Author Topic: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route  (Read 4373 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline marxistdisco

Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« on: February 21, 2022, 06:29:46 pm »
Hi all,

My girlfriend and I are currently planning our summer tour across the country, starting in Georgetown, DC in early June and ending in Astoria, OR in late August. We're reasonably competent cyclists but this will only be our second bike tour, the first one being a week in Norway last September. We're keen to keep the route as short and flat as possible. We'll be incorporating several different ACA routes, but we're currently undecided on whether to do Yellowstone or Grand Tetons.

The current plan is to follow Parks, Peaks and Prairies through SD and WY, and then take the TransAmerica Trail from West Yellowstone to Missoula, then the Lewis & Clark from Missoula to the coast. However we're quite keen to see the Grand Tetons - partly because of the spectacular scenery, but also because we've heard bad things about traffic on the roads in Yellowstone in the summer months.

The alternate option we're considering, then, is to veer off the PPP route at Ten Sleep and head south via Thermopolis, then rejoin the TAT and do the Teton Valley Alternate route, down to Jackson and then back up to West Yellowstone on the western side of the Tetons. This would allow us to see the Grand Tetons, however it would add 150 miles and 7,000 ft of climbing to the trip, and I've also read that a lot of the roads on the Alternate route are actually no better than the TAT roads through Yellowstone.

So I guess I have three questions really:

1. How do the PPP roads through Yellowstone compare to the TAT roads through Yellowstone? Do they suffer from the same problems, e.g. heavy traffic in the summer months and minimal-to-no shoulders?

2. Has anyone done the connection from PPP to TAT via Thermopolis and then the Teton Valley Alternate route, and is it worth the additional distance/climb in order to see the Grand Tetons instead of Yellowstone?

3. Does anyone know of other ways of incorporating the Grand Tetons into a route that also includes the other highlights of the PPP, notably Badlands, Black Hills and Bighorn? (though we wouldn't be too upset about a detour around the latter, given the climbing involved).


Offline John Nettles

  • World Traveler
  • *****
  • Posts: 1873
  • I ride for smiles, not miles.
Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2022, 06:50:48 pm »
First, welcome to the ACA Forums! 

The local Wyoming expert will chime in most likely with a wealth of info you should seriously consider. 
However, another option is to ride the PPP to Yellowstone, ride down to Jackson, then take the Alternate to Tetonia then break off the route. 

From Tetonia go to Rexburg > Arco > Challis > Stanley (nice section with lots of roadside hot springs! > Lowman > Horseshoe Bend > Vale, OR > the junction of US-26 & OR-7 where you rejoin the TA.  This use to be a somewhat popular "short cut" and while you get some great scenery, you miss out on the Lochsa River, Missoula, White Bird pass, etc.  This route is also more remote so you have to plan your stops a bit more carefully.  This alternate route also has a couple of short heavy traffic sections but nothing unreasonable.  But any route over a couple hundred miles is almost guaranteed to have a section or two of heavy traffic.

Personally, if you leave early in the morning (by 7am) and take short days (done by Noon) on weekdays, I do not feel the Yellowstone Roads are that bad.  The TA Alternate is not that bad either and the weekday traffic counts are about the same.  You just tend to get a little bit wider shoulder.  If you have not been to Yellowstone it IS nice. 

As far as Thermopolis goes, I have driven it but since I have been touring for 45 years, I have a bad tendency to look at every road from a touring cyclist point of view.  I personally would enjoy riding from Ten Sleep > Worland > Riverton (traffic a bit heavy around Riverton but nice shoulders) > junction of US-26 & US-287 where you join the TA.  In fact, given your time constraints and wishes, I would probably do this route then after Jackson, head back north to Yellowstone and continue from there.

Tailwinds, John

Offline jamawani

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2022, 12:37:50 am »
Hi Disco Man -

There's nothin' better than dancing to "Disco Inferno" or to Donna Sumer at 3 a.m.
But, I regret to inform you that there are very few discos in Wyoming.

Whether you are bike touring in Yellowstone or Xinjiang or New Zealand in 2022 -
there is likely to be lots of traffic, especially after 2 years of Covid.

I helped develop the PPP route and have lived in Wyoming - incl. Jackson - since 1990.
The Black Hills, Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole will all be quite busy.

The Black Hills have the Mickelson Trail which is excellent, but they are heavily developed.
Mt. Rushmore is like a WalMart parking lot on Saturday; lots of Harleys going to Sturgis.
Yellowstone is the Serengeti of America - spectacular wilderness if you hike a short distance.
If you cycle super early and evening you miss most traffic and see more wildlife.
The Tetons are truly eye-popping. I x-c skied under the Grand many times, biked too.
There's a hiker/bike campsite at Jenny Lake and great hiking.

Even though the Bighorns will have more visitation this year,
I'll bet you find them your favorite part of the West because they are much more peaceful & quiet.
I would suggest Buffalo - Ten Sleep - Riverton - Grand Teton - Yellowstone - Canyon - W. Yellowstone.
The alternate route is just not worth it - you are right, narrow roads, almost as much traffic.
If you provide me more info, I can be more helpful.

PS - If you want to bike Yellowstone when there is no traffic,
try just after they plow in April, but when the park is still closed to cars.
Crisp, blue sky days and big snow banks and super riding.


Not sure how you are getting across the Great Plains -
Warning - Badlands N.P. is brutally hot in mid-summer. No shade. Many miles with zero services.
I would urge US 20 -ish across northern Nebraska - low traffic & shoulders.
And you can take a day off rafting on the Niobrara River.
Another warning - The Northern Rockies have had a very dry winter. Fire may be an issue.

Westbound on the L&C in the Columbia Gorge you will be riding downhill in your granny gear.
There's a reason for Hood River being a mecca for wind surfers.  Maybe an alternative?
Topping Chinook Pass into Mt. Rainier N.P is nirvana. (If I may mix my religions)
Then head via Packwood and Cathlamet out to Astoria - much of which is ACA route.
Cape Disappointment on the Wash. side is much more dramatic than Fort Stevens.

Best - J

Pic - Bighorns in June

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2022, 12:32:46 pm »
A few notes.

First, you're going to be climbing to get to/through Yellowstone.  Not much flat, but the good news is there's about as much downhill as there is uphill.

Second, I agree strongly with John Nettles about timing in Yellowstone.  Ride early, park or find a camping spot or room, go see the sights all afternoon.  Most of the traffic starts picking up around 10:30-11:30, except for the half hour after Old Faithful erupts when the O.F. parking lot erupts.

Third, while I'm not sure how you're arranging transportation, I'd suggest adding a couple days on the end of a west-bound trip.  Divert to see the Firehole River and all its thermal features (including Old Faithful), then go over the divide and south to Jackson.  There's a long downhill going from Yellowstone to the Tetons, and yes, they're worth seeing for yourself.  A day from West Thumb to Jackson Lake, then another day through Tetons N.P., and you'll find it easier to make air connections out of Jackson, WY than you would West Yellowstone, MT.

Offline jamawani

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2022, 11:10:26 am »
Looks like MaxrxistDisco was a drive-by.
I do, sometimes, question why I spend 20-30 minutes in reply.

Offline John Nettles

  • World Traveler
  • *****
  • Posts: 1873
  • I ride for smiles, not miles.
Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2022, 11:21:58 am »
Oh, you never know.  He may be out of town or something.  But yes, an acknowledgment would be nice.

Offline marxistdisco

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2022, 06:17:59 pm »
Sincere apologies for not replying sooner, life got in the way!

Thanks all for your super detailed responses, they're really helpful, and have thrown up more exciting questions!

The latest plan is to stick with the PPP route through Yellowstone, then take a rest day (potentially in West Yellowstone) and hire a car and drive down to see the Tetons. Granted it might not be as majestic from the window of a car as it would be from a bicycle, but we're keen to keep the total mileage as low as possible as we only have 90 days to finish the tour (visa reasons) and want to stay at or below a 50 mile/day average. Judging from Street View images it looks like we'd be on mostly narrow-shouldered roads for about 80 miles on the way into West Yellowstone. The 'ride early' tip sounds like a great idea (well maybe not the waking up at 6am part, but having emptier roads sounds fantastic). I like the idea of doing ~40 miles in to Canyon Village one morning, spending the rest of the day there, and then the next morning doing ~40 miles over to West Yellowstone.

jamawani, thanks for the tip on avoiding Columbia Gorge - I've long been keen to see Mount Rainier NP but had kind of assumed it would be too much climbing for this trip. Turns out it's actually not that much more than the Columbia Gorge route. We're not especially wedded to ending up in Astoria (just needs to be somewhere we can catch a flight back to the east coast) so if there are better routes to the coast from Mt. Rainier NP, I'm open to suggestions! I've mapped out two potential routes for this final section of the trip - one following your suggestions and going through Packwood and Cathlamet to Astoria (, and the other incorporating more of Mt. Rainier NP, heading through Eatonville and Rochester before ending up at the coast near Aberdeen ( Any insight on the best places to finish the trip in south WA/north OR? Also would you say the road to the south of Mt. Rainier (Paradise Rd I believe) offers significantly better views than the road to the east (WA 123)?

Also here's a link to our current full route map, for context: Any additional feedback welcome!

Thanks again,

P.S. That photo of Bighorn looks mouth-watering

Offline jamawani

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2022, 08:47:49 pm »
Steve -

You may wish to start  thread about Mount Rainier N.P.
I've biked most of both routes you've posted.
I rode Mount Rainier NP in 2019.

Mount Rainier NP is one of the least bike-friendly national parks in the U.S.
I don't get it - because it's in the progressive Pacific Northwest.
There are zero hiker/biker campsites - making summer camping very tough.
Plus traffic on Paradise/Stevens Canyon Road is heavy including busses & RVs.
Double plus, there are no shoulders and some mondo climbs.
2.5 million visitors in 2021 - probably 3 million in 2022.
And it's frequently done as a day loop out of Seattle.
(BTW - Paradise Valley parking looks like a mall and the nearby trails are packed.)

Two park options -
a) If you want to do some hiking in the park consider Sunrise Park, just north of Cayuse Pass.
You would need to camp at White River Campground and, almost certainly, need advance reservations.
Then it is a huge climb up - but the hiking and views are magnificent, esp. in the morning.
b) A great edge of park option is the Naches Peak Loop at Tipsoo Lake.
Camp as far up the American River as possible - Lodgepole Campground.
Then start up Chinook Pass super early - the climb will warm you up.
Why? Because the morning sun on Mt. Rainier is amazing - do the hike clockwise.

Either a or b would mean missing the main park road, the traffic & the climbing.
Plus it puts you ending in Astoria with easier connections.
US 12 west of Packwood has good shoulders, but there are nice back roads, too.
Hwy 4 west of Longview has moderate traffic, huge views of the Columbia River.
Skamokawa has a county campground that is nothing short of breathtaking.
I would stay on the norhter side of the Columbia to Ilwaco and the coast.

For a finale, Cape Disappointment is way better than either Westport or Astoria.
All three have state parks with hiker/biker campsites.
Westport - Twin Harbors SP - quaint little town, paved bike trail along the dunes, flat.
Astoria - Fort Stevens SP - more services, old shipwreck on the beach, flat.
Cape Disappointment SP - on the Washington side across from Astoria, rugged coastal cliffs.
Connections from Westport to Aberdeen to Seattle are limited and complex.
Connections from Astoria - 5 thru busses per day.

Offline tqrjeff

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2022, 11:36:10 pm »
Last summer I had a small window for a bike trip in this area that necessitated a one-way route. We rode from West Yellowstone to Jackson and hired a shuttle to bring us and our bikes back to West Yellowstone for around $300 or so. Outside of riding in Teton Nat'l Park there was virtually no traffic and the 150 mile ride following the GDMBR was well worth it. The traffic in TNP is not terrible and there is a reasonable shoulder through most of the park, as well as a separate bike path that runs the final 40 miles all the way to Jackson.

If you decide to do this I can look up the name of the shuttle company and also provide a little insight on the route, including an alternate from the Warm Springs Campground to the Targhee Nat'l Forrest.

Have fun!

Offline John Nettles

  • World Traveler
  • *****
  • Posts: 1873
  • I ride for smiles, not miles.
Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2022, 12:15:33 am »
We rode from West Yellowstone to Jackson and hired a shuttle to bring us and our bikes back to West Yellowstone for around $300 or so.
First, welcome to the ACA Forums!

People can also book with Salt Lake Express, a schedule bus service.  Today's cost to go from Jackson to West Yellowstone for about $57 plus about $15 for the bike.  The big downside to this is that it takes 8 hours and 2 transfers but IIRC you do not need to box the bike.

Tailwinds, John

Offline Ty0604

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2022, 01:39:28 pm »
FWIW: I’ve bicycle through Yellowstone on three separate occasions and never had any issues with traffic. Most traffic is traveling prettying slow. Some sections of the park have a shoulder but even in the sections that don’t I was never bothered. I worried more about the fluffy cows than the traffic. They can be a little intimidating to pass on a bicycle.

I’ve also bicycled through the Tetons twice and like them a lot better than Yellowstone. More my scenery and less busy. Once I had to backtrack out of Yellowstone due to weather and take Teton Pass over to Jackson. More MUPs in the Tetons as well.

Cyclist cannot camp at Fishing Bridge.

Enjoy the Badlands and Black Hills, have toured in both places twice. South Dakota is my favorite state to tour in. Be sure to check out the George S. Mickelson Trail from Edgemont to Deadwood and ride Spearfish Canyon to Spearfish. My first tour I rode Interstate 90 (which is legal) across the state but on my last trip I did a loop that included going through Scenic and then taking 90 back.

Happy Touring!

Edit: Mistakenly said Bridge Bay inside of Fishing Bridge
« Last Edit: March 04, 2022, 04:20:17 pm by Ty0604 »
Instagram: tyjames0604


Offline jamawani

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2022, 02:40:25 pm »
Yellowstone National Park has some of the best hiker/biker camping of all parks - national or state.
There are hiker/biker campsites at everu campground except Slough Creek - including Bridge Bay.
Sometimes these facilities are closed - such as Tower Falls last year and maybe this - because of construction.
If you are told there is no hiker/biker camping - it is usually because summer camp hosts do not know. (They should but ...)
Gently stress that YNP has a written policy on hiker/biker camping and urges (not guarantees) no-turn-away.

Here's my rating list:

1. Canyon -
Camping either on the camping loop or down in the ravine with peace & quiet and grizzlies at night.
Showers, laundry, campstore, visitor center, and fabulous hikes into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

2. Indian Creek -
A small, quiet campground halfway between Mamoth and Norris. Just water & a picnic table.
But the views of the Gallatin Range are gorgeous with excellent hiking in a less-visited part of the park.

3. Pebble Creek -
Not a particularly good camping spot - right at the front of the campground.
But a detour into the Lamar Valley and the northeast part of the park is so worth it.

4. Norris -
Hiker/biker campsites are on a small stream away from general camping - lovely.
Plus, you can visit the Norris Geyser Basin in the evening or early morning when it is practically empty.
(May be under reconstruction in 2022)

5. Madison -
Long history of camp staff welcoming cyclists with coffe in the morning. Right behind the entrance.
But wonderful meadows with buffalo and elk along the Madison RIver.

6. Tower Falls -
Small campground with s steep climb up, limited shade.
Campstore nearby with steep trail into the Yellowstone Canyon.
(May remain closed in 2022 due to road construction)

7. Bridge Bay -
Meh. 432 campsites mostly in the open. The hiker/biker site is just a campsite set aside - moves by year.
Nice sunsets over Yellowstone Lake and you can access lovely Gull Point easily.

8. Grant Village -
A monstrosity of 1960s park planning. Huge - 430 campsites, loud, and impersonal.
All services - store, cafe, laundry and showers. Opens late because of bear habitat.

9. Mammoth -
In a S-curve of the highway, noisy with no scenery. O.K. if this is where you need to stop.
Mammoth village headquarters has all services and the park museum.

10. Lewis Lake -
Mosquitoes, mosquitoes, mosquitoes. I have never camped here without hiding in my tent.
Usually a good place to stop northbound/westbound from Jackson - but arrive late and leave early.

Slough Creek has no hiker/biker campsites. It is small and remote and will probably be full.
Fishing Bridge is for RVs and camper trailers only.

Offline marxistdisco

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2022, 04:35:10 pm »
Thanks so much jamawani for the list of campgrounds, that's a really useful resource to have and will definitely help with our planning.

Thanks also for the tips about the roads in Mt. Rainier NP. Sounds like we should steer clear of Paradise/Stevens Canyon Rd. I like the sound of the Naches Peak Loop option as it allows us to take in some of the scenery without adding too much climbing or riding the busier roads.

Apologies if this is a silly question, but what do people do with their bikes and gear when they head off on foot for a day hike? Would there be places to lock things up at the Naches Peak Loop trailhead, for example?

Offline jamawani

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2022, 05:18:00 pm »
PS -

Really, it's only 115 extra miles to take a southerly loop from Ten Sleep to Grand Teton then back to Yellowstone.
Think about it - - how long would it take to switch from bikes to a car then back again?
Plus you would want to do a day or two of driving, no? Timewise, it's a wash.
And car camping is next to impossible in Grand Teton, but there are a-m-a-z-i-n-g hiker/biker sites at Jenny Lake.
Bag the car idea. It's morally suspect anyhoo.

PPS - There are some austere badlands just west of Ten Sleep on Hwy 16.

Pic - Teton Sunrise near Jenny Lake, 2005

Offline Ty0604

Re: Traffic in Yellowstone on the Parks, Peaks & Prairies route
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2022, 05:24:32 pm »
Nice photo jamawani! Both times we toured through Grand Teton we stayed at Signal Mountain. First time they had room but the second time they were full. They allowed us (two cyclist) to camp behind the restrooms/showers for the evening and snagged a spot in the morning.

Pic: Sunset at Jackson Lake, 2017
Instagram: tyjames0604