Did you know that in the spring, cycling in West Yellowstone means that cyclists get weeks where they’re the only one on the roads in Yellowstone Park? Sure, they’ll share the roads with bison, fox, deer and squirrels—but they’ll also be able to experience the Park without as much motorized traffic.
So make your plans and join us on a ride through some other little-known facts about spring cycling in Yellowstone and the excitement that awaits in the little Montana town that promises big adventures.
When to go
You can call Yellowstone Park in advance on 307-344-7381 to find out when the park is open to cyclists and which routes are available to cyclists before motorized vehicles return on April 17. This administrative-traffic-only season will start in early April but there is no set date, thanks to random heavy snowfall. Don’t worry–there’s a world-class cycling shop, Freeheel and Wheel, in West Yellowstone, where owners Kelly and Melissa Hart can help you figure out what will make your springtime cycling trip to the area among the best you’ve ever taken. You can even get coffee and snacks in their little café as you review your itinerary.
During the spring, if road conditions permit, you can cycle from Mammoth Hot Springs to the West Entrance; East Entrance to the east side of Sylvan Pass (six miles from entrance) and from the South Entrance to West Thumb.
If you encounter a weekend when the roads into the park are not plowed, keep in mind that in addition to bike rentals and cycling advice, the shop also offers cross country (Nordic) skiing advice and rentals, as well as lessons, and is only half a block away from the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
“Even though there will be some motorized administrative travel in the Park, spring cycling is super-special,” said co-owner Kelly Hart. “You can take your time and take in all of the sights, seeing bison, elk and all of the other animals as you go through.”
What to see
Photo Courtesy: West Yellowstone.
History buffs won’t want to miss the Museum of the Yellowstone
Museum of the Yellowstone opens on May 9, the time-frame you can plan on some of the area’s mountain bike trails opening. There, your family can explore the history of travel to Yellowstone National Park and how the Park has impacted West Yellowstone and the Hebgen Lake Basin. You can visit to learn more about stagecoaches, trains and what folks did way back in the mid-1930s to get here. Hint: The roads leading to West Yellowstone were not routinely plowed until then, so people skied or dogsledded in.
See these amazing animals up close at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
You’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity at this not-for-profit wildlife park to meet wolves and grizzly bears in a safe environment. New this year, the fun, friendly otters have arrived! The first phase of this new exhibit is open before Yellowstone season gets underway. Otters are an energetic favorite with many visitors, as they seem to enjoy putting on a show for their human guests. But don’t forget other less gregarious riparian friends, like amphibians and fish, as you stroll along a meticulously replicated riparian ecosystem.
The center saves all of these animals, who would not survive otherwise, and educates the public about how important they are to the ecosystem. Your ticket is good for two full days, so you can cycle early, then plan to visit the Center in the afternoon. Don’t forget to check out the seasonal outdoor raptor exhibit (May through November) to visit birds who have been determined non-releasable in the wild – like Aquila the golden eagle, Clark the great horned owl and Josh, the male bald eagle. For an unusual gift, the GWDC “adoption” program allows you to pick an animal to adopt and receive a certificate of adoption, a photo, and updates about their well being. They’re open 365 days a year from 8:30-4. Check ahead at www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org for seasonal changes to expanded hours.
Enjoy spring skiing outside Yellowstone Park
Even if you planned to cycle during your trip, you may want to make time for spring Nordic skiing. Hart sings the praises of this seasonal treat—crust forms over the snow pack and allows you to go faster than normal in many areas.
“People are finding out about how great the Nordic skiing is during the spring, and planning vacations to take advantage,” she said. “We have fast and fun trails all over West Yellowstone for using skate-ski equipment we rent out –you’ll really have a blast.”
Stop in to Earthquake Lake Visitor Center
The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center 317 US 287 in nearby Cameron was built to provide a panoramic view of one of the largest earthquake sites from a 1959 earthquake, one of the biggest earthquakes ever measured in the continental United States (7.5) in which 28 people lost their lives. Earthquake Lake was formed when the mountain fell during a massive rockslide that resulted, blocking the Madison River. It’s open May 24-September 15 daily and serves as a resource for maps and all things seismic, including a short film and other educational opportunities, like a self-tour of the area.
Where to eat
Brunch is the best at Running Bear Pancake House 538 W. Madison St., which serves a delectable zucchini bread French toast with huckleberry syrup and eggs and trout. Pancakes are airy and light—the chocolate chip version gets five stars on Trip Advisor. You can also order ahead and take box lunches that a recent Park visitor called, “good and plentiful.”
For dinner, try the Slippery Otter Pub on 139 N. Canyon St., where the food is great and they also have an eclectic beer selection, Hart said. The Buffalo Bar 335 US-20, is delicious, too, as is The Branch Restaurant and Bar, 315 Yellowstone Ave., where folks rave about the fried chicken and filling, hot breakfast for your day at the Park.
Many places you might find online are closed when the Park is closed, so we’ve vetted these for your early springtime noshing needs. Pictured above–The Slippery Otter’s famous burgers and beers.
Tips for cyclists
Beginner cyclists and families will have fun on the roads and on the trails—the Yellowstone Park and West Yellowstone trails go from super easy to really challenging—especially the mountain bike trails that open in May. You can ask Kelly or Melissa for free maps and the insights you will need for family fun—or for truly challenging treks.
Hart says that many families like to cycle within the Park—and gave us directions about how to see a thermal feature during your trip, as well. Seven miles in from the entrance, you’ll get to Seven Mile Bridge, taking anywhere from one hour to two, depending on speed and stopping time. Another seven miles and you’ll be at Madison Junction—go left, and you can encounter a thermal feature just a mile from the Junction. There are bathrooms there, as well as a place to refill water bottles.
“There’s a little boardwalk you can walk around that is usually accessible as the spring sunshine melts any snow by afternoon,” Hart said.
You can try the YNP Visitor Services Center at 307-344-2107 for news about area conditions. All non-motorized visitors enter without a fee from the West Yellowstone entrance to Mammoth as conditions allow. Pack in/pack out supplies and carry bear spray, riding single file and turning around or giving a wide berth to large Park mammals or snowplows you may encounter.
Hart also recommends “Something for your ears, whether it’s a fleece neckerchief (neck gator) that you can pull over your face in the wind, or a scarf; a thin hat, gloves, and an insulated and windbreak layer, as well.”
“Weather is notoriously unpredictable so you might want to bring in extra socks, and layers,” she advised.