Bison and Geysers

Bison and Geysers and filed under the category of deluxe Bike Overnight! Rick flew his plane to West Yellowstone, MT for camping and road riding in stunning Yellowstone National Park.

Bicycle Adventurer: Rick Turley

When: Traffic can be heavy during the popular summer months. I rode mid-week in September and the roads were still busy, but very comfortable. Spring and fall offer a unique opportunity to ride the park free of traffic. Visit these links to learn more: nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/springbike.htm and nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fallbike.htm.

Accommodations: The campground at the West Yellowstone Airport (KWYS) is a great option if you are a pilot. The sites include picnic tables, fire rings with firewood, and hot showers. Otherwise, there are great camping and lodging options in and around the town of West Yellowstone.

Distance: The out and back distance from the airport to Old Faithful Geyser is about 70 miles. A tremendous number of other ride options are available both inside Yellowstone Park and in rural Montana.

Bonus tip for this adventure: There are many more great rides from West Yellowstone. Two that I plan to complete on my next trip are the 65-mile loop ride called “The Block” including Quake Lake and the 60-mile out-and-back Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. On other trips, I’ve ridden all of the Yellowstone Park roads and each offers unique scenery. From West Yellowstone, another good ride is north from Madison to Norris Geyser Basin, or even on to Mammoth Hot Springs. Both of these destinations offer nice campgrounds.

Day One

Any day starting with a flight in your own airplane is a good one. I had excellent weather departing Fort Collins, CO, heading northwest to West Yellowstone, MT. This trip had been on my list ever since I bought my plane. I grew tired of waiting for someone to join me and decided to head out on my own. On the way, I flew north of Riverton, WY with a great view of Boysen Reservoir and the Wind River Canyon — site of my previous “Fly ‘n Bike” adventure.

The treat for the day was the tremendous view of the Teton mountain range and Jackson Lake as I passed Jackson, WY. To the north, I also had a great view of Yellowstone Lake and Yellowstone National Park.

My destination for the day, West Yellowstone Airport, sits just west of the park entrance and only a few miles into Montana. In 2005, I rode from Fort Collins, CO to Portland, OR using Adventure Cycling’s TransAmerica Trail and Lewis & Clark Trail bicycle routes, entering Yellowstone Park from the south and exiting to the west. I spent one enjoyable night in West Yellowstone and looked forward to my return.

West Yellowstone is a great central location for a number of loop or out-and-back rides in the area. By the time I arrived, the winds had picked up and I decided not to fight them on the bike. Instead, I set up camp in the Yellowstone Airport's pilot's campsite on the north end of the aircraft ramp. The camp is well-equipped with picnic tables, water, fire rings, firewood, and a hot shower. There are even bicycles to borrow if you don’t bring your own. And of course, there are other great campgrounds in the area.

Day Two

One benefit of camping at the airport is the immediate access to one of West Yellowstone’s best breakfast restaurants — the Smokejumper Café. The hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs, with lots of hot coffee, got me ready for the day. Heading west out of town, it's a short ride to the Yellowstone National Park entrance. There are adequate shoulders and the drivers are generally courteous. One thing to watch for are sudden stops drivers make to view wildlife. And given the size of the bison, it’s a good idea to keep a car between the bison and your bike. 

The 14-mile ride from the entrance to Madison Junction is flat and tree-lined. Even here, there were bison grazing along the road, or walking in the road. At Madison, I turned south toward Old Faithful and decided to take Firehole Canyon Drive. This extremely scenic section has one-way southbound traffic and climbs along the deep gorge of the Firehole River. Traffic was lighter here, and much slower. The river was spectacular with many waterfalls along the route. 

A short while after returning to the main road, I turned off on the Fountain Flat Drive. This road quickly turns to dirt and meanders through bison packed meadows with water and geothermal features. The surface is hard packed and easy to ride with road tires. But the “up close and personal” encounters with bison were a bit disconcerting — but well worth it for the scenery. Back on the main road, I finished off the 15 mile ride from Madison to Old Faithful Village. This is definitely the star attraction of the park and even in September felt very crowded. There were many lunch spots, but most with long waits. I stayed long enough to view the Old Faithful eruption and grab a sandwich, then I was off for the return trip. 

On the way back toward Madison, Firehole Lake Drive is another interesting side trip with short hikes to a number of geothermal features. While the ride back to West Yellowstone is primarily downhill, the headwinds removed most of that advantage. Regardless, it was still a very pleasant return trip. 

West Yellowstone offers a large selection of bars and restaurants for an after-ride celebration. I enjoyed a few local microbrews at the Slippery Otter Pub and an excellent dinner at the Madison Crossing Lounge. Between the ride to Old Faithful and a bit of commuting around town, I had logged 70 miles for the day and slept very well in the airport campground that night.

Day Three

My final day dawned clear and brisk. After another leisurely breakfast at the Smokejumper Café, I loaded up the plane for my return trip to Colorado. I was able to fly over my cycling route from the day before and remind myself about how great a ride it had been.

Your favorite local bike shop? Free Heel and Wheel in West Yellowstone, MT is an awesome shop with great gear and lots of helpful advice.  


Don't forget Bike Your Park Day on Sept. 24! 

Register your ride!

Click here for the Bike Your Park Day interactive map and to receive a Bike Your Park Day sticker. Sign up as soon as possible — the first 250 people to register will receive a limited edition Bike Your Park Day patch.

Everyone who registers before September 5th will be entered to win prizes, including a custom-painted Salsa Marrakesh touring bicycle, Adventure Cycling memberships, and more!

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