Steve Ellis and I rode the YNP south loop on Monday, September 16 to get an idea of what we have in store for our 200K brevet on September 28 on the same route. Here’s what we found:
It will be cool to down-right cold at the start. Expect temperatures to be around 30-45 degrees and dress accordingly. Also, the weather in Yellowstone is unpredictable so be prepared. Steve and I got rained on for most of the last 13 miles. It was actually kind of pleasant, but that’s not always going to be case.
The roads are generally very good. Most of the route has about a 3 foot wide rideable shoulder. However most of the stretch from Lake Village to Canyon does not have much of a shoulder so use caution there. The shoulder between Canyon and Norris has some big ruts and potholes just outside of Canyon, but it gets better as you go up the hill.
Even though the park is shutting down, traffic will be busy. Our pre-ride was on a Monday and traffic was constant all day. The stretch from West Thumb to Lake had the lightest traffic. Watch out for the big coach tour busses, they didn’t seem to be interested in giving any room. Other than that, motorists were pretty courteous. It seemed like we were passed by the same vehicles all day as they would stop at every road side attraction and then come by again.
My advice is to take it easy on the first leg from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful. Other than one hill just past Madison Junction this is a pretty easy stretch. But don’t blow yourself up, as there’s some big climbing to come.
After Old Faithful we climb up to the Continental Divide and cross the divide twice. The first crossing is Craig Pass, then there’s a short descent and then more climbing to the next divide crossing. It never gets terribly steep (maybe 6%) but the second peak is 14 miles away and 2000 feet higher than Old Faithful. Then it’s a short non-technical descent to West Thumb and then gentle rollers to the Lake Hotel. It’s about 40 miles from Old Faithful to our next control at Lake. This was by far the toughest section for Steve and I and we needed a long break in Lake to recover. So make sure you’re well fed and hydrated out of Old Faithful and have plenty of supplies along.
As I said, the road from Lake to Canyon doesn’t have much for a shoulder. This is in the Hayden Valley and there will probably be lots of bison out-and-about. The wildlife’s presence does tend to slow down the cars and trucks. But watch out for motorists around a bison jam-the drivers are more unpredictable than the animals.
If you’re not too tired, the section between Canyon and Norris is fun. There’s a short steep climb for a mile or so then the climb becomes pretty easy (if the wind is right). Then there’s some big downs and ups with a short 8% descent mixed in. It’s not that long so I didn’t need my brakes. Also, traffic wasn’t too heavy here when we rode.
The best road surface was from Norris Junction to the finish. The shoulder is pretty wide and rideable. But it is very busy from Norris to Madison Junction and there were lots of tour busses.
West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce parking lot: You can park here all day. There are restrooms that were open for us in the morning, but they were locked when we got back. This control will be staffed by my loyal volunteers Brenda and Jackson.
Old Faithful: The Old Faithful complex is huge and everything should still be open for our ride. Steve and I went to the first available store. Take the first left after going over the overpass and on the Old Faithful entrance road-signs are there to guide you. If you want to see the visitor’s center or the geyser itself keep going and follow the signs. There’s another store by the lodge and visitor’s center. Waiting for the geyser can take a long time depending on when it last went off. Personally I wouldn’t wait for it. After it does go off, it will be like rush hour getting out of there for a little while.
Lake Hotel: The only thing still open at Lake will be the dining room in the Lake Hotel. This place is pretty fancy and it’s a sit-down type of restaurant. I’m planning on having Brenda and Jackson meet us outside the Lake Hotel in the parking lot with some snacks and water.
Canyon Village: If you want to actually see the canyon take the right turn on to north rim drive (after the turn to the south rim, and the turn to the brink of the upper falls. The north rim drive will loop to Canyon Village and it only adds a couple of kilometers). If you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone then the side trip is worth it. The restrooms in the Canyon Village Visitor’s Education Center should still be open. These are super nice facilities and they have water fountains with a spigot to fill water bottles. The only place open to get food in Canyon will be the Outdoor Adventure Store. They have pop, chips, candy bars and gas station style sandwiches.
The scenery on the whole route is amazing of course. The views of Lake Yellowstone are especially wonderful. Don’t forget to look around now and then.
Other than bison and a few elk there wasn’t much for wildlife when we rode, but keep your eyes open. If bison are on the road try to keep a car between you and the animal. The bulls are especially grumpy this time of year as it is mating season.
It took Steve and me 10 hours and 40 minutes to complete the ride, including two long rest stops at Lake and Canyon. We finished with plenty of daylight, but we did turn on our blinky taillights for the last 20 or so miles just for safety sake as it got cloudy. Steve observed that when he turned on his taillights cars seemed to give him more room. I would recommend everybody take a taillight and a headlight along just in case you’re delayed and it starts to get dark.
I would recommend that we let ourselves get spread out on the road. Don’t form a long pace line. It is Yellowstone after all. You don’t want to be staring at someone’s back tire for 200K. Also, ride single file and save the visiting for the rest stops. It’s too busy to ride side-by-side and the park rangers really frown on it. Here’s a little video about riding in Yellowstone HERE (scroll down to the bike video).