Time to think about cycling in the national parks

Luke Ramseth takes photos during a spring ride in Yellowstone National Park with bison relaxing in the background. (Jerry Painter photo)

It’s that time of year when things change. Frankly, I’m ready for it.

While there’s more snow falling in the mountains and skiing is still pretty good, there’s a subtle difference, at least at lower elevations.

The robins have returned, the tulips are appearing and the two nearby national parks have begun plowing roads.

I’m looking forward to cycling the park roads before they are open to car traffic. Warm weather also means hiking and climbing.

My big spring plan is to get up early early on a coming Saturday morning and ride from West Yellowstone, Mont., to Mammoth Hot Springs and back (about 100 miles). If that distance scares you, a round trip from West Yellowstone to Norris Geyser Basin and back is about 60 miles. If that distance is still too much to swallow, you can ride from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction — about 28 miles round trip. And if that distance is too much, just turn around at the first snarling grizzly bear or charging bison.

Riding Yellowstone is tricky for working folks who only have the weekends free. The window of opportunity is narrow. With iffy weather and April 20 as the slated opening for cars to be allowed into the park at West Yellowstone, there are only a few weekends available.

“As of today, spring plowing is in full swing in preparation for the road opening and we do not have a date when bicycles will be allowed on the interior roadways,” said an email from the Yellowstone public affairs office.

The office also warned that there is a section of road under construction on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs that will be unpaved and could be muddy.

Grand Teton National Park offers a wider window of opportunity, with vehicles forbidden from the main park road through April. The Teton Park Road is a pleasant ride from the visitors center parking lot to Signal Mountain Lodge about 15 miles away. You can trim the miles by parking at the Taggart and Bradley Trailhead parking lot (often congested) and also turn around at places such as Jenny Lake.

On clear days, the scenery can’t be beat with snow-capped mountains and bright blue skies. This is a popular ride, especially on weekends, and you won’t be alone. It’s fun to see everyone from serious speed demons to kids on bikes with training wheels.

For those wanting to add more miles, you can start your ride from Jackson, Wyo. Be warned, the bike path from Jackson to the park isn’t cleared until the snow melts.

When the roads get cleared of grit from winter sanding, a popular ride is from Victor over Teton pass to Wilson, Wyo. Once you get to Wilson, you can pick up the bike path that takes you all the way to Jenny Lake.

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With the temperatures rising, rock climbers are beginning to visit the local crags. Rock walls such as Pointless and South Park (along the South Fork of the Snake River), Ross Park and Massacre Rocks and the Playground (along the Blackfoot River) are good bets for early spring climbing. Keep in mind that spring conditions often mean loose rock.

Also remember that the land above the cliffs at Pointless and South Park is closed to human entry through April 30. That means no setting up top ropes from above until the area is open.