Cycling Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – Seven Days (292 miles, 11,206 ft. Elev. Gain) of Fun

My first time to Yellowstone National Park.

After cycle touring in many other countries and regions of the world, it was time to explore the beautiful national parks just outside our back door. Seeing Yellowstone has always been on my bucket list and what better way to spend see it than by my favorite mode of transportation –  bicycle.

To save time we decided to create two loop trips: Loop 1 – Yellowstone and Grand Teton and Loop 2 – Glacier and Waterton Lakes. This post will give information about Loop 1 – Yellowstone/GrandTeton and a future post will give information about Loop 2 – Glacier/Waterton Lakes.

A few notes about the trip – We cycled in late June/early July so the weather was a beautiful 60-70 degrees. After two brief rain/hail storms we had sunshine, blue skies and coolish temperatures. Perfect for cycling.

We tried to take some dirt paths and scenic by-ways whenever possible to get off the busy, main road.

Although there was a lot of traffic in Yellowstone, we felt it was manageable because it was fairly  slow and we had a pretty good shoulder.

Yellowstone National Parks reserves several hiker/biker walk-up campsites so we always found a place to pitch our tent. Avalanche Campsite was pretty full with 6 tents but found room to pitch our and we had the opportunity to meet some nice people.

We used a combination of motels and campsites but it would be easy to camp for the entire trip if you wanted to save money.

There are plenty of places to buy food and/or provisions along the way EXCEPT there is no food at the top of Logan Pass. Carry lots of snacks that day.

Bring a swim suit because a cool dip in the beautiful lakes is very refreshing.

Day 1 – Driggs, ID to Warm River Campground about 7 miles NW of Ashton (49 miles 1328 ascent 2263 descent…)

This was our first day of cycle touring in almost 2 years. We were out of practice and had forgotten some of our routine but after about 10 miles it all came back including the fact that we forgot to check the weather. We got caught in a cold downpour, but came across a closed saloon with a covered front porch in Drummond where we waited out the storm and ate lunch.

Escaping the rain and hail.

Our original plan was to stay in Ashton, but after arriving at 12:30 and spinning through the entire town and finding not a lot to do, we decided to hang out in a coffee shop until the rain passed.

The coffee shop was a big help. Not only did it provide a respite from the rain, but the chatty owner called some of her friends to help us with our route  planning to West Yellowstone.

When the rain let up, we cycling  7 miles mostly downhill from Ashton to the Warm Rivers Campground. I highly recommend this spot. We had a spot right on the river and was one of my favorite campsites of the entire trip. Well enjoyed a competitive game of horseshoes and a good night’s sleep.

A beautiful spot next to Warm River.

Day 2 – Warm Rivers Campground to Mack Inn along the West Yellowstone Branch Trail (30 miles)

The first 10 miles of the rail trail were beautiful and rideable. The quality deteriorated after that.

We cycled directly from the campground to the Yellowstone Branch Trail skipping the very busy Highway 20. The Yellowstone Branch Trail is an old rail line that used to carry passengers to Yellowstone Park.

The rail trail near the campground.

This trail could be a magnificent alternative to the highway with some grading, rolling, compacting and bridge repair. As it stands, it’s more of a mountain bike track with lots of sand and gravel that we found very difficult to navigate. We both fell off our bikes several times into soft volcanic gravel, and I often found it easier to walk.

Don’t be deceived. The surface looks good but it’s very soft and pulled us over several times.

After 26 miles at a slow slog and knowing that we still had 24 miles to West Yellowstone with limited water and supplies we took a detour to the Mack Inn on the north fork of the Snake River for food and water.  While waiting for a pizza, the heavens opened up with hail and freezing rain. Eric made the executive decision to book a room at the Mack Inn and call it a day.

Day 3 – Mack In to West Yellowstone (26 miles)

I knew this morning was going to be chilly because the hotel owners had put plastic over all of their planters the night before. Wearing my rain coat, down coat, yellow jacket, gloves, wool shirts and gloves, we started pedaling slowly to not create too much wind resistance on the mostly downhill ride on the Big Springs Loop Road to Big Springs to reconnect with the West Yellowstone Branch Trail.

Big Springs heading towards West Yellowstone.

After visiting the springs we turned north on the “railroad grade” towards West Yellowstone. If possible the sand was slower going than yesterday. Eric noticed a parallel road called Black Canyon Road that we decided to try instead. This road is definitely the better option but it is still slow going with steep, rocky climbs, lots of puddles and some sandy areas. But, the ride was lovely with pink, purple and blue wildflowers dotting the side of the road, large groves of aspen and pines, and views to the Madison River below.

The trail becoming a 4-wheel drive track.

At the Idaho/Montana border the road becomes Forest Service Road 478/S. Fork Road. It now is more of a scenic, 4-wheel-drive road but still manageable. I did have a slight worry about bears so I rang my bike bell before turning every corner. After about 20 miles the road becomes the Old Airport Road which leads directly into West Yellowstone.

There were good signs marking the roads in Montana.

Our afternoon was spent being tourists. We loved the Yellowstone Museum at the old Union Pacific Train Station. The photos about train travel to Yellowstone were even more memorable because we just cycled the West Yellowstone Line.

When these busses were used speed was limited to 6mph. That’s about our speed by bicycle.

We really enjoyed a movie  Dr. Jackson,  the first man to drive across the United States in 1903 in an automobile.  Driving a Winton through small towns in the USA that had never seen or heard of an automobile  had to be as strange as Eric and I felt traveling some of the small roads in SE Asia.

I loved this picture of the trail we’d just ridden being used by the train in winter..

Whiles our clothes were washing at the local laundromat we enjoyed a beer at the Otter Saloon and talked to a man who comes to West Yellowstone every year for world class fly fishing. I joked that we should find a small, portable pole and try our luck while cycling. We then cycled to the Buffalo Bar where we met some other cyclists from Pennsylvania doing the Trans Am from east to west. It was fun to share stories.

Day 4 – West Yellowstone to Grant Village in Yellowstone (41 miles)

Nothing like starting the day with a delicious breakfast. The place is Euro Cafe in West Yellowstone. By the time we had left there were 4 additional cycle tourists who, too,  were starting their day with plenty of delicious carbs.

The first 14 miles to Madison in Yellowstone literally flew by. The scenery along the Madison River was stunning. I got the biggest kick out of watching an antique car group from Boise. The  only way better than seeing the park by bicycle might be from the rumble seat of an antique Model T Ford.

Many people visit Yellowstone with antique cars.

Taking the one-way, no-trucks-or-campers-allowed,  Firehole Canyon Drive took us to the edge of the caldera with views of ancient lava flows, rapids and waterfalls.

A view from Firehole Canyon Drive.

Cycling on Fountain Flat Drive gave us great, up close, views of  many bubbling hot springs.

We arrvied at Old Faithful at 12:45 just in time to grab a seat and wait for her 1:10 +/- 10 eruption. She was right on time and gave us a 6 minute display of her grandeur and power.

This looks like hot lava to me but it’s just the color of the rocks.

The next 20 miles of our ride were slow as we  climbed Craig Pass and crossed the Continental Divide two times. But, the reward of a fast downhill and a great visit of Yellowstone Lake just before we arrived at Grant Village for the night.

We crossed the Continental Divide several times.

We shared a hiker/biker  group camp site with 4 cyclists are doing the Trans Am Trail – a couple on a tandem and two gentleman on individual bikes.

Another cool thing that happened tonight was the free showers. When we went to pay, the cashier said that he thought it was horrible that showers did not come with our camp site so he shared some showers from his punch card. It was such a thoughtful gesture that made that  shower that best I’ve ever had.

A view of Yellowstone Lake from the restaurant.

We cycled to the Lakeside Restaurant and enjoyed a delicious trout dinner while overlooking Yellowstone Lake. Then we cycled up to the full-service restaurant and ordered dessert – huckleberry ice cream with crumb cake and fresh huckleberries with a glass on port for good measure and to help us sleep.

Day 5 – Grant Village to Coulter Bay (42 miles)

After seeing the cyclists climbing highway 191 towards Grand Village and seeing how beautiful our ride was downhill towards Jackson, WY  on the same road, I think it is better to do the Yellowstone Loop in a clockwise manner. There is no shoulder from Grant Village to the Rockefeller Highway in Grand Teton National Park so the cycle uphill seemed scary.

We had a beautiful picnic lunch at a lovely spot at the very northern tip of Jackson Lake. The Tetons stand majestically at the west side of the lake making it appear as if the edge of the lake goes right to the base of the mountains. The wildflowers in every shape, size and color are in bloom.

The view of the Tetons from our picnic table.

As soon as we entered Coulter Bay, we knew we should set up camp, enjoy a polar bear plunge in the crystal clear water, and snooze on the sunny beach.

Eric took the plunge in Jackson Lake.

We swam, read, took a walk along the shoreline, cooked a dinner at our campsite, relaxed by the fire and I practice my harmonica (I’m getting better by the way).

Day 6 – Coulter Bay to Jackson, WY (43 miles)

The Grand Tetons were always in our foreground making the ride so pleasant.

Another reason to cycle this trip clockwise is because of the amazing view coming down from Yellowstone. For the past two days we’ve have views of the Tetons in our foreground so close it appears that we can touch them. The best view of Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake is looking over our right shoulder so we didn’t have to worry about looking across traffic.

Another big bonus of today’s ride was the 20 miles of beautifully paved cycle path from Jenny Lake into Jackson. Although the path is parallel to the highway most of the way,  not as scenic as earlier in the day, and had a fairly strong headwind, just not having to worry about the traffic made the remaining 20 miles into Jackson a breeze. Pun intended.

We appreciated the 20-mile long paved path from Jenny Lake to Jackson, WY

We found a lovely, inexpensive motel  considering it was the 4th of July weekend and enjoyed a delicious buffalo burger at Local (so named because they raise all their meat locally).

Day 7 – Jackson, WY to Driggs, ID (43 miles)

Jackson, WY has a great network of trails.

Cycling the Old Teton Pass road was probably the hardest pass I’ve ever cycled. As a matter of fact, this day ranks up there as one of our hardest cycling days. The ride would be more aptly called a “hike with a bike” or a push of 100 pounds up an 11% grade for 5 hours.

Old Teton Pass Road is located to the south of Teton Pass. It’s steeper than the highway but has no traffic.

The two positives to the day were 1) there were no cars on the road and 2) the scenery was beautiful.

We took a long rest here at Glacier Lake before continuing the climb.

Wildflowers, switchbacks, birds chirping, mountain bikers, and refreshing glacier lakes kept my mind off the extremely difficult climb.

Usually switchbacks take off some of the grade, but these were still very steep.

Also, knowing this was our last day of Loop 1 and two rest days were ahead helped keep the difficulty in check.

I’ve never been so tired.
The view from the top of Teton Pass was worth the effort.

I can check Yellowstone off my bucket list, but I  also highly suggest you add this ride to yours.

12 thoughts on “Cycling Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – Seven Days (292 miles, 11,206 ft. Elev. Gain) of Fun

  1. As always, wonderful post, Penny! My 15 y/o did a 2 weeks NOLS course out of Driggs last year. Great experience for him (hiking). I would rather bike it like you.

    1. OK, I profess ignorance. What is an NOLS course? The hiking does look great but I’m now interesting in trying more of the bike-packing and possibly the Great Divide Route. Seems like the best of best worlds – hiking and biking. 🙂

      1. NOLS – National Outdoor Leadership School. Committed to developing leadership (of all ages) through wilderness expeditions. Space Shuttle astronauts, high altitude climbers (David Breashears, Pete Athens, etc) etc have participated in various courses. I’m curious too to look for a combined bike/hike trip. Jim

  2. Very much enjoyed this post. Reminded us of part of our time on the Transamerica route through Yellowstone and the Tetons. We’ve been following your blog since you were written up in the WSJ and picked up plenty of helpful tips over the years for trips in New Zealand and Europe. Anyway, thought it was time to say hello.

    1. Glad to hear from you and hope you get to NZ and Europe. We’ve really enjoyed the US and Canada and hope to do more traveling here and abroad.Thanks for saying “hello.”

  3. Excellent! I only wish you had shared your GPS track, though if you were tired out by that 5 hour 11% climb how can us mere mortals have any chance of completing this! Well done. Both of you. I must say I agree with the feeling of ringing your bike bell all throughout the ride through the woods. I’m always a bit leery of a chance encounter. I look forward to your posting on Waterton to Glacier. I did that ride a few years back and did see a bear on the climb out of Waterton. Thankfully, he or she was downhill at that point and well away from the road. What do you do when you spot a bear and you are climbing? Hmm…

    1. Great suggestion about posting the GPS track. When we get home I will try to figure out how to do that. Heading into the woods tomorrow and still don’t want to spot a bear on the uphill. 🙂

  4. Greetings from Singapore. Wonderful photos and of course your continuing adventure getting more exciting.

    Yellowstone is 1 of my dream destinations …….. and very much envy your cycling-mode though I will not be doing it that way.

    Best wishes for remaining portion as I follow and watch/observe from afar. Thanks

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