This week in Yellowstone, we will have heat and snow, wolves and bears and more bluebird sightings. I also share one of my favorite hikes for this time of the year and warn about mud season. The roads are open for biking and running, and the snowpack is melting. Spring has arrived in Yellowstone and I hope you are headed this way too.
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BIGGEST NEWS OF THE WEEK
Bike or Run the Interior Roads
Remember a few weeks ago when I said you may be able to hike up the closed roads in the park? Well, now my suggestion is official. On Friday, March 25, bicyclists and road runners hoping to brave the unpredictable elements of spring in Yellowstone National Park can run or ride 49 miles between the West Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs. In a bit of transparency, the press release issued on this does not mention running. Every year when the roads open to bikes, I ask staff if I can run the roads and I have never heard no. Rangers and staff are usually more bewildered at my question. It is, from my experience, allowed.m
Glad we could clear that up.
The park announced that the following sections of the Grand Loop Road between the West Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs will open to running and cycling:
– West Entrance to Madison Junction
– Madison Junction to Norris Junction
– Norris Junction to Mammoth Hot Springs
Bicycles and runners will also be permitted from the East Entrance to the east end of Sylvan Pass when the weather is decent. Check the park website before heading out, though. Also know that you are not allowed on the remaining interior park roads until they start to open to public automobile access at 8 a.m. Friday, April 15.
The park wants everyone to know that a spring trip on the closed roads in Yellowstone must be taken seriously for the following reasons:
- Snowplows and other motorized vehicles operated by park employees or construction workers on the road.
- Quickly changing weather conditions.
- Temporary road closures due to weather conditions.
- Snow and ice covering sections of road.
- Wildlife on roads.
- No services available, except limited restrooms.
The press release wraps up with my favorite part. The park staff reminds visitor to stay safe while on these spring adventures following these guidelines:
- Ride during day light hours only.
- Anticipate encountering bears, bison, elk, wolves and other wildlife.
- Stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other wildlife. Prepare to wait or turn around if bison or other wildlife are on the road.
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
- Stay out of closed areas.
- Ride single file and follow all other rules of the road.
- Plan for self-rescue or repair. Cell phone coverage throughout the park is sparse and unreliable for communicating emergencies.
- Prepare to spend an extended period in winter conditions in the event of a mechanical breakdown, injury or other emergency.
These adventures should be taken seriously and the warnings are pretty solid. That last one, about preparing to spend an extended period in winter conditions, is not to be taken lightly. None of them are. That being said, I think I know my adventure in the coming week. Who wants to join me?
Greater Yellowstone Coalition Releases Map of Tribal Connections
On March 24, 2022, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition released a new map that celebrates and recognizes the 49 tribes who have ancestral connections to the lands that are now Yellowstone National Park. The map shows the scale at which the indigos populations traveled and how far their reach was, bringing to light a history that was buried under manifest destiny. I could go on about all of this, but will instead share the map and let you ponder on it for awhile.
It could be worse, I guess. Honestly, this mediocre snowpack is frustrating. It shows hope and gives us a glimmer of a normal summer, but then it melts away. We are still well below average and this will not change. I mean, it could change, but nothing on the horizon looks like it will deliver the three or so feet we need.
WEATHER FOR THE COMING WEEK
This weekend will be warm. Us locals will say it is hot. That will change after the weekend and by mid-week, expect snow the further east you go. It shouldn’t be a lot, but it could impact your day. Prepare with layers and know that the sunny days at elevation can burn you, even when the temperatures are low.
This is the weather.com forecast for the three closest areas that are currently drivable in the park- Gardiner, Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City. While they don’t specifically cover the entire region, these forecasts give a great idea of what to expect all around the region. As always, weather can and does change fast in the park, so always be prepared for anything.
ROADS AND CAMPGROUNDS
Road wise, the main things to be aware of are falling rocks, wildlife and occasional ice the further east you get, especially with the forecasted snow mid-week. The roads won’t be remotely bad most days, but still drive slow and safe. The roads are narrow and it is easy to get distracted.
For up-to-date information call (307) 344-2117 for recorded information, or sign up to receive Yellowstone road alerts on your mobile phone by texting “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions). Anticipate possible road closures due to inclement weather and dangerous driving conditions.
Planning on camping in the park this week?
Last week I saw quite a few hearty campers in tents at Mammoth and I expect this weekend will see even more. While cooler weather at the start of next week will not be as comfy, camping season is picking up. It won’t get slammed until June or so, but it is coming.
The snow is melting, making animals harder to spot, but the warm weather makes them more active, so weeks like this really are all about timing and luck. You’ll have some good bison encounters on the roads, as well as elk and bighorn sheep near the Yellowstone River Picnic area. Keep an eye out for coyotes and foxes, as well as badgers. Last week, I saw fresh holes that had been dug out while hiking in the backcountry of Lamar Valley. Eagles were also a common sight last week, especially around Mammoth, while you also may catch a flash of blue from the returned rocky mountain blue birds.
Now, about the wolves and bears. Where to begin. Last week, there were some incredible wolf sightings early on and then nothing. Grizzly bears have yet to be spotted on a reliable basis. This is actually good news. While last week was a bit inconsistent with sightings, this week could be more active. The super warm weekend weather is definitely going to encourage some waking up and roaming, as well as some ponds and deep snow areas melting out. The smell of rotting flesh should be strong enough for grizzlies and wolves alike, so keep scanning.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Walk the Slough Creek Road to the Closed Creekside Campground
Around this time of the year, the snow on this dirt road starts to dwindle, leaving many snowshoers and cross country skiers looking elsewhere. In the winter this road is popular with them, but in the spring, you can have it almost all to yourself. The best part is that around this time of the year over the last five years, I have had some incredible wolf encounters while walking this road. You’ll probably also see bison, and maybe even a curious coyote near the road. You may even see a fresh bear print in the mud or snow. SO obviously, bring your bear spray.
Honestly, this roughly five mile round trip trek, with one decent sized hill and some smaller rolling ones, is perfect and a wonderful way to get into the wilds of the park. Sure, you are walking along a road toward a seasonally open campground. You are also heading behind a mountain and away from the rush of cars heading to and from Lamar Valley. It is quiet here. It is peaceful. It is a place to watch the ice melt on the creek as you listen for the howls of wolves that are no doubt nearby.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Plan on Muddy Hikes
Unless the trail you are hiking is always in sunlight (facing south), you will start to encounter mud on the trails. For the next month or so, many trails that should be a literal and metaphorical walk in the park become muddy messes. There is pretty much no gear that will make this travel easier, which is why finding hikes along gravel roads or the boardwalks at Mammoth are your best bet. There are still some snowy trails available for snowshoe treks or cross country skiing, but they are getting fewer and farther between. The rangers will be able to direct you to some non-muddy trails, or you can also message me and I will tell you where I would go. There is fantastic hiking to be had, but seriously, avoid the mud.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Curious about something not mentioned in the post?
Send me an email or message on social media and let me know how I can help.
The Bear Den Near the Petrified Tree
As the warmer weather increases, make sure you pop on over to the pullout near the turn to the petrified tree. The spot offers not only a great vista to the north, but also gives a glimpse almost directly into a black bear den on the side of the nearby hill. The bears have been active during the day. Well, not active, but moving around and visible. Each day that passes may see them more active, with the cubs roaming around and playing. You will see people set up with tripods and cameras here all day, but unless you only want to see this, don’t linger too long. Just stop by each time you pass and hope you are lucky. If you want to pass the time while staying in the area, I highly suggest walking up the closed road to the Petrified Tree and maybe taking a jaunt to nearby Lost Lake. This is a great spot to see bison shedding their winter coats on rocks, dirt and sage. Just remember to keep your distance from all wildlife.