View Full Version : Yellowstone in the spring

04-22-2007, 10:21 PM
Two weekends ago, three of us drove from Jackson Hole a couple hours north to West Yellowstone, Montana to experience Yellowstone National Park's roads before they opened to summer season traffic.

We left on Friday morning and pointed our bicycles toward Gardiner, Mont., where dinner, a hot tub and cottage awaited.Normally the most popular entrance to the park, the only vehicles entering through the gates on Friday were bicycles and the occasional car composing "administrative traffic."
We passed a family from Seattle, mountain bikers from Big Sky and a lone Irish guy on a rental bike.

Riverside Drive was still closed by snow, but the rest of the Madison River Valley was breathtaking. Elk grazed next to the road and eagles on their nest peered down, unfazed by wheeled visitors.

We passed Mount Haynes and Mount Jackson, named for early park photographers. The former was Frank Jay Haynes, official park lensman starting in 1883. William H. Jackson accompanied the 1871 Hayden Survey of Yellowstone, and his images helped convince Congress to create the world's first national park.

Just past those mountains, a herd of bison passed us going west alongside the road. We created a pack with other cyclists, and the large mammals didn't give us a second glance. The encounter did bring to mind the yellow park flyer that reads "Many visitors have been gored by buffalo."

At Madison, we had pedaled 14 miles and gained just 160 feet of altitude.
We stopped for a quick snack before heading north. After forgetting to pack my Hammer Gel, I was forced to find the next best thing at the West Yellowstone convenience store: Twinkies. Packed with carbohydrates and relatively low in fat, they fueled the legs.

We stopped to photograph Gibbon Falls, which tumbles 84 feet over an eroded rim of an old caldera. Fellow cyclist Kelsey Dayton remarked that she had never been able to stop and see this waterfall before; the pullouts were always packed with cars and people during her summer visits to the park. We pedaled north, gaining 700 feet of altitude by our lunch spot, Norris Geyser Basin.

Just before the basin, the cleat fell off my right cycling shoe, necessitating a field repair. Dayton found one stray screw, and I robbed another from the left cleat. Without any cars around, cyclists need to be as self-sufficient as possible, carrying tools, tubes, pumps and the fix-all king: duct tape.

We lunched at Emerald Spring, where its blue water combines with sulphurous yellow lining to produce a lovely emerald color. Just two other cyclists lounged at the nearby Bathtub Geyser. No other humans wandered around the normally packed pathways that surround hundreds of thermal features, allowing us to flop in the middle of the boardwalk and enjoy our bagels and the sulphur-scented steam.

Back at the bikes, an unknown assailant had yanked open my bike's front pack and pecked open a baggie containing moisturizer, toothbrush and mascara. The culprit likely was a raven, as it left signature beak marks in my sunscreen bottle.

The road is fairly flat to Swan Lake, where a primitive road open to bicycles circles Bunsen Peak. It's still snow-covered, though, and even when melted probably isn't a good option for road bikes.
There at the beautiful Rustic Falls, the road begins a screaming six-mile descent of about 800 feet to Mammoth Hot Springs. Wary of the gravel that still littered the roadway, our cyclometers still recorded that we exceeded the posted speed limit of 35 m.p.h. in some spots. Amanda Miller compared these little naughty moments to "drinking a beer at lunch."

Just above Mammoth at Upper Terrace Drive, a barrier closes the inner loop road to cars this time of year, although that gate will open on April 20.
No services are available at Mammoth until May 4, when the hotel, gas station and gift shops will open. Cyclists who wait until then will have the option of staying at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and avoiding another 5 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation drop down to Gardiner, Mont.

Near the base of the descent, we were stopped short by a huge herd of bison that apparently wanted to travel north on the roadway. We frantically flagged down cars to block for us through the bison jam, thankful that there were cars to help. Without the cars, we would have been turned around or forced to wait until the herd moved on.

We cruised through the majestic Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner and on to our accommodations, the Riverside Cottages. After a hearty dinner at the Yellowstone Mine, we soaked up the sunset and traded adventure stories in the hot tub.

The roads between West Yellowstone and Madison, Madison to Mammoth Hot Springs and Madison to Old Faithful do open to cars on April 20, but traffic will likely be light until May 11, when the remainder of the park's roads open.

For park information, visit www.nps.gov/yell.

What to pack
Here's the list that served us well on a two-day tour from West Yellowstone to Gardiner, Mont. and back.

__About 20 ounces of water per person per hour. Don't count on refilling along the way; potable water may not be available.
__Sports drink powder, gel or other on-bike carbohydrate replacement food. Gatorade, Twinkies or Snickers work in a pinch.
__Lunch food: mostly carbohydrates, some protein and fat.
__Sunscreen, sunglasses, helmet, under-helmet hood, earband or hat, gloves
__First aid kit
__Bear spray
__After-biking clothes
__Park pass
__Emergency contact information (written inside helmet, worn around neck, labeled inside cell phone as I.C.E. (in case of emergency))
__Bike repair tools: pump, tube, multitool, levers, patch kit

04-22-2007, 10:25 PM
My mom has one of those yellow buffalo flyers framed and hanging in her bathroom. I haven't been to Yellowstone in probably 6 or 7 years now. Time for another trip.

04-22-2007, 10:33 PM
The flyer drawing is hilarious... tourist dude looks like he's half-dead already and his camera is flying away as he's tossed up in the air.

I always want to stop at new and different things... Park's so big, it takes a lifetime to explore.

I meant to put in mileage... it's 57 miles each way from West to Gardiner. That took us only 4 hours going north and about six going south because of those hella hills.

04-23-2007, 05:12 AM
What a cool trip! Thanks for sharing it.


04-23-2007, 07:27 AM
that is SO cool! I had no idea the roads were closed to cars.... looks like a trip to plan for next spring!!!! :D

Thank you for sharing your trip :p

05-01-2007, 10:11 PM
this is super cool. Maybe I will do it someday. I have friends in Bozeman who could serve as HQ.

Tell me more about your equipment. I have a touring bike. the top bar is a little high for me, accidents could prevent babies- if you know what i mean, but otherwise it is a great bike. I would love to take it on a tour and maybe that is the one.

It looks like you used a mountain bike, how was that? I would like to know more about the equipment side of things.


05-02-2007, 06:48 AM
Two of us were on regular road bikes. We used a camelbak plus I jury-rigged a front pack on my handlebars to avoid excess weight/bulk on my back.

THe third girl brought a hybrid, it worked just fine. There were no instances where we had to make emergency stops, so no racking yourself on the bar required.

It really is beautiful, and Bozeman's not far. THat's where my friend lives who came to join us for the evening; she said it was about an hour and a half drive. Let me know next year if you want company! The roads also empty out in the fall, but I think it's a colder ride, and because we don't have deciduous trees except aspens, the colors aren't all that spectacular... I'd do someplace with colors!

05-03-2007, 05:12 PM
Hey yeah! I am going to train this summer for a long ride. If it happens to be in Yellowstone, I will let you know. I have never gone on a major expedition of this sort so it would be nice to have a practiced veteran.