A Two-Wheeled Spring Adventure: Bicycling in Northern Yellowstone

A Two-Wheeled Spring Adventure: Bicycling in Northern Yellowstone

February 13, 2020

Bicycling through Yellowstone National Park offers visitors a perspective like no other! Total immersion in the sights, scents, and sounds of nature in springtime allows cyclists to relax while also getting in a satisfying outdoor workout. Whether you’re a well-trained athlete looking to pedal many miles, looking to camp out overnight mid-ride, or someone simply excited to try a new activity, the range of bicycling opportunities available out of Gardiner, Montana—the park’s North Entrance—offers something for everybody. Consider us your home base this year as you pedal into Yellowstone’s wild and wonderous frontcountry.

cyclist entering Yellowstone

The Route

Starting in early April (there is no set date) routes open when snow removal and other pre-season business allow. From Gardiner, the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to West Yellowstone opens to cyclists. Only bicycles and electric or pedal-assist bikes are permitted at this time, although visitors may encounter some administrative travel; roads open to motor vehicles a week or two later.

Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris Geyser Basin (21 miles)

From the Upper Terrace Loop parking lot climb nearly 1000 feet through mixed evergreen and aspen forest to sweeping views in the Swan Lake Flat glacial valley. From here the relatively level road travels through the valley, over the Gardner River, past Indian Creek, and then through lodgepole pine regrowth and willow-ensconced riparian wetlands. The road climbs again before descending into the Norris Geyser Basin area. At Norris you can view some of Yellowstone’s most dynamic and acidic hydrothermal features and try your luck viewing the largest active geyser on the planet, Steamboat Geyser, which can shoot water up to 300 feet.

spring biking Swan Lake Flat

Norris Geyser Basin to Madison Junction (14 miles)

From Norris parallel the Gibbon River south as it flows through Elk Park and Gibbon Meadows. These are good locations to look for bald eagles, ducks, Canada geese, and larger wildlife including bison, foxes, and coyotes. Follow the road as it climbs through lodgepole pine regrowth and past the rim of the Yellowstone Caldera. Here the Gibbon River tumbles 84 feet over the caldera rim at Gibbon Falls. Enjoy downhill cruising until the road levels and you again parallel the Gibbon River along its southbound route until it meets the Firehole River to form the headwaters of the Madison River at Madison Junction.

Madison Junction to West Yellowstone, Montana (14 miles)

From Madison Junction pedal west through the Madison River Valley toward the park’s West Entrance. Along the way take in views of the Madison River as it weaves across the valley floor. This area typically hosts a wide variety of birds—including mallard, merganser, and goldeneye ducks—elk, bison, coyotes, and even seldom-seen bobcats. Look for early spring arrivals including migratory mountain bluebirds sandhill cranes. This mostly level section of roadway showcases nearby rhyolite flows, mixed evergreen forests, and the Madison Mountain Range towering in the distance. Look for great blue herons and bald eagles fishing from trees and along the riverbanks.

Planning and Safety

Yellowstone experiences variable weather in springtime so, if you’re planning on bicycling any distance, you’ll want to pack plenty of layers. Plan for both high and low temperatures and a range of conditions including sun, rain, wind, and even the occasional snowstorm. Click here to view a local weather forecast. Visitors often find the park’s high elevation, between 5000 and 8000 feet, makes them more vulnerable to dehydration and altitude sickness so drink plenty of water to combat any onset. Carry extra food, water, layers and a bicycle repair kit. No services are available between Mammoth and West Yellowstone although visitors have access to potable water at the Mammoth Hotel and Madison Junction. Cell phone access throughout Yellowstone is limited. However, payphones are available at Mammoth, Norris, and Madison junctions.

spring biking Mammoth to Norris

Rules and Regulations

Although temporarily closed to unauthorized motorized vehicles the “rules of the road” remain in effect throughout Yellowstone. All cyclists must ride single file on the right shoulder and obey all speed limits. Forward-facing white lights and rear-facing red lights are required for travel before sunrise and after sunset; travel at night isn’t recommended. For your personal safety, always stop and make eye contact at intersections, wear a helmet, and choose high-visibility clothing. Please note camping is not permitted along roads. The only frontcountry campground open this time of year is located in Mammoth Hot Springs where sites are available on a first-come first-serve basis. Otherwise, please visit the national park service website here to learn how to obtain an overnight backcountry camping permit.

Freelance writer Chelsea DeWeese pens from her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

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