A Fly-and-Ride in Wyoming
I flew into the Thermopolis, WY airport from Fort Collins, CO and bicycled south up the Wind River Canyon to Boysen Reservoir in Boysen State Park. Steep canyon walls and a raging river made this short trip a treat.
Bicycle Adventurer: Rick Turley is a retired engineer, businessman, professor, and Adventure Cycling Life Member with passions including cycling, hiking, skiing, and flying—always looking for unique adventures.
When: Go when it's not too hot, not too cold, and not too rainy! Ha! I went in mid-June and found cool mornings followed by hot afternoons. Apparently, May had enough rain to cause mudslides in the canyon.
Accomodations: While I took advantage of a local motel, there are bed-and-breakfast and camping options. Another great option is to bike up the canyon and camp in Boysen State Park.
Distance: The canyon ride is a sixty mile round trip which may be easily shortened or lengthened.
Bonus tip for this adventure: This is a ride deep in a canyon along a river. The ride is shady and cool most of the way. The shoulder is wide, traffic light, and drivers courteous. Thermopolis is home to a giant hot springs pool, and geothermal formations akin to Yellowstone.
Enjoying clear and calm weather, I departed from Fort Collins-Loveland Airport (KFNL) in Colorado in my Cessna 182, happy to be avoiding the often windy and turbulent flying across Wyoming. With only one bike to pack, I had plenty of room in the four-seat airplane and it didn't take long to get airborne.
From the air Wyoming seemed featureless along this flight path with little scenery to keep me occupied until I reached my cycling destination: Boysen Reservoir at the head of Wind River Canyon. Boysen Reservoir was created in the late 1940s and early 1950s when Boysen Dam was constructed just upriver from the dam completed by Asmus Boysen in 1908. Here the scenery is much more compelling and the reservoir hosts a sprawling recreation destination for camping, boating, and fishing.
My flight path north, continuing downriver toward my destination of Thermopolis, previewed my upcoming bike ride. This deep canyon gorge provides the path of a winding U.S. Highway 20 between Thermopolis and Boysen State Park.
Beyond the canyon, Thermopolis sits in the Big Hole Valley. The flight path takes you over town and provides a clear view of Hot Springs State Park on the northeast side of town. This recreation area provides stunning scenery, including geothermal features to rival Yellowstone, and the "world's largest mineral hot spring" and pool.
Upon arrival at Hot Springs County Airport in Thermopolis, I wanted to tour the bison herd in Hot Springs State Park. I was uncomfortable doing this on my bike, so I borrowed the airport courtesy car for the trip. While I did have a scenic drive through the park, I was disappointed that I did not see any of the bison—perhaps next time.
There are camping and motel options throughout the area. I opted for the Elk Antler Inn and enjoyed my stay. There are numerous excellent restaurants in town, and everything is within walking or cycling distance. Try the One Eyed Buffalo Brewing Company for a selection of microbrews or Las Fuentes for good Mexican food.
The canyon features a raging river, steep canyon walls, an adjacent railroad, and three roadway tunnels to ride through. The canyon is also steeped in geologic history dating from the Precambrian period some 2.9 billion years ago. With spectacular scenery and excellent riding, it is a trip not to be missed.
I was able to get an early start up the canyon in order beat both the crowds and the heat. As it turns out, neither was much of an issue. U.S. Highway 20 has a generous shoulder as it passes through the Wind River Canyon. While there are rumble strips, they remain along the lane edge leaving a wide, unobstructed shoulder for riding. Traffic was light and extremely courteous. The gentle grade reflected the consistency of the adjacent railroad tracks. My biggest issue with the ride was all the stopping! The scenery was so amazing that I often only made it a few feet before feeling the need take another picture.
I made my way back into Thermopolis after reaching Boysen Reservoir and had an excellent lunch at the Stones Throw Restaurant near the golf course and airport. Departing in the early afternoon, I flew a wide arc over Hot Springs State Park before heading southeast toward home. Following an easy flight, I was able to look back on a fantastic bike overnight adventure along an extremely scenic river canyon.
Bike overnight tips and tricks? Since you are riding deep in a canyon, it is good to have front and rear blinking lights.
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