It’s a difficult habit to break. Riding your bike to the left of a highway’s white line rather than as far to the right of it as you go without being taken down by tumbleweeds, mile markers, or accumulated detritus that, this being Wyoming, may likely include bits of animal carcasses.
If not during a very specific several weeks on a particular 16-ish mile stretch of road in a certain national park, it’s not a habit you want to break.
As it has for the past 30-some years, Grand Teton National Park opens its Inner Park Loop Road between the Bradley/Taggart Lakes Trailhead and Signal Mountain Lodge to cyclists, runners, roller bladders, pogo stickers, skateboarders, hula hoopers and other non-vehicular users before it opens it to cars. Cars have to wait until May 1. Non-motorized travelers can use it now.
Carter was president and Jackson’s population was a quarter of what it is today when the Inner Park Loop Road first opened early to non-motorized traffic in 1977. An immediate hit, it has only grown in popularity with the community over the years. Today it’s as much about socializing as about exercising. Last spring, I saw a group of a dozen or so, some cyclists, others on rollerblades, a couple of skateboarders, pulling a portable BBQ grill and a keg in a wagon. Evidently they made it to South Jenny Lake and had what was quite possibly the best BBQ the valley has ever seen. Good luck trying to do this in July or August when Jenny Lake is swarming with visitors in vehicles.
The decision to open the Park Road to bicycles and pedestrians was made by then-assistant superintendent Jack Neckels. Back then, the road was not in the condition it is in today. The road had to be plowed and left to dry for weeks before cars could drive on it. Neckels had the idea that, while the road couldn’t handle cars while it was drying, it could handle cyclists and pedestrians.
In the 1980s and 1990s the Park Road was rerouted and rebuilt. When this massive construction project was finished in 1992, some park workers suggested that the road no longer needed to be plowed so early, or at all. The snow could just be left to melt naturally. By then Neckles was no longer assistant superintendent of GTNP, but superintendent. He decided that biking on the park road had become a tradition and it was going to stay.
The 16 miles of road closed to motorized traffic between the Bradley and Taggart Lakes trailhead and the Jackson Lake Junction include some of the most beautiful scenery in the park: South and North Jenny Lake, String Lake, the Cathedral Group turnout and Signal Mountain. It is mostly flat, with a few rolling hills.
Of course you can drive up to the Bradley/Taggart Lakes trailhead to begin your ride. But, if you’re already in cycling shape, why not start in town? Be warned that the bike path from town to Grand Teton National Park does not open until May 1 though, so you must ride these 12 miles on the shoulder of Highway 89/191.Whether you bike or drive to Bradley/Taggart Lakes, don’t forget your park pass.
Once at Bradley/Taggart Lakes, it should be smooth sailing. Although, on a sunny weekend day the parking lot is overflowing and parked cars can line both sides of the road for nearly a mile back towards the Moose entrance station.
You may find yourself riding the first mile or so on the shoulder before remembering this is the rare instance in which the whole road belongs to you. Enjoying this freedom so much, I almost always ride all the way to Signal Mountain. Or go even further if you want.
Although the road is open to vehicular traffic starting at Signal Mountain Lodge, go ahead and scoot your bike and yourself under that gate and back into the world of cars. That stretch of road is open to cars, but very rarely are cars there.
And then you get to check in on Jackson Lake. Is the ice breaking up yet? As of this past weekend, it wasn’t. There were awesome views of Mt. Moran from just atop Jackson Lake Dam. This view is worth riding several extra miles.