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Carefree in a car-free Yellowstone: Cyclists tour park without dodging vehicles

Each spring, cyclists hope for a weather window and a chance to ride through the park when automobiles are absent.

Cyclists enjoy the car-free period on the road between the West Yellowstone and Mammoth entrances in Yellowstone National Park on Sunday, April 14, 2024. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Each spring, cyclists watch Yellowstone weather closely hoping for clear skies that might allow a 46-mile ride through nature without worrying about noisy, charging motor vehicles.

Park crews plow snow from the road between the West Yellowstone and Mammoth entrances, then before the route opens to vehicles, hundreds of cyclists swarm to pedal past Mount Haynes, Gibbon Falls, Roaring Mountain and dozens of lumbering bison.

This year, cycling opened April 2 between Mammoth and West Yellowstone and along a short section of the East Entrance Road outside Cody. Vehicles begin entering the park today.

Last weekend, hundreds of cyclists pedaled the blacktop, swarming the trailhead parking lots like a caddis hatch on the nearby Madison River. Unlike the uniform flies, the bicycle riders came in all shapes and sizes, from streamlined road warriors to upright tourers to Brady Bunch families with their kids’ striders.

Some make a short poke from West Yellowstone to Seven Mile Bridge, others plan a two-day, 90-mile out-and-back traverse from Mammoth with an overnight motel stop. It’s all done without the worry of being hit or run over, although limited administrative traffic also uses the route.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Kelli Hart, co-owner of Freeheel and Wheel, a sporting goods store and coffee shop in West Yellowstone, Montana. “You can hear the birds singing, have a conversation without cars buzzing by you.

“A lot of people will make this an annual day or event,” she said. Cyclists come from Utah, Idaho and “all over Montana,” she said. One man flew in with his bike from Portland, Oregon, for his 11th annual ride.

Cyclists in Yellowstone enjoy the care-free season at Beryl Spring on the road between the West Yellowstone and Mammoth entrances. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

With two clear days in a row, last weekend “was quite crazy and busy,” Hart said. Yellowstone rangers counted 226 cyclists between Norris and Mammoth on Saturday, said Morgan Warthin, the park’s chief of public affairs.

“We underscore for people there will be traffic on the road — utility vehicles,” she said, and that cyclists should ride single file.

Spring is the most vulnerable time for wildlife, she said, and an excursion comes with the responsibility to steer clear of bison and grizzly bears. Warthin has cycled the road several times, welcoming spring with a motorless tour.

“It was a joy,” she said, “still is.”

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.