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This remarkable three-day drive starts and ends in Cody, Wyoming, and includes the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyoming Highway 296); an overnight in Cooke City, Montana, at the edge of Yellowstone National Park; then a cruise along the Beartooth Scenic Highway — one of the few drives in the U.S. that could impress more than the previous day's stunner. Both are National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads.
Day 1: Cody, Wyoming, to Cooke City, Montana (76 miles)
Before leaving this rodeo-happy town founded by Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1896, fill up your gas tank and grab breakfast at the Station, a former gas station transformed into a cafe, with sweet and savory breakfast crepes. Now you're ready to hit the road — specifically, the 46-mile Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, which you can catch 16 miles north of Cody.
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It passes through ranchland, tops out at 8,061-foot Dead Indian Pass, and then drops into one of the Cowboy State's most remote valleys.
A little history will help you appreciate the miles ahead of you. The road gets its name from the Nez Perce chief who used this route in 1877 to lead about 700 of his people to Canada to escape being confined on a reservation by the U.S. government. In what historians have described as a “brilliant” military maneuver, Chief Joseph outwitted the U.S. Army at Dead Indian Pass. (The group had to surrender to the Army a month later when it was cornered about 40 miles from the Canadian border.)
A peak and a creek here also bear the name “Dead Indian,” and you hear two different accounts of where this name came from. According to one, in 1877, the U.S. Army killed a Nez Perce near here. The other says that in 1878, Crow Indian scouts working with the U.S. Army killed and buried a Bannock Indian near here.
Before you top out at Dead Indian Pass, pullouts offer bird's-eye views to the east of working ranches, rare evidence of any human presence in this area. At the pass itself, looking west into Sunlight Basin, you'll marvel at rugged, 1,200-foot-deep Clarks Fork Canyon, which winds through the basin, and the snaggly, glaciated Beartooth Mountains in the distance.