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Adventure / January 18, 2018

Coming soon: The Jackson-Yellowstone bike route

Written by: Jan Bennett

If Tim Young gets his way, even casual cyclists will soon have a way to tour some of the wildest country in the lower 48. Young is the brains behind the proposed Greater Yellowstone Trail: a 180-mile, largely-paved corridor that would connect existing trail networks in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. If completed on schedule, the trail would stretch uninterrupted from Jackson Hole to West Yellowstone in Montana by the end of 2019.

“All of the communities along the entire Greater Yellowstone Trail are really excited about it,” Young told Shoulders of Giants. “Individuals are facilitating their own sections and then supporting each other to try and complete this whole project.”

Designed with foot and bicycle traffic in mind, the route passes through Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, three national forests, two state parks, and multiple municipal and county parks.

The proposed loop will connect several existing trail networks, many of which were built along old railroad beds. Those complete systems, which are a mix of paved and gravel trails, make up about 70% of the finished route. 

As a long-distance cyclist, I’m excited to see that this trail will connect two of America’s most well-established cross-country routes: the TransAmerica U.S. Bicycle Route 76 and the Great Divide Bicycle Route.

Connecting these routes will provide touring cyclists and bikepackers with a seamless means to connect to virtually unlimited miles of designated and well documented routes. (But don’t worry—the GYT will be clearly marked, so riders won’t be likely to wander off it). 

“Many of the communities [along the route] have additional riding that’s available that’s not immediately the Greater Yellowstone trail, but there’s loops and connected pathways that are available,” Young said.

So if a 180-mile ride isn’t enough for you, there will be plenty of ways to extend it. 

Of course, the true highlight of the Greater Yellowstone Trail is the land it winds through.

The region was long used by by Native American tribes as seasonal hunting grounds, and portions are held as sacred by the Crow, Blackfoot, Shoshone, Flathead, Gros Ventre, and Nez Pierce tribes. That heritage pervades the route, Young said, and all riders will likely leave the trail with a deeper understanding of the land’s spiritual value.

The route is also defined by a more recent force in western history: the railroad. Much of the route is built on repurposed railways, so riders will see many old railroad bridges and buildings along the way. Many of those have stood for more than 100 years, but have now been repurposed for foot and bicycle traffic.

Bikepackers along the Greater Yellowstone Trail will find plenty of camping options, both at designated campgrounds and in undeveloped backcountry sites. Primitive camping abounds in the Caribou-Targhee, Custer Gallatin, and Bridger-Teton National Forests.

 If camping doesn’t quite sound like  your idea of a relaxing trip, various lodging abounds, like the Mesa Falls Lodge just outside of Warm Springs or the Huntsman Springs Lodge in Driggs, Idaho would allow for a lighter travel load while enjoying a hot shower and a bed at the end of the day, as well as easy access to restaurants.

Resupply will be plentiful along the route; local communities offer plenty of restaurants and grocery stores to help fuel those tired muscles from long days of adventure.

Sections of the trail are already under construction, lead by local municipalities, city, and state governments. Funding  is being provided by a number of grants, including the American Trails “Trail Planning & Design” award and the recently awarded Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s 2017 Doppelt Fund Grant.

For now, the stars seem to be aligning for Young and for his vision. We’ll keep an eye on this project going forward—and we’ll be among the first to hit the trail when it’s finally complete.

Maps and featured photo courtesy of WyoPaths. Additonal photos courtesy of BLM/NPS. 

Want to learn more about this project? Email your questions to us at [email protected]

about the author

Jan Bennett

An adventure seeker at her core, Jan Bennett has always been drawn to the outdoors and being active. Completing three different wilderness expeditions before graduating high school, Jan has always been at home in the wilderness. Even though she has a degree in Technology Management and a minor in Business, Jan took the leap and left corporate America in 2015 in order to persue her cycling passions. On any given day, you can find Jan in Dallas, Texas preparing her mind and body for the next outdoor adventure.

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