Two sure signs of the onset of spring in Yellowstone National Park are early sightings of bears emerging from their dens, and the appearance of a handful of hardy and prepared bicyclists on a few sections of park roadways.
As park plow crews continue to clear roads for the start of automobile travel next month, a portion of the park is open to bicyclists for this short season. Now through April 19, the road between West Yellowstone, Madison, Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs is open to travel by adventurous and prepared bicyclists. There is no spring bicycle access to Old Faithful or Canyon.
A bicycle trip into Yellowstone this time of year is not to be undertaken lightly. The quickly changing weather can be blustery, snowy and brutally cold. Snow and ice may cover sections of road. Bears, bison, elk, wolves, and other wildlife could be encountered at any time. No services are along these sections of road. Cyclists should expect to encounter — and yield to — snowplows or other vehicles operated by park employees or construction workers traveling in conjunction with park operations.
Bicyclists are required to ride single file and follow all other rules of the road. They are strongly encouraged to carry bear spray, should be prepared to turn around and backtrack when encountering wildlife on the road, and must stay out of closed areas.
Riders need to be prepared to be out in severe winter conditions for an extended period of time, in case they experience a mechanical breakdown, injury or other emergency. Cell phone coverage throughout the park is sparse, and rangers do not regularly patrol these routes at this time of year, so riders must have a plan for self rescue or repair.
Snow removal efforts may also allow for a brief period of bike access into the park sometime in May from the South Entrance to West Thumb and from the East Entrance toward Sylvan Pass.
The road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Mont., to Cooke City, Mont., at the park’s Northeast Entrance is open all year to cyclists and automobiles, weather permitting. Some interior park roads don’t open to automobile travel until Memorial Day weekend.
Cyclists are urged to call 307-344-2107 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays for updated road access information, or call 307-344-2113 for 24-hour weather information before traveling to the area. Additional planning information is also available online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/springbike.htm.