Yellowstone National Park may be closed to vehicles for the season, but visitors to West Yellowstone can still enjoy an abundance of spring activities. From crust cruising to scenic drives, the spring weather ushers in recreational opportunities for every traveler. Check out some of the most popular activities below!
Photo courtesy of Freeheel & Wheel
From late March to early May, area visitors can enjoy perfect conditions for crust cruising, a seasonal highlight for cross-country skiers. The warm spring sunshine softens the snow during the day, while overnight freezing temperatures harden the surface into into a smooth, shimmering crust. Skate skiers can glide, or “cruise,” over the sparkling crust without sinking into the deep snow beneath. Crust cruising allows skiers to quickly and easily cover a large amount of ground and ski across areas that would be difficult to access in the middle of winter. Ideal crust cruising conditions occur when daytime highs climb to the 40s and 50s and nighttime lows dip into the 20s, teens, or single digits.
Some of the best area crust cruising can be found just outside of town on Hebgen Lake. Visitors who want to explore the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, which remains open to traffic year-round along Highway 191, can check out Fawn Pass and Bighorn Pass. Closer to town, visitors can crust cruise the Rendezvous Ski Trails, especially along the Windy Ridge Trail.
Photo courtesy of Jim Peaco/Yellowstone National Park
Cycle-only days are a dream come true for spring visitors looking to experience Yellowstone National Park without the distraction of peak-season traffic. The park closes to public tours and vehicular traffic in the spring as park staff clear the snow-covered roads and prepare for the summer season. During this time, visitors can bike, walk, run, and enjoy other non-motorized activities on certain park roads with only limited traffic from park employees and construction crews. Biking along Yellowstone’s roads during the quiet of spring is a favorite seasonal activity for visitors and locals alike. The roads re-open to public vehicle traffic on April 16, 2021.
From West Yellowstone, cyclists can enter the park’s west entrance and bike to Madison Junction or continue on to Mammoth. Visitors who want to cycle outside of Yellowstone can follow a scenic bike route that begins at the Highway 191/287 junction north of town. The route continues along Highway 287 to Quake Lake and offers stunning mountain and lake views.
Riparian Exhibit at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
Photo courtesy of Diane Reinken/Yellowstone National Park
The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center offers visitors the chance to catch an up-close look at grizzly bears and gray wolves. The center houses grizzly bears, wolves, and a variety of birds of prey that cannot survive in the wild. The rescued animals serve as ambassadors to help educate the public about their wild counterparts.
The center expanded in Spring 2019 with the opening of the North American River Otter Riparian Exhibit, which showcases the area’s riparian habitat and examine its relationship to grizzly bears, gray wolves, and the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The exhibit will feature a system of ponds, streams, and riparian terrain housing river otters, cutthroat trout, and other area species. An indoor facility will offer guests an underwater habitat view, including glimpses of fish and otter activity beneath the surface.
After a long day of crust cruising or biking in Yellowstone National Park, a scenic drive can be the perfect way to wind down and experience the beauty of the region. The road can offer elusive wildlife sightings and panoramic views of jaw-dropping scenery. Visitors can cover long distances in just a couple of hours while reveling in dramatic lake and mountain views from the comfort of their vehicle.
If you ask a local resident for a recommendation on a scenic drive, they’ll probably tell you to drive “around the block”—a 64-mile journey through two states, over two mountain passes, and around three lakes. The drive also features breathtaking scenery and some of the best wildlife-spotting opportunities in the area. Visitors can also drive to explore the neighboring towns of Ennis and Big Sky or venture to Idaho and cruise the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway on the way to Grand Teton National Park. Each drive features its own picture-perfect views and opportunities for wildlife sightings.
Earthquake Lake Visitor Center
Visitors who take a scenic drive along Highway 287 will come across Earthquake Lake Visitor Center approximately 25 miles northwest of West Yellowstone. The center re-opens for the season on May 29, 2021. Stop in to find out more about the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake and the “night of terror” that ensued. Exhibits provide information about the area’s rich geologic activity while panoramic views allow visitors to witness the mountain that fell and the lake it created.
The center also offers area maps to help visitors explore the surrounding landscape. The maps identify various nearby points of interest marked with interpretive signs that tell the story of the night of the earthquake. Some points of interest feature short walks, including trails to the Refuge Point overlook and the old Hilgard Lodge. One point of interest even allows visitors to drive along part of a road that was destroyed by a landslide.
Yellowstone Historic Center
West Yellowstone’s oldest building, the beautiful Union Pacific Depot, opened in 1909 to welcome travelers arriving on the Oregon Short Line’s Yellowstone Special. Today, the depot is home to the Yellowstone Historic Center. The historic center’s mission is to showcase the story of travel “to and through” Yellowstone National Park as well as to highlight the park’s influence on the surrounding region.
Exhibits include interactive displays, historic artifacts, and daily films. The museum also runs weekly educational programs, hosts guest speakers, and provides guided walking tours of West Yellowstone’s historic district. Check out the museum on your next area visit when it opens for the season on mid-May, 2021.
West Yellowstone is an ideal destination for a spring vacation. Yellowstone National Park may be closed, but adventure still abounds! Come visit West Yellowstone in the spring and enjoy the area’s unique variety of seasonal activities.
AUTHOR: CAITLIN STYRSKY