, historic ranches were inundated and cows were washed down the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.

Flooding swept over nearly all of southern Montana from the greater Yellowstone area and Gallatin River to east of Billings as high waters swept downstream. Yellowstone National Park has been closed to all visitation with the northern half of the park closed for this season. On the west slope of the Continental Divide, Flathead and Missoula counties were watching their rivers as snow and rain fell in the mountains near them this week.

In the wake of the floods, Daines said he planned to also visit the hard hit mountain town of Gardiner on Yellowstone’s north side. The town was temporarily cut off from the rest of the world by high water across Highway 89 to the north and the destruction of the road between Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, at the Northeast Entrance. Reopening the road at any point in the future seems unlikely.

Red Lodge flooding

Debris is moved following flooding in Red Lodge on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Before officials toured Red Lodge on Thursday, leaders of the Western Montana Incident Management Team and Carbon County updated the visiting dignitaries about what’s already been done. The list included 87 helicopter rescues by the Montana National Guard, including a 94-year-old woman lifted from East Rosebud Lake, bank stabilization of Rock Creek in Red Lodge and bridge washout repairs. Half of Red Lodge is still without water while all Carbon County communities are under a boil order.

Two bridges are damaged in Fromberg where gas and electrical service was out, and Roscoe is being assessed for damage while sandbags are being made available in case creeks rise from runoff during warm days forecast through the weekend.

An inciweb page has been set up with photos and information for Carbon County. Regular updates are also on

Kuntz walked the visitors through the hectic activity on Monday morning when the flash flood hit, adding that the entire town responded as quickly as possible to alert residents as the situation constantly changed throughout the early hours of the day.

“Unfortunately, we are pretty used to disaster,” he said, noting last year’s Robinson Draw fire threatened the community and its suburbs. “So we had a structure we were able to work in.

“The effort that came together to try to respond to this was really incredible,” he added.

All told about 300 people were evacuated from 147 homes in Red Lodge and 90 homes have been affected in Fromberg. Damage assessments in other areas are complicated because bridges and roads are washed out. Of the four ways to drive into Red Lodge, Kuntz noted, only one was open until Thursday — Highway 212.

Red Lodge flooding

Earth and stones are dumped at the Park Avenue bridge in Red Lodge on Wednesday.

As front-end loaders, excavators and dump trucks moved boulders and dirt to reinforce damage done by the flood near the 19th Street Bridge, business owners are concerned their summer tourism season may dry up faster than water-logged basements.

Kuntz called that possibility “terrifying” for business owners and workers who can’t go two weeks without a paycheck. Loss of apartments and homes also exacerbates what was already a tight housing market. Red Lodge’s police force already lost one officer after his home was destroyed and he decided to move away.

Daines stressed in his comments to the press that visitors should come to Montana despite the images they may see of flooding, houses floating down rivers and bridges destroyed.

Anyone wishing to help victims of the flood can donate to the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, a 501C3 nonprofit organization. The group can be found online at, or send mail to PO Box 1871, Red Lodge, MT 59068, or call 406-425-0292. The Bank of Red Lodge is matching donations up to $25,000. Donations of goods can be coordinated by the American Red Cross by calling Andrew Harper at 406-320-2229. 

To volunteer assistance register online at or by calling 406-445-7258. A volunteer coordination tent is located at 15th and Platt Avenue South in Red Lodge and is operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

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