Biking in Glacier and Yellowstone

This post may contain compensated links. Find more info in my disclaimer.
Bikers on Going-to-the-Sun Road near Weeping Wall in Glacier National Park

NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Where To Bike in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks

Read all the way through to find out where to ride in Glacier and Yellowstone in Spring and Fall, the best park rides, and everything else you need to planning your Yellowstone and Glacier biking trip.

As Lauren and Mike Long cycled through Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley they felt a bit of trepidation. Ahead, a grizzly bear was feeding on a bison carcass. Behind them, their 10-month-old son, Tanner, was lounging in a bike trailer.

The bear seemed pretty focused on its lunch, so they teamed up with another cyclist and rode past, making sure to avoid eye contact with the bear. Since the road was closed to cars, sans a few park employees, it was just the bears, bison, bright blue skies and the cyclists.

“It was wild,” Lauren recalls. “Being that close to a bear with no one else around—that doesn’t happen very often.”

The Long family was taking advantage of Yellowstone’s shoulder season; a time when the roads are closed to traffic and cyclists can explore the park without fear of being bulldozed by a driver paying more attention to the wildlife than the road.

It’s not just bears–crisp morning air, steamy hot springs and bison grazing on just emerging grass blades await springtime cyclists in Yellowstone National Park. Geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles can be contemplated without a crowd.

Capping the north end of the state, Glacier National Park is home to cascading waterfalls, flush with spring runoff; mountain goats with fluffy white kids and returning bird songs. Craggy mountains full of snow loom over bikers on the roads below.

Both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks open their roads to bicyclists, roller bladers, walkers, joggers and other non-motorized users in early spring before cars are allowed access to the roads. It’s a way to experience the parks that not enough people take advantage of.

“I’m surprised that people don’t bike in the parks more in the shoulder seasons,” says Becky Edwards, a frequent cyclist in Glacier. “All of the amenities of the park are open, but none of the people are there, yet. Getting to view the park while it’s still largely veiled in its winter jacket is really extraordinary and most people don’t witness that.”

Summer crowds can make biking the National Parks challenging, if not dangerous (and in some places not allowed), but in the spring the roads—and the parks—belong to those willing to work for it. Instead of driving from one designated look-out point to the next, barely noticing what’s in between, bikers get the chance to enjoy their journey at a slower pace and notice the small details.

Becky Edwards, a frequent cyclist in Glacier, also keeps an eye out for bears. Every time she’s ridden in the park, she has spotted at least one bruin. Fortunately, the bears have been less interested in her than she is in them, but she recommends carrying bear spray, just in case.

For Edwards, the lure of waterfalls and spring wildflowers is stronger than fear of a chance encounter with a bear. She has pedaled the Camas Road and the North Fork Road, both on the west side of the park and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Biking allows Edwards to cover more miles than hiking, so when she has a time restriction but still want to get some exercise, she finds it is a great way to go.

“It’s also more of a holistic experience in that you get to smell the air, hear the birds, and get a more intimate portrait of the landscape than being whisked along in a car,” Edwards says.

She appreciates the opportunity to explore the park at her own pace.

“The ability to ride the Sun Road without traffic and to get off my bike whenever I wanted to check out the views and road engineering is awesome,” Edwards says. “The road is on the national register of engineering marvels and being able to look at the craftsmanship of the tunnels and bridges is really remarkable. Also early summer in the park is amazing, the valley is super green and lush and the mountains still chock full of snow.”

Riding the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a bit of a grunt; it’s a steep climb by any measure. According to those who make the effort, it’s well worth it.

Brett DeWoody is one of those willing to do the work. He’s ridden in both Glacier and Yellowstone.

“You’re so much more immersed in the environment when you are on a bike, as compared to riding in a car,” DeWoody says. “You’re going fast enough to feel like you’re moving, but slow enough to see the small details.”

DeWoody has cycled from Seattle to Ohio, from Banff, Canada to Mexico and through Alaska, but he’s still impressed with Montana’s parks.

“From my house in Bozeman, it’s just an hour’s drive to get to Yellowstone–a world class riding destination,” DeWoody says.

He hasn’t ridden through Yellowstone while the roads were closed, yet—he planned a spring ride several years in a row and was turned away by snow and nasty weather each time. But, DeWoody has cycled through Wonderland other times of the year and recalls a few wildlife encounters. Like most park riders, he has been up close with bison and bears.

During one incident, DeWoody remembers thinking, “If that bear comes over here, we are going to have to jump in someone’s car. The bikes aren’t much protection.”

For safety and fun, some riders like to pedal with a group. Each April, on the weekend before the Yellowstone roads opens, a group from Timber Trails—a bike and ski shop in Livingston—gets together to ride from Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris Junction.

Everyone is invited and the group often consists of series road racers, families towing kids in trailers and recreational riders. The weather determines the size of the group, but a few diehards always show up to splash through puddles, plow through snow drifts and gawk at bison calves, cranes, elk and other wildlife that are so abundant in spring.

“It must be some kind of crazy spring fever,” laughs Bev Dawson, a Timber Trails employee and bike enthusiast. “It’s a great way to kick off the cycling season. Yellowstone is such a crazy place in the summer that you wouldn’t dream of riding there, so the couple of weeks in spring when it is open only to cyclists, is the time to go.”


Biking in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks

Biking in Yellowstone

NPS/Neal Herbert

Yellowstone National Park

where can I ride my bike in Yellowstone? This map shows roads open to bikes in Yellowstone in spring and fall.

NPS map

Spring Biking in Yellowstone National Park

From about mid-March (depending on the weather) until the third Tuesday in April, the road between the west entrance to Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs is plowed and open to non-motorized traffic.

YNP Snow removal efforts may allow for a brief period of bicycle-only access into the park sometime in May from the East Entrance to the east end of Sylvan Pass (6 miles from the entrance) and the South Entrance (to West Thumb Jct) depending on road conditions for these early spring activities. The road from Madison Junction to Old Faithful and from Norris Junction to Canyon will not open for spring activities during this time.

The following road segments may be opened to bicycling each spring:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs to the West Entrance
  • East Entrance to the east side of Sylvan Pass (six miles from the entrance)
  • South Entrance to West Thumb
Fall Biking in Yellowstone National Park

Fall bicycling season begins when park roads close in early November and ends when plowing operations stop so that enough snow can accumulate on the roads to support oversnow travel.

Fall biking typically ends by the third week of November. The following roads may be opened to bicycling each fall:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs to the West Entrance
  • Madison Junction to Old Faithful Tower Junction to the Chittenden Road
  • East Entrance to the east side of Sylvan Pass (six miles from the entrance)
  • South Entrance to West Thumb

307.344.2109, Yellowstone Biking Page

Glacier National Park

The plowing begins on the Going-to-the-Sun Road the first week in April. Plows start at the bottom and work their way up to the pass, clearing the way for bikes as they go. The road opens for cars in late May or June. Camas Road is also open to bicycles, but it isn’t plowed, so bikers may hit drifts of snow along the way.

From June 15 through Labor Day, the following sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are closed to bicycle use between 11a.m. and 4 p.m.:

  • From Apgar turnoff (at the south end of Lake McDonald) to Sprague Creek Campground
  • Eastbound from Logan Creek to Logan Pass

Due to ongoing road rehabilitation on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, portions of the roadbed may not be paved. Bicyclists should use caution riding on gravel portions of the road.

Glacier Spring Bike Shuttle

Beginning May 12, 2018, and running on weekends until the road is fully open to vehicles, a shuttle service will operate between the Apgar Visitor Center and Avalanche Creek, with a stop at Lake McDonald Lodge. Until the road opens all the way to Avalanche Creek the shuttle will terminate at Lake McDonald Lodge. Shuttles will operate between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm and are equipped with a bike trailer to transport bicycles.

406.888.7800


Best Bike Rides in Yellowstone National Park

  • Upper Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris Junction—about 18 miles one-way. The first three miles through the Golden Gate is a bit of a climb, but it gets easier and flatter after that.
  • West Yellowstone to Madison Junction—14 miles one-way along the Madison River. Watch for bald eagles and bison.

Best Bike Rides in Glacier National Park

  • Going-to-the Sun Road—32 miles from Apgar Village to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646 feet). About the first half is fairly flat as it follows Lake MacDonald’s shore; then expect to climb.
  • Inside North Fork Road from Polebridge to Apgar Village—28 miles one-way on a gravel road.
  • Camas Road from Apgar Village to Outside North Fork Road—11 miles one-way with lovely views since much of the area burned in the early 2000s.
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.