In our time at Yellowstone National Park, we’ve noticed how differently we view the park and its sights when we are riding our Harley, versus driving our Mini. When we are riding, the journey is often more than the destination, so we spend more time just enjoying the views along the road. We also don’t do much hiking from the bike – it’s just too hot in jeans and motorcycle boots – so the things we stop to see have to be relatively close to the road. We feel lucky to have two ways to experience this gorgeous place, so we thought we’d post our thoughts and pictures separately, too.
Our first couple rides into the park were done from our spot at Grand Teton RV Park Resort in Moran, WY. That put us about 35 miles from the Southern Gate, but the drive was through Grand Teton National Park, along Jackson Lake, and then across the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway that connects the two parks. Gorgeous!
The southern road crosses Moose Falls on Crawfish Creek, winds along the Lewis River, past Lewis Falls and along the shore of Lewis Lake, to West Thumb and Grant Village where it meets up with Grand Loop Road.
Heading East and North on the Grand Loop road meanders along both Yellowstone lake and river. The lake is HUGE! When we are riding, our lunch spot is usually some scenic spot along the road with a table. Sometimes, the “table” is a big rock, but it’s scenic nonetheless. We stopped for lunch one day right by the inlet to Bridge Bay Marina. It was a great spot for watching the boats and the lake.
Just past this area, the Lake Yellowstone Hotel is a great reminder of the long history of visitors at Yellowstone park. It’s a neat old building and it was cool to see one of the old tour busses waiting for passengers out front.
Beyond the hotel the lake flows into the Yellowstone River. It starts as a wide, meandering river which makes a great riding companion. LeHardy Rapids seems to begin the fall down to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and has a cool boardwalk for viewing the Cutthroat Trout swimming upstream to spawn and some wood ducks sunning themselves on a rock right in the middle of the rapids.
We could easily smell Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring hydrothermal features before we could view them. This area also included a Sulfur Cauldron, so that’s probably no surprise. The Dragon’s Mouth Spring was our favorite as it had a constant billowing steam and the water flowed out in mini surges. Really cool!
Hayden Valley is one of Bob’s favorite parts. The tree lined roads give way to rolling prairie, wildly meandering rivers and creeks, and wildlife abounds. Bison, geese, elk, swan and even grizzly bear!
The Yellowstone River has carved a pretty amazing canyon as it drops away from the lake. The Upper Falls and Lower Falls are amazing and the colorful canyon walls are beautiful. “Grand Canyon” seems like a bit much, when compared to the one in Arizona, but the site is pretty awe-inspiring.
The last road to open for the season connects Canyon Village to Tower Fall and on to Roosevelt Lodge. It winds up through the trees to reward you with great vistas to the South before Washburn Point and to the North and East past Dunraven Pass. Wildflowers abound and there are both fire scarred areas with dead trees and vast rolling meadows.
Tower Falls is named for the pinnacles of rock surrounding the falls. The overlook is a short walk from the visitor center and a great time to stretch your legs. The cliff hugging road past the falls seams to be cut out of (and under in some spots) the ash layer created by Yellowstone’s eruption about 640,000 years ago. You can see the same layer by the road and across the narrow river canyon. The Narrows is the last and narrowest part of the canyon.
Roosevelt lodge is located at the junction with the Northeast entrance road. The lodge and cabins are another part of the history of the park. This is where they offer stage coach rides. It sure brings history to life!
After moving to West Yellowstone at the end of June, we cut our mileage to the park dramatically. While we are now only about 4 miles from the entrance, the volume of traffic is substantial and we’ve been stuck in it for up to 30 minutes. That may not seem like much, but on a hot Harley in the midday sun, the time seems to crawl. The west entrance road follows the Madison River. Another winding river road is just what’s needed to wipe away the bad entrance traffic memories! It’s amazing to see how water flowing on “the path of least resistance” is often so winding and rarely the shortest path. The mountains along the river are crumbling into huge talus piles from the freeze-thaw cycles. After growing up along the muddy Missouri River, viewing the crystal clear waters of these rivers is amazing.
Going South from Madison junction on the Grand Loop leads toward Old Faithful and the main geyser basins. This area is usually packed with traffic and the geyser basins are fairly extensive walks/hikes, so we usually ride North instead toward Norris. Terrace Spring is just past the junction and has beautifully colored hot springs and an abundance of wildflowers. What a great spot!
The road then follows the Gibbon River much of the way, so its another winding, river road treat for motorcycles. Beyond the great curves, is Gibbon Falls, which has a cool overlook. This falls looks like a big slide rock as the water flows down over a bumpy rock face rather than tumbling from one River height to the next. Beautiful!
Norris geyser basin is also a bit of a hike, so we saved that for a Mini day. This summer, the road from Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs is under some major construction and after driving it in the Mini we are both glad we’ve got the option to skip that one on the motorcycle!
There is a cross road connecting the west and east sections of Grand Loop road that runs between Norris and Canyon. This road has a neat side trip. Virginia Cascades Drive is a one way loop off this road that leads to a beautiful waterfall. Much like the Gibbon Falls, this one doesn’t seem to tumble as much as the falls on the Yellowstone River. It’s narrow, and twisty, so the road is listed for “autos only”, but this is a great side trip for motorcycles!
Riding Yellowstone has given us a great vehicle for experiencing the wildlife, majestic vistas, wonderful pine and wildflower smells and amazing curves offered by the roads in the huge park. Being retired has given us the time to soak up the beauty in multiple trips and it never gets old.