It’s Day 6, the last day of the ride, and emotions are bittersweet. There is a triumphant feeling for getting this far, but a sadness to know that the Cycle Greater Yellowstone tour is coming to a conclusion. You’re heading back to West Yellowstone and saying goodbye to the new best friends you’ve amassed along the way, as well as the amazing landscapes you’ve been taking in for the last six days. But the last pedal stroke doesn’t have to be a final farewell to Yellowstone National Park. In fact, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is actually hoping you’ll stick around for the weekend and check out the interior of the park, now that you’ve had time to ride, literally, around it.
Before you can enjoy the weekend, you have to get to the finish. It’s over 10 miles from camp to the start of the day’s ride and if you’re feeling ambitious and up for some gravel riding, you can ride your bike to the start over some rougher road conditions. If you prefer a clean, flat-free bike and don’t love gravel, you can shuttle your bike and yourself there.
The day’s ride will take you out of Shotgun Valley through Henry's Fork, Quake Lake, Hebgen Lake, and back to West Yellowstone. The first place you’ll ride through is the iconic Quake Lake, a fairly recent addition to the landscape. It was created by the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, which, at 7.5 on the Richter scale, was one of the most intense America has ever seen. The quake originated near the Madison River and triggered a massive, rapid-moving landslide that crashed 80 million tons of rock into the river’s narrow canyon in under one minute. The rock blocked the Madison river and formed Earthquake Lake.
You will be riding through the area near the anniversary of the quake—August 17th—so crowds might be thick. Make sure you get up close to catch a glimpse and snap some photos—there are still some flooded buildings underneath the water.
After Earthquake Lake, you’ll ride right next to Hebgen Lake, a gorgeous, glistening alpine lake that boasts terrific fishing. Beyond that, it’s homeward bound to Yellowstone’s entrance.
The promoters of Cycle Greater Yellowstone are passionate about the ride all week, but they also are passionate about the national park. They want people to head into Yellowstone National Park for the weekend, that’s why the event finishes on a Friday.
Not only is Yellowstone an amazing national park, but the 34,375-square-mile Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that surrounds it is one of the largest, nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth. It’s pristine enough to be considered a "natural laboratory" for studying ecosystems. That’s why conservation in this area is so important, and why people are so passionate about the projects here.
Take, for example, the recent plight of bison forced to restricted areas of the park. In 2013, thanks in part to work done by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the bison have an additional 80,000 acres to roam. Or, back in the 70s when less than 200 Yellowstone grizzly bears remained in the park, and thanks to efforts put in to grizzly protection, the park now estimates that there are over 700 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Similarly, in 1995, 14 gray wolves were re-introduced to the park. Now, more than 500 are in the Greater Yellowstone and 1,500 are spread across the Rockies.
If you do decide to stay for the weekend, chances are good you’ll see some wildlife: mule deer, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, coyotes, eagles, hawks and possibly elk, moose, fox, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and bison. They can all be found roaming the park, but don’t get too close.
Campsites are available in the park, and in addition to designated areas, backcountry camping is allowed and encouraged. Day hikes are also spectacular, and there are over 900 miles of trails within the park’s boundaries. (Bring a map!)
Of course, the best, and arguably most iconic place to aim during a hike is to the Old Faithful Geyser. Old Faithful is one of the first named geysers in the U.S., but it’s also the one you can definitely stay and watch erupt. Since 2000, it has erupted once every 44 to 125 minutes. Pull up a chair and take a break.
After you’ve watched the geyser, take the Fairy Falls route (originally under six miles but now over eight as it’s under construction) from the Fountain Freight Road trailhead located north of Midway Geyser Basin for some added fun. The route will give you an amazing look at Fairy Falls, a 200-foot waterfall that’s considered one of the most scenic of the park, as well as the Grand Prismatic Spring that’s as colorful as it sounds. The trail ends at Imperial Geyser and the more frequently erupting Spray Geyser.
If you haven’t had enough time on the bike, limited riding is permitted in the park—just check the trail map before heading in. Riding on the roads is not recommended, so if you do decide to cycle some more, please stay on the trails.
You can also go horseback riding and—wait for it—llama packing, which is available in the park through Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Enjoy not being the one providing the power for a change.
Cycling around Yellowstone isn’t just about the ride, it’s about the sights you see, the places you camp, the friends you make and—of course—the beer you drank to celebrate the entire tour. 350 miles down, millions to go.
Originally written for Cycle Greater Yellowstone.