40.2 mi / 12.0 mph / 1489 ft. climbing
Home: Colter Bay Campground hiker/biker site
It’s time to leave Yellowstone, after “only” ten nights in the park (compared to our 24 nights in Glacier National Park). I’m sure that’s still far more time than the average visit to Yellowstone, and more than triples the amount of time I’d spent on my first two Yellowstone visits combined. The Yellowstone road network can be divided into 13 segments, by adding the incredible Northeast Entrance road and the less-spectacular Canyon-to-Norris connector on this visit, I’ve now covered 12 of the 13, leaving only the segment along Yellowstone Lake (from Fishing Bridge to Grant) untouched. I thought we might see a bit of that segment while visiting some hydrothermal areas that way during our stay at Grant, but the rain prevented any excursions from happening there, and it didn’t seem worth extending our stay just for that.
Overall I’d say the bicycle-tourism experience matched my expectations pretty well: more-challenging to do a long-term stay and exploration at than Glacier, but still doable and worth the extra effort, with the hiker/biker sites again being a critical factor to make such a thing possible.
But we still had one more of those road segments to ride to the South Entrance/Exit, and maybe this would be the one where the famed traffic nightmare of Yellowstone finally gets us? It’s a section that’s genuinely and continuously shoulderless (which has surprisingly not been the case for most of the segments we’ve been on), and we’ve gotten multiple warnings about it (the section up north between Tower and Mammoth is another one), with higher speeds and limited sightlines making it more dangerous. Well, Yellowstone decided to grant us a peaceful farewell, letting us transit the entire park without ever once feeling threatened by the vehicles. Once again I’m sure a huge portion of this was due to our intentional plan to be on the road very early (6:40am today), and then a short automatic-light-controlled one-way construction section helped to group the passing vehicles in small bunches.
Early on we did our sixth and least-dramatic (almost unnoticeable) crossing of the Continental Divide, and then stayed relatively flat until a nearly 1000-foot drop off the Yellowstone cone.
Through the John D. Rockefeller Parkway we had a nice shoulder, but then in got a bit intermittent inside Grand Teton National Park, and traffic picked up to the point where we occasionally had vehicles waiting behind us for a minute or so, but the “we’re all on vacation here” ethos seemed to keep everyone chill and they made their passes safely. Grand Teton technically has a separate entrance fee from Yellowstone, but for some reason there is no fee station when entering from the north, so I guess we’re here for free? (the same doesn’t apply if going from Teton to Yellowstone.)
Colter Bay is perhaps the biggest of the three National Park “villages” we’ve been in (after Canyon and Grant in Yellowstone), and the hiker/biker area of the campground is more than half a mile from the registration office/store/etc. Here the hiker/biker sites are essentially regular individual campsites (each with their own nice bear box), but there are 10 of them! And they can certainly be shared if necessary, but there appear to be only two or three occupied tonight.
The store was a wonder! It’s basically a full grocery store, with an extensive produce section, meat, dairy, etc. It’s by far the most-complete store we’ve seen in a national park, and even substantially better than the outside-of-Glacier stores at St. Mary and East Glacier. We almost felt like we should spend more than one night here just so that we could take advantage of the store!
As we finished up dinner, a heavy downpour rolled through, including thunder and lightning. I had again made some attempt to pitch our tent in a place where water wouldn’t pool around it, but I failed even worse this time than I had at Grant (it’s a lot easier to identify the spots where water will pool when there is water in them!) After the rain stopped a pool at least an inch deep (and much deeper in some places) surrounded the entire tent, and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to go away. I attempted to dig some drainage channels, but the topography prevented that from being very effective, so the better solution was to dig a sump pit, and use an increasingly-soggy Pringles can to bail out the pit. That worked pretty well, and the good news is that our tent floor remained watertight.