By Lou Melini
Yellowstone National Park is fabulous to ride through. I had not ridden through Yellowstone since 2014, and I was itching to go back. Procrastination and a home remodel found me cancelling 2 trips and the end of August was approaching. As I was thinking about Yellowstone up popped a “Ride home from West Yellowstone starting September 16 announcement on a bicycle meet-up group. I signed up before I looked at my schedule. Due to my home remodel and family needs riding to and from West Yellowstone was not going to happen. It appeared that I was stuck until I remembered that the Salt Lake Express bus travels to West Yellowstone.
I checked the website and then called to ask questions about the bike. No problem; for 10 extra dollars Salt Lake Express will provide a trailer that you can roll your bike onto. According to the reservation person, if I changed my date of departure, they would simply transfer that reservation to another day. You must call vs. using the website to make a reservation with a bike. The $10 fee is the same fee charged for “more than 2 suitcases or boxes” according to the website, a reasonable fee, especially when compared to airlines.
In addition to West Yellowstone, you can use Salt Lake Express to get you to the start of your next bike tour (or backpack trip) in Boise, Idaho, Great Falls, Montana, Jackson, Wyoming, Logan or St. George Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada, Page, Arizona and if you wish, to Zion, National Park along with many points in between. I thought the overall fee was a very reasonable $76 ($86 with bike) to West Yellowstone. Gas and long-term parking, the latter being $5-10/day in my recent experiences, can eat up that $76 quickly. Also you can leave the driving to Salt Lake Express, though the driving time will be a bit longer due to their stops along the way. I should mention that I received a $3 senior discount as well and the driver had cold bottled water for the passengers.
I made my reservation for September 12, with the plan to ride a few days in Yellowstone before meeting up with Todd Crum of St. George for the ride home. Todd also had a reservation with Salt Lake Express for the bus to West Yellowstone. I chose the downtown Salt Lake City location to catch the bus on the corner of West and North Temple. I had a choice of 7:30 AM or 9:30 AM, but both departing times arrived in West Yellowstone at 4:55 PM due to the earlier departure having a 2-hour layover in Rexburg, Idaho. I took the latter time.
The bus driver helped me lift my bike onto the trailer (no rolling it on), padding the bike with cardboard and some foam after he snuggly secured it between the wall of the trailer and an object under a blanket that was shaped eerily like a coffin. I tipped the driver for his care of my bike. In Rexburg, I helped move this object to another trailer and indeed was an empty coffin, a cheaper way for the coffin manufacturer to transport his inventory. At this point I had to lie my bike on its side as there is no means to secure your bike to the trailer wall in an empty trailer.
The ride was a bit long, but I managed to read 5 chapters in James Michener’s book Mexico and view the scenery. I hoped that we would arrive promptly as scheduled in West Yellowstone as I planned to ride the 14 miles into Yellowstone to the hiker/biker camp at Madison Campground vs. staying in a West Yellowstone campground with a very pricey (potentially to $46) fee. The bus stopped at various locations to pick-up or drop off passengers, allowing us to use the restrooms or purchase food. Overall it was a pleasant ride. The bus driver was quite chatty in a pleasant way that helped pass the time. The only other passengers going all the way to West Yellowstone was an older couple from Kentucky that was seeing the country by train and bus. They were dropped off at a hotel in West Yellowstone and I was dropped off at the visitor center at precisely the scheduled time, 4:55 allowing me time to get into my riding clothes and arrive at Madison Campground by 6:05.
During my second night in Yellowstone at Grants Village, the weather report for the area was getting worse with snow up to 8 inches being predicted above 7000’. I called Todd to tell him I was riding home to Salt Lake and not meeting him on the 16th. Todd then was able to call Salt Lake Express to change his reservation to a couple of days past the brunt of the storm without a charge, a nice policy of Salt Lake Express if plans change. Check out the FAQ’s on the Salt Lake Express for details of the policy.
Todd and I rode to our homes separately but we both endured headwinds for most of the ride, with Todd suffering more than I. I also had night and morning rain showers for 3 days.
Despite the weather I had another great ride in Yellowstone NP where the employees treat you as “royalty”. At Madison campground, I had a personal escort to the hiker/biker site even though I told the attendant that I knew the campsite was behind the registration building. I also met several other bike travelers at Madison including a young couple from Hong Kong on a planned 3-year tour. At Grant Village the attendants at the laundry/shower building were giving traveling cyclists free showers despite the campground registration attendants telling us that showers were $4. Yellowstone is beautiful. If you haven’t ridden the park you should make it a part of your travel list. To hasten your ride to and/or from Yellowstone NP, use Salt Lake Express and leave the driving to them.
The Salt Lake Express operates throughout the Intermountain West. For details and destinations, see saltlakeexpress.com.