Author Topic: Traffic in Yellowstone  (Read 3729 times)

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Offline big blue cat

Traffic in Yellowstone
« on: December 10, 2019, 07:03:21 am »
Been thinking about 2020 & were I want to go. I would like to go through Yellowstone.  Thinking of starting in Billings & going to Cooke City to Jackson Hole or vice versa. I haven't been to this part of the park before by bike. I have heard the traffic is bad & no shoulders. I have ridden from W. Yellowstone to Jackson Hole> There was a lot of traffic but if I remember correctly there was a ok shoulder. Thinking about leaving a few days after labor day. Any thoughts

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2019, 07:29:22 am »
No comment on traffic since it's been 19 years since I rode there...Other than to say that Old Faithful toward Teton park was not fun back then. Also, check park schedules some services start shutting down after Labor Day.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2019, 08:36:00 am »
Traffic is heavy, but it is doable.  Picking the best days of the week and times of day to be riding is pretty helpful in avoiding the worst traffic.  Early morning traffic is typically pretty light and folks tend to desert the park mid day Sunday and not crowd back in too heavily until Friday.

Overall, I didn't find traffic unacceptable, but I arrived late in the day Sunday and wasn't there on the weekend.  Also I am pretty traffic tolerant and tend to ride early in the day, so YMMV.

The worst of it was the rental RVs.  Do watch out for them.  They really shouldn't rent them to folks who have probably never driven anything larger than a small SUV.  If it wasn't for them I'd recommend the park without hesitation.  As it is I still recommend it but with a bit of a caveat.

Offline jamawani

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2019, 09:17:28 am »
Scott -

Based on your previous posts I'm going to guess that you are from Louisville and are close to retirement age.
Also, that you have experience with tours or a week or two.
Plus, camping or motels??
All are important given the route you suggested.

I have lived in Wyoming since 1990.
I have biked every roadway in Yellowstone many times - most recently this past summer.
I've also biked all of the approaches. Once lived in Jackson in the 1990s.


The Beartooth Highway from Billings into Yellowstone is brutal.
Coming from near sea-level would make it extra tough with risk of altitude sickness.
With prevailing winds southerly and westerly - the opposite direction may be better.
Also, ending in Cody rather than Billings. (Yeah, limited air service and more $$.)
Compare the downhill profiles heading east on US 212 vs. Hwy 296.
On the Beartooth you would be crunching brakes - on Hwy 296 you can fly.
Both have serious climbing - best left to the end of a trip.

Jackson is easy to fly into with excellent services in town to prep for a bike trip.
Excellent bike trail from Jackson to Jenny Lake.
Hiker/biker camping in Grand Teton and Yellowstone - but these close during Sept.
Major work n the highway between the two parks - nasty, gravel surface summer of 2019.

Northbound, the South Entrance Road in Yellowstone involves a big climb with no shoulders.
This should be attempted only in the early morning or evening when traffic is lighter.
West Thumb - Lake Road is lovely with shoulders. Make sure to take Gull Point Rd.
Lake - Canyon Road is terrible, scenic but terrible. No shoulders, broken pavement edges, drop-offs.
Gorgeous views and incredible wildlife. Worth it, but challenging.
North Rim Drive at Canyon is a zoo with cars and RVs galore. Ugh!
Canyon is one of the best camping/lodging spots with incredible hikes.

Canyon - Tower Road has less traffic but no shoulders and crosses Dunraven Pass.
Sweet 8-mile downhill zoom heading northbound.
The Northeast Entrance Road thru the Lamar Valley is delightful.
It is one of the nicest rides in the park or anywhere.
Consider stopping to hike out on the Lamar River Trail.

Labor Day is late next year - Sept. 7th.
The earlier you ride in Sept., the better the weather.
Also, services close soon after Labor Day throughout Yellowstone.


25 years ago, September used to be a great time to cycle in Yellowstone.
Beautiful time of year - far less traffic. Crisp - maybe with a dusting of snow.
Not so anymore.  It's almost as busy as summer with reduced services.
So it can be harder to find camping and/or lodging in Sept. now.
And traffic is almost as intense.

In addition, the National Park Service used to have caps on concession prices.
Rooms/cabins that used to cost $175 per night are now north of $400.

« Last Edit: December 10, 2019, 09:41:30 am by jamawani »

Offline big blue cat

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2019, 05:06:24 pm »
Yes you are correct about 2 of 3 things. I am from the Louisville area & i do have lots of touring experience but I am retired & loving the heck out of it. I have looked into Cody & you're right about the $$$$$. I really like the Yellowstone area. I have been Beartooth but I didn't go through Yellowstone.

Offline hikerjer

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2019, 03:50:58 am »
Gotta weigh in on this one. I live in Billings and have ridden your route, esp the Beartooth Pass, on numerous occasions.  First, concerning Yellowstone. I've ridden just about every road in the park and while they aren't great, they are certainly doable. As has been mentioned, much depends on your timing. After Labor Day would be best but the weather can be iffy the later the season gets.You just don't know but I'd bet on the good side. Weekends and mid-day are not the best but I've ridden during those times without much trouble but I have a fairly high tolerance for traffic. You don't say if you're camping or not but both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park campgrounds have hiker/biker campsites which run $5-7 dollars and there is always room. The Lamar Valley is, ideed, beautiful. I wouldn't let the negative vibes deter from the ride.  Now the Beartooth Pass. One of my favorite rides and like you, I'm an old retired guy but still try to the ride pass once every summer although I didn't make it last summer for some reason I'm not sure of. I've crossed it twice fully loaded on my touring bike and numerous times on my road bike. Guess I have to disagree with the previous post about the Beartooth Pass being particularly brutal. High, yes. Hard, yes.  Long, yes but brutal depends on you and the situation I guess.  We all have different experiences. I've ridden far worse. The Lost Coast of California comes to mind.  The grade on the Beartooth Highway is rarely more than 6% and there are plenty of places to pull over and rest amid outstanding scenery. Slow and not particularly heavy traffic and good shoulders for the most part. Of course, at that elevation, weather is everything and I mean everything. On both of my tours across the pass I've lucked out and had great weather but I've been up there when it was absolutely miserable. As you probably know, the pass is almost 11,000 ft and above timberline muchof the way so there is absolutely nothing to hide behind if the weather goes south. It can be horribly miserable and even downright dangerous so if there is any hint of sketchy weather wait it out in Red Lodge (great little town) or plan an alternative route, perhaps through Cody, WY and the east entrance to the park where the elevation is not so great and it's still gorgeous riding along the Shoshone River. Also, the advice about altitude sickness is worth considering. I've seen it disable really fit riders and hikers at lower elevations than the Beartooths. Might be another reason to spend a day in Red Lodge to acclimate a bit. Anyway, for what's it's worth, that's my opinion.

If you'd like, shoot me a PM and we can discuss it in greater detail. I may even be able to help you out when you get into Billings.  Are you flying in?  Help you out - that is if I'm around.   My tentative plans have me on my own tour around then.  But you never know.

Best of luck and go for it.
« Last Edit: December 11, 2019, 02:56:35 pm by hikerjer »

Offline staehpj1

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2019, 05:09:10 am »
In addition, the National Park Service used to have caps on concession prices.
Rooms/cabins that used to cost $175 per night are now north of $400.
It had not occurred to me to address lodging prices, I had just assumed Scott would be camping in the hiker/biker sites, a bad assumption maybe.  Being a bit of a cheapskate, I can't imagine paying $400 per night especially on a bike tour.  I have a hard time wrapping my head around one night's lodging costing more than my total lodging and campsite fees for the entire 73 days of the Trans America.

Offline hikerjer

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2019, 10:37:54 am »
Same here.  While I'm open to an occasional motel/hotels, its rare and has to under special circumstances - illness, exhaustion, absolutely prolonged lousy weather, safety, etc. Besides, I love the feeling of freedom and spontaneity of camping  and I guess I sort of like the reverse type of elitism it gives me. You know, the feeling that I'm somehow superior to those poor folks enclosed in the steel and glass of their in RVs. Besides, I'm kind of cheap. Probably not a correct attitude, but there it' is for the right or wrong and I sort of do enjoy it. Apologies the RVers out there.  I know you're good people, for the most part.  Just please watch your mirrors when passing us cyclists.:P
« Last Edit: December 11, 2019, 06:27:04 pm by hikerjer »

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2019, 10:34:00 am »
Everyone has an opinion, so here's mine.

Beartooth Pass isn't all that steep, but it's long, and frankly a bit boring after a while.  Coming from Red Lodge, after you've made the first turn into the mountain and climbed to the next switchback, you've seen the scenery.  It's the ridge across the valley.  You'll keep looking at it from increasing height for another 3-4,000 feet.  The southern side of the pass (in Wyoming) has longer views and more varied scenery (lakes, wooded areas, and a waterfall).  Coming downhill, it passes too quickly.

When I was there (mid-late August), the campgrounds outside Cooke City were posted "No Tent Camping" because of bear activity.  NPS was considering closing Pebble Creek campground temporarily for the same reason.

The north side of Dunraven Pass between Tower and Canyon is the only area I'd have qualms about cycling on the east side of the park.  If you hit it early, you could beat the south-bound traffic to the top.  The rest of the roads on the east and south side can be cycled fairly easily, in the opinion of this road-hardened cyclist.

Coming out of Billings I'd regard as a transport stage, not much fun to be ridden as briskly as possible (or perhaps take a shuttle to Red Lodge).  If I were doing this kind of trip, I'd plan on 2-3 nights at Red Lodge, 2-3 overlapping nights at a motel at Cooke City, and reserve one of the plywood shacks at Tower for a night.  Watch the weather carefully and cancel one or two nights in Cooke City if the weather even mentions rain.  Hit the Beartooth on a clear day and spend your nights inside in active grizzly territory.  Sure, it'll cost more, but you don't have to get the $400/night Lake Hotel luxury suite, and I look at this lodging as money spent to make the trip safe and enjoyable. 

Alternatively, you could hop over the ridge from Red Lodge to Belfry and head south on 120, then climb Chief Joseph Highway to meet up with 212 on the other side of Beartooth Pass (plan on a night somewhere in there, either an NFS campground or perhaps one of the ranches in the Shoshone valley).  Chief Joseph (196?) is simply gorgeous.

If you haven't seen Old Faithful and the geothermal area below that, it'd be worth an extra day.  Personally I'd stay off the roads on the northwest corner of the park -- go over from West Thumb and return the same way before heading south.

I'd stay on the west side of the Snake River (inside Grand Tetons NP) as far south as possible before arriving at Jackson.  US 26 would be less pleasant to drive, what with the rented RVs being returned, the trucks, and all the other park visitors rushing back to catch their flight home.  You may have two of  the three inside the park, but there's something of an understanding that you take the highway if you're in a hurry.

Offline hikerjer

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #9 on: December 16, 2019, 09:29:42 pm »
Well, in all sincerity, I hate to differ with a well informed and experienced rider like Pat, but this is the first time I've heard the Beartooth Highway being called "boring". Usually people who experience use words like spectacular, amazing, beautiful, incredible, etc. I've  ridden and driven it hundreds of time and I still find it spectacular. But like you said, each to his own.

As for camping in grizzly country, sure there are grizz in the vicinity. After all, Yellowstone is just down the road. However, I've backpacked and camped in the area for my entire life and I've never actually seen a grizzly bear there. Like I said, that doesn't mean they are not there but there presence is overstated. Just take the normal "bear aware"  precautions when camping and one should be fine.  You're in a lot more danger from vehicles than you ever will be from grizzly bears. If the NF campgrounds are closed or require hard side campers, the whole area area is national forest which allows dispersed camping anywhere. Just keep a clean camp and you'll be fine. Beats the hell out of paying the ridiculous prices at the lodges in the area and the park.

Red Lodge is great place to hang out and like was said, if the there is the slightest hint of lousy weather, delay your ride.  It's pretty nasty at 11,000 feet when the weather goes south.

The Chief Joseph Scenic /Sunlight Basin Highway is, indeed a very scenic alternative to the Beartooth Highway but not as high or spectacular.  Again, opinion.

As for riding through GTNP, I'd suggest the wonderful bike trail that starts at Jenny Lake and continues all the way into Jackson. Some of the finest and most scenic riding in the country, IMO.  Again as with much riding, weather is everything.

BTW, the closest reasonable priced campground to the town of Jackson is the national park cg at Gros Ventre just north of the park.They should have hiker/biker sites available for $6-8 . Short ride into town from there.  Don't even think about spending the night in the town's parks. The city fathers really frown on that and the police enforce that statute very strictly (don't ask). I did find the JPD very polite and professional.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2019, 10:00:47 pm by hikerjer »

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2019, 05:04:03 pm »
Well, in all sincerity, I hate to differ with a well informed and experienced rider like Pat, but this is the first time I've heard the Beartooth Highway being called "boring". Usually people who experience use words like spectacular, amazing, beautiful, incredible, etc. I've  ridden and driven it hundreds of time and I still find it spectacular. But like you said, each to his own.

Please do differ, otherwise all our discussion threads would be two posts long.  Question?  Answer.  Done.

I should have specified the climb up to Beartooth on the north side, coming from Red Lodge.  South side was indeed beautiful, as I noted.  And the top was interesting, too.  But staring at the one ridge for three hours?  Look, there's trees, then a landslide, then a rocky face; switchback, landslide, trees; switchback, landslide, rock face.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  I kept looking at the road going up the ridge across the valley and wondering where that went, and if it came back into the main highway at the top.

Or do you put up with the tedium of the climb because you've been up the pass so many times that you're looking forward to the change of scenery you know is coming above the rest area, and then the view from the plateau?

Offline hikerjer

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2019, 05:18:08 pm »
I guess I just don't find the ride tedious. It always inspires me. Maybe it's just the sense of accomplishment in completing that long of a climb.  Anyway, beats a lot of mountain roads where it seemed I climbed forever and never got out of the trees.

The road you referred to across the canyon leads to the Hellroaring Plateau, one of several (eight, I think) plateaus in the Beartooths.  There is a large basin of lakes at the bottom of the prominent peak you see cross the canyon - Mt.Rearguard (12,204 ft) - which are popular backpacking and fishing destinations. The road dead ends just at the edge of the plateau.  Gotta come out the same way you went in unless you're walking and then it's one heck of a hike out.


« Last Edit: December 17, 2019, 11:20:37 pm by hikerjer »