For a few magical weeks between the end of the snowmobile season and the onset of the summer car traffic, Yellowstone’s roads are open exclusively to nonmotorized users. This means that bicyclists, walkers, runners, Rollerbladers, and roller skiers can cruise through the park in near silence with eyes focused on bison traffic as opposed to wide Winnebagos. Depending on the seasonal snow, the road between the west entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs typically opens the last Friday in March and stays open to nonmotorized users until the third Thursday in April. Opening can be delayed in heavy snow years due to the need for plowing.
Sometime in May there is normally a brief period of bicycle-only traffic permitted from the east entrance to the east end of Sylvan Pass, and from the south entrance to West Thumb Junction. The roads between Madison Junction and Old Faithful, and Norris Junction to Canyon, remain closed to all traffic during this spring season for human safety and bear management.
The relative silence allows some unrivaled wildlife viewing and necessitates great care.There is something truly spellbinding about being on the open road in the park, the wind whistling through your helmet. The relative silence allows some unrivaled wildlife viewing and necessitates great care. As nerve-racking as it can be to be engulfed by a herd of bison while driving in your car, coming across them on your bike is an entirely different scenario. Still, if you are cautious and respectful, being on your bike can allow you to feel somewhat less like an intruder and more like a resident. You can fall into sync with the flow of the rivers, the movement of the breeze, and the calls of the animals. It is truly a remarkable way to experience the park.
With that said: Respect, restraint, and absolute caution are of vital importance to your safety and the well-being of the animals. Keep a good distance from all wildlife—25 yards from ungulates and 100 yards from predators. Remember that bison can run at speeds topping 30 mph, and they can jump a six-foot fence. Harbor no illusions about your immunity from an attack. The fact that you have approached silently allows for more of a startle factor for the animals and increases the likelihood of a conflict. Wear a helmet, and dress in layers: Yellowstone in spring can go from blue skies to blizzard conditions in a staggeringly short period of time. Be prepared for anything, and understand that there are no services in the park at this time. Enjoy this spectacularly unique opportunity to enjoy the park up close. For specific information about road openings, call 307/344-2109.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Montana & Wyoming.