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UM News
November 20, 2013

MISSOULA, Mont. – More than $53 million was spent by nonresidents of the Beartooth Highway region in the three gateway communities during the summer season 2012 and winter season 2012-13, according to a study conducted by the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research.

Final analysis shows the Beartooth Highway All-American Road is a significant contributor to the economies, livelihoods and recreation opportunities to the residents and visitors of Red Lodge, Mont., Cooke City, Mont., and Cody, Wyo.

During the summer, 170,000 nonresident groups visited the Beartooth Highway region and 16,000 visited in the winter, supporting 654 jobs to the rural communities and more than $16 million in income to local residents.

“While the economics of the area depend on the Beartooth region, it’s not just about the dollars and the support of livelihoods,” said Jake Jorgenson, the report’s primary author and UM graduate student. “It is also about the recreational opportunities that bring visitors to the area and creates a reason for residents to live in the communities.”

The Beartooth region transforms each season and attracts different visitors depending on the activities available. It is a place for both active and passive recreation – from scenic driving in the summer to backcountry snowmobiling and skiing in the winter. As part of his thesis work, Jorgenson discovered there were four types of visitors in the summer based on their activity participation.

He found that 8 percent of visitors were on two wheels (motorcycling and bicycling), 19 percent were knowledge seekers (interested in the history and culture of the area), 32 percent were active outdoor visitors (hiking, camping, climbing, fishing and so forth) and the largest segment of visitors – 41 percent – were passive viewers. This group enjoyed scenic driving, wildlife watching and taking photographs.

“What is really interesting is that the passive viewers spent more money per day but stayed in the area the least amount of time,” Jorgenson said.


Table 1: Comparing summer Beartooth activity segments


Avg. nights spent

Total trip spend.

Avg. daily spend.

Segment pop.*

Segment total spending**

Road Tourers (8%)






Active Outdoors (32%)






Knowledge Seekers (19%)






Passive Viewers (41%)






*Segment population = total nonresident travelers X % of population.

**Total spending by segment = segment population X total trip spending.

In contrast to summer visitation, winter visitors fit into three activity types: snowmobilers, active outdoor (cross-country skiing, backcountry boarding/skiing and ice climbing) and passive recreationists, who were basically in the Beartooth region for watching wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. 

“The winter snowmobiler is visiting because of the history of good snow and the steep terrain,” Jorgenson said. “But the passive recreationist basically uses the Beartooth area, Cooke City and Silver Gate as their eating spot in between watching wildlife in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone.”

Other interesting findings include:

  • Summer travelers along the Beartooth Highway spent an average of two nights in the region. About half of them also spent time in Yellowstone National Park, and one quarter of them spent at least one night in Billings, Mont., West Yellowstone, Mont., or Jackson, Wyo.
  • Winter snowmobile travelers spent an average of 2.3 nights in the area while passive visitors spent less than a day on average.
  • Snowmobilers are “snow dependent,” and when the snow is not good, they will go elsewhere for their winter recreation. 

Until this study was conducted, research related to the use and economic impact of the Beartooth Highway was nonexistent. This yearlong study provides information for policymakers, marketers and businesses of the gateway communities. It also provides baseline data as future reference points on use and impacts of the Beartooth Highway. 

The Beartooth Highway All-American Road is a 68-mile travel corridor that reaches nearly 11,000 feet in elevation in the summer months. In the winter, the high-elevation section is closed to automobile traffic. Access to Cooke City is through Yellowstone or by snowmobile from the Wyoming section of Highway 212.

To view the compiled reports visit:




Western Montana, dailies, Livingston, Red Lodge, Cody, Wyo.



Contact: Norma Nickerson, director, UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 406-243-2328,