Another sign of seasonal change: Yellowstone spring biking is available for those hardy enough to brave the elements, with the road between West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs open tomorrow (March 27) at 8 a.m.
Most roads in Yellowstone National Park don’t officially begin opening until April 18 when three sections of road — Mammoth to Old Faithful; Madison to West Entrance; Norris to Canyon — open (see here for a complete list of 2014 openings and closings), but for now bicyclists can travel the West/Mammoth stretch, with the South and East Entrance access possibly down the road. (They can also travel the road between Mammoth and the Northeast Entrance through the Lamar Valley anytime, as that road is open year-round.)
It is a challenging ride, but one many find invigorating. But you should plan ahead and be warned that there are some serious rules to consider. First, it’s still early spring (i.e., the transitional time between winter and a true spring), which means there’s still lots of snow and ice around, along with tall snowbanks and snow-covered pullouts. Second, despite the road being closed to the general public, it’s open to National Park Service, concessionaire and construction vehicles, and snowplows are still out and about as well. So you should always remember to stick to the right side of the road and ride single-file as part of a group and be prepared to yield to a vehicle.
Finally, in winter and spring the Yellowstone animals tend to use the road because, well, it’s easier than slogging through the snow. So watch out for bison, bears, wolves, elk and other wildlife, and bring along some bear spray, along with emergency supplies (remember, Yellowstone weather can change in an instant) and a bike-repair kit. There are no services at all in the Park between Mammoth and West (just water at the Madison picnic area and Mammoth), and while you may encounter an NPS employee potentially helping out in a jam, you certainly should not count on it.
Now, having exposed you to all the negatives, let’s turn to the positives: Yellowstone spring biking can be an awesome experience. You can begin either in Mammoth or the West Entrance (remember, access to Yellowstone at the North Entrance is available year-round), and each offers a different experience. The road east of West is a little flatter and may be suited more for the casual biker (we experience a lot of folks biking in and out from West), while that road south of Mammoth can be a killer right off the bat. So be realistic about your biking expertise and plan accordingly.
According to the National Park Service, cyclists are urged to call 307/344-2107 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays for updated road access information, or call 307/344-2113 for 24-hour weather information before committing to any ride in the Park.