If you're looking for an incredible bike ride in the national parks, head to Yellowstone National Park now, when you can pedal between West Yellowstone, Montana, and Mammoth Hot Springs without sharing the road with private vehicles.
Plowing operations currently are under way in the park, and until April 26 the general public won't be allowed to drive into the park (outside of the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City, Montana, which is open year-round). But between now and then, cyclists are being allowed in to enjoy the fresh air and sights.
Unfortunately, there is no spring bicycle-only access toward Old Faithful or Canyon during this time. Still, the ride from West Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs takes you along the Madison River, by the Monument Geyser Basin, past the Norris Geyser Basin, and past Roaring Mountain as well as Obsidian Cliff. Along with these wonders, there always is some wildlife out and about to spy.
Of course, the downside is your ride will turn into a 100-mile roundtrip unless you figure out a shuttle. Or, you could add panniers to your bike, take camping gear, overnight in the Mammoth Campground, and reverse your ride the following day. If you're thinking the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel might have a room, it's closed until May 3.
As always, a bicycle trip into Yellowstone this time of year is not to be undertaken lightly. The quickly changing weather can be challenging, and snow and ice may still cover sections of road. Bears, bison, elk, wolves and other wildlife could be encountered at any time. No services are available along these sections of road, and 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 have a plan for self rescue or repair and be prepared to be out in severe winter conditions for an extended period of time in the event they experience a mechanical breakdown, injury or other emergency. Cell phone coverage throughout the park is sparse and unreliable for communicating emergencies.
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.
Cyclists are urged to call 307-344-2107 from 8 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 committing to any park ride. Additional planning information is also available online at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/springbike.htm.