Day 1: Cycling from West Yellowstone to Warm River

There are all different ways to see the scenery that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has to offer, but from the seat of a bike is by far one of the best.
There are all different ways to see the scenery that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has to offer, but from the seat of a bike is by far one of the best. Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone
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There’s no better way to see the world than from the seat of a bike, and the 350-mile Cycle Greater Yellowstone tour is a testament to that. This six-day ride brings you through some of the most beautiful landscape in the United States from Yellowstone National Park and Mesa Falls to Grand Targhee and the Centennial Mountains. Here’s what Day One of the ride holds in store for you.

The first day begins on the western side of Yellowstone National Park, home to some of America’s last and greatest open spaces and wildlife that you can’t find anywhere else, such as gray wolves and bison. The day’s ride covers 63 miles and cruises through Island Park and along the 28-mile Mesa Falls Scenic Byway before finishing at Warm River Campground near Ashton, Idaho. The Upper and Lower Mesa Falls are the highlights of the ride, but don’t worry about passing them by, the group always stops to admire the best views.

Day One’s ride is 63 miles, and while there is little elevation gain, the distance is challenge enough for many.
    Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone
Day One’s ride is 63 miles, and while there is little elevation gain, the distance is challenge enough for many. Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone

The ride itself isn’t too challenging, but promoter Jennifer Drinkwalter reminds potential registrants to be prepared for riding 350 miles in six days. No day can be considered ‘easy.’ Still, the elevation profile is mild, and most regular riders will find the pace comfortable, especially with stops at aid stations and for photo ops.

One of the best places to pull out the camera is Mesa Falls, which is as tall as a 10-story building. The Upper Falls cascades water from Snake River over a formation created by an ancient volcanic super-eruption that spewed ash over most of the country. And just a mile below it, the Lower Falls is equally picturesque, broadcasting a rainbow of light through its mist. The fall’s rapids are a well-traveled site for extreme kayakers.

The Upper and Lower Mesa Falls are known as the last prominent waterfalls on the Snake River to resist human control—thanks in part to efforts of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. In 2009, the Craig Thomas Snake Headwaters Legacy Act, which protected 387 river miles on 13 pristine streams, including Snake River and the Falls, was passed.

Following the falls, you will ride through Caribou-Targhee National Forest, a part of Grand Teton National Park that borders Yellowstone. This part of the ride gives you the chance to chat with fellow riders and get a sense of the expanse of wilderness in and surrounding Yellowstone—there’s a reason it’s called America’s Last Great Place.

The scenery on Day One is just a taste of what is to come over the week of riding. 
    Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone
The scenery on Day One is just a taste of what is to come over the week of riding. Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone

Even with the relatively high mileage of the first day, the bonus loop is worth doing if you still have energy, but only if you have durable tires. The roads along the loop contain some non-paved sections—up to two miles of pressed dirt and small gravel, but they also have some scenery that’s hard to find anywhere else in the country.

The ride for the day ends at the picturesque Warm River Campground near the town of Ashton—no hotels are available in town for that weekend since they’re already reserved for perfect viewing of the solar eclipse the following day. Ashton is a nine-mile ride away if you forgot something for the trip, but the campsite provides everything you need from dinner (with something for everyone, including vegetarian riders) to beers from Uberbrew, a sponsor of the tour.

In addition to the good food and beer at the campground, there are also a lot of fun things to do to keep you busy after the ride. Go ahead and jump in the river to cool off and clean up, or go river tubing in the campground’s namesake, the slow-moving Warm River. Fishing and hiking—at an elevation of 5,200 feet—are popular as well.

Taking time to explore the different areas you ride through is just as important as the ride itself.
    Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone
Taking time to explore the different areas you ride through is just as important as the ride itself. Rick Smith Media for Cycle Greater Yellowstone

"We want people to explore the areas we’re bringing them to," Drinkwalter said. “We want to support the areas we’re camping in and riding through.”

That’s the point of the tour: it’s not about riding from point A to point B and then prepping for the next day, it’s about spending time getting to know each place and finding activities that you want to come back to. Many of the small towns are full of hidden gems, from great tiny cafes and microbreweries to souvenir and craft shops that will make you load up your bike bag and jersey pockets.

Still not convinced? Just watch this year’s promo video for a few more reasons to check out the ride.

https://vimeo.com/191891694

Originally written for Cycle Greater Yellowstone.

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Days 2 and 3: Driggs, Layovers, and a Solar Eclipse