640,000 years ago, the land under present-day northwest Wyoming exploded. The eruption ejected over 240 cubic miles of magma from an underground magma chamber causing the land above to collapse into an enormous caldera. It was the latest in a series of massive volcanic eruptions in the area that have been going on for millions of years in today's Yellowstone.
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the world's first national park. Since then, it has attracted visitors from all around the world who have been wowed by its display of geysers, hot springs and dramatically colored pools unlike anywhere else on the planet.
It is also one of the few American national parks with designated bike trails. That makes touring by bike a very popular activity in the park.
LocationYellowstone National Park spans 3 states: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 95% of the park and all its main facilities and visitor centers are located in Wyoming. Montana has 4% of the park and 3 of its 5 entrances. Idaho has the remaining 1% of "empty" land.
There are 3 "gateway towns" in Montana on the park boundaries: West Yellowstone (west), Gardiner (north) and Cooke City (northeast). The nearest major airport is Billings Logan International located in Billings, Montana. The nearest airport serving overseas flights is Salt Lake City International in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Places of Interest
Upper Geyser Basin
The upper geyser basin is Yellowstone's most famous. The area includes Old Faithful, Geyser Hill and Morning Glory Pool all of which may be accessed by a a relatively short bike route. The trail to Lone Star Geyser heads up alongside the Firehole River beginning south of the Old Faithful area. Old Faithful Visitor Center makes predictions for 6 of the geysers in the area so check in with them first.
Midway and Lower Geyser Basins
Just north of Upper Geyser Basin are the Midway and Lower Geyser Basins. A bike route runs between them and gives views of Grand Prismatic Spring from above. It starts just south of the Midway geyser basin and runs north to Fountain Flats Drive.
This is another of those few peaks which a biker can summit entirely on bike. Only the northern route via Chittenden Road permits biking. A fire lookout tower is at the summit. The summit may be very crowded during the daytime and thunderstorms are a constant threat in the summer (when the area is open) so try getting here as early as possible.
A short 1.5 mile (round trip) trail up a canyon from Bridge Bay leads up to a large natural bridge. Trailhead is just across (to the south of) Bridge Bay from the turnoff to Bridge Bay Village.
Mammoth Hot Springs
While the Lower Terraces are foot-only, the Upper Terraces Drive is an excellent place for bikes as the filled-up parking lots aren't an issue nor is stopping where there isn't parking. The loop begins to the west of the Lower Terraces parking lot. A trail around the east side of Bunsen Peak also starts in this area and leads to Golden Gate to the south.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the part of the park that makes you feel small. (if nothing else did) The North Rim Drive is the best way to see the most of canyon by bike. Start early or go at night to avoid the heavy traffic during the day.
Park RegulationsLike all national parks, bikes are restricted to designated trails and roads. It is unlawful to take anything from the park whether rocks, plants or soil. Fishing is allowed in the park with a state fishing license (depending on which part of the park) for anyone over 12. Stay 300 yards away from bears and 100 yards away from other wildlife. Wildlife have the right of way on trails and roads.
CampingBackcountry camping requires permits issued by the park visitor centers. Reserve a permit as soon as possible as they are taken very quickly. Note that there are only a few bike trails that go far enough to count as "backcountry".
The park also contains numerous campgrounds all of which fill up on a regular basis. The main campgrounds, Bridge Bay, Canyon, Grant, Mammoth and Madison, require prior reservation. All campgrounds are operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts.
Standard bear procedures apply.
Yellowstone National Park sits on top of one of the world largest supervolcanoes. An enormous magma chamber is just a few thousand feet underground and is what powers the geothermal activity seen by millions each year. This well-known hot-spot volcano is known to have erupted numerous times creating a series of calderas over millions stretching from southern Oregon to where Yellowstone is today.
This magma chamber heats groundwater to extreme temperatures causing them rise and bubble out of the ground in geysers, hot springs and pools of boiling water.
Yellowstone is one of those places where the wilderness comes right up to civilization. Inside the park are large numbers of bison, deer and elk as well as many grizzly and black bears. The park also protects moose and the grey wolf. Waterfowl are also common.
The best time to observe wildlife is at dawn and dusk when the animals are most active. Although they can be found anywhere, the largest concentrations are in Lamar Valley in the northeast and Hayden Valley in the central-east.
Be warned that all wildlife is dangerous. Stay away and watch from a distance. Bison can and will charge if disturbed. (at 35 mph!) Bears and elk are aggressive.
Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding lands are referred to as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and includes Grand Teton National Park, Shoshone, Bridger-Teton, Gallatin, Targhee National Forests and other state/federal/private lands in the area. A visit to at least one of these others should not skipped.
Grand Teton National Park
No developed bike trails here but there are a few dirt roads worth looking into. The Signal Mountain Road may be a fun experience if camping at the Signal Mountain Campground at the bottom. If visiting Yellowstone, this is one area that cannot be missed!
The long, winding road to the northeast entrance from Red Lodge is called the Beartooth Highway. It has been called by many as the most beautiful place in America. Whether on bike or on car (or both), the views along this road are quite unlike those anywhere else. The best and most fun way on this highway would probably be to be dropped off at the top at almost 11,000 feet and let gravity take you back down.
Craters of the Moon
Not exactly part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem but nontheless, related. Craters of the Moon was formed from an ancient eruption of Yellowstone when it was under this area. Lava flows covered an enormous part of the land leaving the inky black color seen today. Biking the backcountry roads is a one of a kind experience. And while it probably will not feel like the moon (since when was the moon pitch black?), it will feel like something completely different.
LinksNPS: Yellowstone - Official site for Yellowstone
NPS: Grand Teton - Official site for Grand Teton
NPS: Craters of the Moon - NPS site for Craters of the Moon
UGSG: YVO - Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory
Xanterra: Yellowstone - Campground/cabin reservations in Yellowstone
Yellowstone Biking Routes - A full list of biking options for visitors to Yellowstone