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A Spring Bicyling Jaunt in Yellowstone National Park

If you’re thinking of taking advantage of Yellowstone National Park’s spring bicycling season, you’ve got two more weeks to enjoy relatively car-free biking between Mammoth Hot Springs and West Yellowstone.

Spring bicycling is open from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris Junction to Madison Junction to West Yellowstone—and back, of course. The road is not open to Old Faithful until the North and West Entrance roads open officially to the general public on April 21.

For those of us who work Monday through Friday in the region, catching nice-enough bike-riding weather on a late March to mid-April weekend is hit or miss. This past weekend the North Entrance saw some nice weather Saturday, but a dousing of slushy snow Sunday.

I last got a ride in two years ago. A pal from Gardiner and I drove up to the Mammoth Upper Terrace Loop Drive, where there’s a large pullout, a perfect staging area for spring biking. The Terrace Drive is a few miles south of the Mammoth developed area. You don’t want to start your ride right in Mammoth because the road to the Terrace Drive is not only a busy two-lane road, but it’s steep and narrow, with a turn-off to an employee housing area right on the corner of a hairpin turn. Don’t endanger yourself and others by trying to ride right from Mammoth.

For all my time around here, and lots of time on my bike, I had never tackled the ride south out of Mammoth. I was always a little intimidated by that long slow climb to Swan Lake Flats or the weather was never tolerable for bike riding. And riding after the road opened to cars? Forget about it! Who wants to ride on narrow shoulders when the roads are full of “Rent Me” RVs and international visitors enjoying their first taste of driving the wide-open American West? No thanks.

We set off in partly cloudy conditions with the temperatures in the 50s with a brisk breeze blowing. I figured I’d be walking some of the way, but actually ended up walking a lot less than I expected. Riding the bike or pushing it, we were still engaging in outdoor activity, right? The climb is mostly gradual, with some flat stretches and even a slight downhill or two.

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But at Golden Gate, the road enters a short, narrow canyon just before the pullout for Rustic Falls. The wind roared down that short pass, providing a total free pass to walk a few hundred yards.

Another pal, who has made an annual tradition of spring biking since 2007, said one year the wind blew so hard down Golden Gate he got pelted in the face by small stones.

We made it to the Swan Lake Flats, 4.4 four miles from where we parked, according to the Google map. The road opens up onto a large scenic vista of the Gallatin mountain range to the west and a dramatic view of Electric Peak. Popping out of Golden Gate onto the plateau is a sight that never gets old. We hung around and enjoyed the view.

The park was surprisingly quiet. No car traffic except for the very occasional vehicle, like a park ranger or other employee, allowed on the park roads for what is known as “administrative travel.” The bicyclists were not numerous, either, and ranged from athletic-looking groups on skinny-tired road bikes, to mountain bike riders to intrepid families.

On the flats, the wind was picking up and the temperature dropping, so we decided to head back and enjoy the gravity on the way downhill.

Park reminders

Park officials remind spring bicyclists that there are no services south of Mammoth, cellphone reception is spotty, and that riders should carry extra gear in the event of accidents, flat tires, and sudden changes of weather.

Bison, which often take advantage of plowed roadways, have the right of way. Other animals use the roadways, too, including coyotes and wolves. Bears are emerging from hibernation, so carrying bear spray — and knowing how to use it — is strongly recommended.

There’s more information at https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/springbike.htm.

About Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney is a former Yellowstone tour guide and snowcoach driver. She lives in Livingston, Montana, where she covers the park and other news for the daily newspaper, the Livingston Enterprise.

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