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Motorcycling in Yellowstone

Two wheels through the fiery paradise

Yellowstone. It's hardly outside of the Pacific Northwest corridor. In fact, about 4% of Yellowstone National Park's boundary line falls on Idaho and Montana, so it's not just a Wyoming kind of thing.

There are several things to know about riding a motorcycle here. Whatever kind of traveling you're doing that brings you to the park, you should allocate at least a day or two in the park to explore its many wonders. Unlike smaller national parks like the North Cascades, you can't blow through or you'll miss much of what the park is about.

Above: The Grand Viewpoint in late afternoon really lets the walls of the canyon light up! So this is why they call it Yellowstone...

For starters, there's the pullouts. There's a lot to see. Might be bison, might be a geyser or it might just be wolfing down a bison dog in Canyon Village. If you think you'll just blast through in a day or less on your next trip to Sturgis, you'll miss a lot.

Above: Pullouts get up close and personal with much of the geo thermal formations.

Top speed in the park is 45 mph. This sensible speed limit keeps wildlife alive and crash occurances are rare.

Incidentally, riding your motorcycle around on the two loops all day,  mounting and dismounting your bike gets a little tedious for the older set. Consider leaving your bike parked and taking a Yellow Bus or other tour line as an alternative on one or more of your sightseeing days.

Accommodations. Not easy in the summer, but things open up after Labor Day, temps are cooler and the park moves into autumn mode, so you may enjoy some time here later in the year, even if you're on the bike. Your choices are indoor lodging, or camping at reasonable rates having your bike within a few feet of your tent on the pavement.

Above: Bison along the side of the road are common. Mind your own business and they won't mind you. Get too close and you may be gored, even if you're riding.

Road Quality - With a typical elevation above 6,000 feet, Yellowstone roads are actually some of the best in the world. The reason is because it's a national park, so don't feel too bad when they wank you for $20 plus at the gate. Part of that goes to road maintenance which is top grade. But it also means you're going to come upon sections that are under repair. Relax, get off the bike and enjoy the surroundings while you wait your turn to move again. They typically don't have more than one or two sections under repair at any given time.

Above: The Yellow Bus tours pack 13 passengers into a 1930s White Freightliner bus and provides a relaxing tour of the park daily during the warmer months. Old Faithful burbles in the distance.

It's Magnetic. Yellowstone National Park is a magnet to every kind of driver in the world. Plan for the following on a daily basis:

  • People who cross the centerline because they are so busy looking at the bison and not at oncoming traffic.
  • People who know you are walking through a crosswalk, but they will come at you at the speed of their choice and not worry about what speed you think they should be driving.
  • Road Toads - There are a few, but before Memorial Day, or after Labor Day it won't be long before you can ride around them. And then it might be some time before you have another driver in front of you.

Above: There are all types of hydro-thermal pools to be viewed ranging from this pristine deep blue spectacle to the various mud and oxide colored pools.

Did someone say thunderstorms? Like so many National Parks, Yellowstone has the ability to create its own weather. If you're camping, be sure to secure your tent for a gale before taking a day ride around the park. If it's 100 degrees when you leave home, do not use that as an excuse to leave your rain gear at home. Pack your rain gear no matter what.

Did someone say Beartooth Highway? Just northeast of the park is the Beartooth Highway, a wonderful delight. If the weather is just right it is awesome to ride. If you plan to ride to Yellowstone, add in an extra day to go to lunch at Red Lodge and return that night, or add it as a one-way trip on your way in or out.

Above: Sitting at 9,000' on the top of the Beartooth Highway between Yellowstone and Red Lodge.

Fire is a common occurrence here in the summer and early fall months. Fires caused by lightning strikes are allowed to burn on their own until they go out and are only managed by humans if they endanger structures in the park. One benefit to having 3% of the park boundary in Montana and 1% in Idaho is that fires crews from these states can be called in for support if needed.

Yellowstone is a grand treasure everyone should experience in their lifetime. Getting to and going from by motorcycle is an excellent way to discover its riches.

Tom Mehren/Fall 13


Tom Mehren is the founder of Sound RIDER! and author of numerous books about motorcycle touring in the Pacific Northwest, available from the Sound RIDER! store.


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