A small town tucked at the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park, West Yellowstone is an outdoor playground—home to world-class fly fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. But what many visitors may not realize is the area’s affinity for cyclists. Thanks to winding roadways through some of the region’s most stunning scenery, West Yellowstone supports a thriving community of cyclists. Both road cycling enthusiasts and those keen on mountain biking trails will find themselves quite at home in this scenic town.
Each year, West Yellowstone hosts several events worth planning a trip around. One of the most memorable of these is when the roads of Yellowstone National Park are open for several weeks to non-motorized traffic only. As soon as the park roads are cleared of snow until late April, Yellowstone is closed to car traffic, affording road cyclists the perfect opportunity to sightsee and get the first season’s looks at Yellowstone’s impressive wildlife before the bustling season begins. Most riders will take the route between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction, a 28-mile round trip beside the famed Madison River. Without doubt, this is the best time to ride in America’s first national park.
The annual West Yellowstone Old Faithful Cycle Tour, held each autumn, is a perfect wind-down to a busy summer of riding. Join 350 riders on this 60-mile round-trip supported ride that features the changing fall colors of Yellowstone before ending the day with a hearty group meal. Autumn is one of the most beautiful seasons in the park—many of the tourists have gone home and wildlife is bountiful.
Many serious cyclists will have heard of the famed Trans-America Trail, a 4,228-mile cross-country cycling route leading from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. West Yellowstone is a noted stop along the trail, anchoring the fourth leg of the route (going west to east) that covers the 329.5 miles from Missoula, Montana. Cyclists follow the stunning Madison River, Quake Lake, and Hebgen Lake before arriving in West Yellowstone. It’s quite common to grab a bit of rest, relaxation, and sightseeing in West Yellowstone before beginning the next leg to Rawlins, Wyoming, 350.5 miles away.
The route out of West Yellowstone leads riders into Yellowstone National Park to Madison Junction, then south past Old Faithful and West Thumb (and its stunning lake views) then out the park’s south entrance on the scenic John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Riders pass Jackson Lake on their right before veering off to Moran and then southwest to the Wind River Mountains. Of course, you don’t need to ride all the way across the country to enjoy this section of the route, as a multi-day cycling trip in either direction is quite the experience.
For those seeking a bit of off-road adventure during their stay in West Yellowstone, the area’s trails don’t disappoint. Options range from easy to advanced with challenging climbs; stop in at a bike shop—both Free Heel and Wheel (home to a stellar espresso bar) and Yellowstone Bicycles are local favorites—for information on trail conditions. You can also rent bikes at both locations, for trail or road. The Divide Trail (easy doubletrack, 6 miles), Mike Creek Trail (advanced singletrack, 7 miles), and Rendezvous Loop (easy doubletrack, 6 miles) are all close to town and feature varied riding terrain with stunning views.
Does a bit of mellow road riding near town sound more like your style? West Yellowstone’s streets are easy to navigate and a simple ride around town is a fantastic way to explore. Or pack up and head north of Highway 191, turning onto Highway 287 toward Hebgen Lake for a scenic, flat ride with stunning views of the expansive waterway.
An excellent resource for visiting cyclists is Cycle Greater Yellowstone. While the actual Cycle Greater Yellowstone Ride takes place each August (the 2018 dates have already sold out, but there is a wait list), the organization puts out timely news on events, road/trail updates, and need-to-know news on the area’s cycling community. The organization is a great way to connect with local southwest Montana cyclists.
So whether you’re on a cross-country trip or simply riding a rental bike around town for a few hours, you can find plenty to love. For serious cyclists, it’s a bucket-list destination that allows you to explore one of the most scenic regions of the country.
Written by Jess McGlothlin for RootsRated Media in partnership with West Yellowstone Chamber.