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Yellowstone: Mammoth Hot Springs

September 29th, 2015

What happened…

Andrew writes: Neither of us slept well. Either it was Mr. Elk with his Leisure Suit Larry impression outside all night, or it was something else. I blame my new sleeping pad. It is 30% thinner, lighter, and less comfortable than my previous pad. After a little bit of whining, Amanda agreed to swap pads with me. Win-win!

We set off down the highway towards Yellowstone National Park. It was only 15 miles in to Gardiner, which is the northern gateway, and official entrance to the park. We were in for a surprise after only 12 miles though!

Up ahead in the distance, we spotted what looked like a brush-fire in the grass on the side of the road. It turns out that it was steam from a hot spring; possibly Corwin Springs?? Anyhow, we parked our bikes on the side of the road and climbed over some rocks, and waded in the river, and had a great time exploring! Strangely, no other passing vehicles bothered to stop. I think it’s weird how this little spring attracts absolutely no attention, when less impressive springs in Yellowstone attract thousands!

We rolled into Gardiner around lunch time and headed for Outlaw Pizza, advertised as “The Best Pizza in the West!”. This got me to thinking, what is the best pizza we’ve had since we started this trip 14 months ago? Amanda and I both agree it was in Radium Hot Springs. Ok, so we roll up to Outlaws….and it is closed. In fact, pretty much every business in town is closed because it’s “out of season”. No problem, we ride on. Up ahead, a sign proclaims, “Best Burgers in the West!”; also closed. Then we come across a cafe that is open, until 2pm; it’s 1:45, so we don’t bother. We finally end up at a place called Cowboy’s, which serves up authentic Wyoming BBQ (is that a thing?). Since we were both really hungry, so far I will agree, it’s the best in the west.

After lunch we made a quick trip to the grocery store to stock up for enough food to last us until we reach Jackson, WY in about a week. The best value had to be 3 pounds of bacon for only $5; hopefully the low temperatures at night will help keep it from spoiling. There was a lot of construction on the road up to the gate, and then we were there, Yellowstone National Park. Huzzah! Oh wait, the board here says that all of the campgrounds are full?? This seems reminiscent of Lake Louise, where we were told in no uncertain terms that the closest campsite was 50km away. The park ranger wasn’t sure if there were hiker-biker sites available at any of the campgrounds. It’s a felony, akin to first-degree murder, to camp at a closed campground. Ok, no problem, we tell him we’ll just cycle the 84 miles to the next campground and off we go!

There is something special about this place. On the five mile ride from the park gate to Mammoth Hot Springs, we saw a herd of pronghorn antelope, another herd of rocky mountain sheep high up above on the cliffs, several elk at various ranges, and even bison within 50m of us. We could’ve gotten closer to the bison I suppose, but they are so huge and unpredictable, it can be pretty daunting.

After a few miles we came across the “Boiling River” hot springs, which is a public swimming hole. Water of different temperatures comes spitting out of the hillside and joins the Gardner River. Several small rock pools have been created with river rock and there were about a dozen people enjoying their time. Ignoring the “No Bicycles” sign, we cycled the half mile from the trailhead to the springs and then soaked ourselves for a little while. As the springs poured right in to the river, it was easy to find just the right temperature for both of us.

We finished our little break and pedalled the rest of the way up the winding road to Mammoth (Hot Springs). The narrow shoulder and busy highway made for quite an interesting ride, and it remains to be seen how much better, or worse, the cycling conditions get as we continue through the park. As it stands, right now I would give Yellowstone a failing grade as far as bicycle friendly.

There is a campground at Mammoth, and despite being full, there were hiker/biker spots for only $5 for the two of us. It is our first time paying for lodging since we left Jasper in July. Still, it’s a decent enough campground. We took a walk up a path to the main townsite of Mammoth, which includes a visitor centre, general store, hotel and a bit further down the road are the “hot springs”. There are elk on the hills around us, making more “Looking for love” calls, but hopefully they don’t keep us up all night.

Amanda writes:
I have heard so many good things about Yellowstone and I was super excited. Sometimes when you’re excited about an event it can be a let down. Yellowstone is awesome! Everything I thought it would be. The animals we saw the moment we entered the park were fascinating. It was almost like they knew they were safe within this boundary and played right up to the edge.

As Andrew mentioned we may run into some camping challenges. There are only 2 campgrounds open and they are full and all the rest are closed for the season. We forged ahead and figured we’d figure things out as we continued along. The visitor centre was a nice short walk from the campsite and it had wifi so we could do some planning. Looking forward to doing some exploring tomorrow.

Today’s Photographs

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Alright, let's get cracking!
Yellowstone: Mammoth Hot Springs