Imagine two national parks, three national forests and three states linked by more than 180 miles of trail. This is the Greater Yellowstone Trail, a bike path through some of the region’s most scenic landscapes. And it’s nearing reality, said Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways.
The 180-mile Greater Yellowstone Trail will connect Jackson with West Yellowstone, Montana, via sections of the old Yellowstone rail line through Victor, Driggs, Tetonia, Ashton and Island Park in Idaho.
The vision for the trail began in the late 1990s, when a federal initiative solicited long-term trail project ideas for funding. Wyoming built a pathway from the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson up a mile of Highway 22 with grant money from that program. But it wasn’t until 2015 that community and agency stakeholders made a concerted effort to link existing trails and create a long rideable route through the ecosystem.
Victor, Idaho and Teton County, Wyoming received approximately $5 million in combined grants this fall to help complete paths over Teton Pass between Wilson and Victor, Young said.
The new section will include two miles of pathway from Moose Creek in Idaho to the Wyoming-Idaho state line, including a Highway 22 underpass at the Mike Harris Campground. From the state line it will continue about a quarter of a mile and include an underpass to Trail Creek Campground. Those projects are expected to be completed in 2019, Young said. (See map at end of story.)
The remaining Wyoming funds will help pay for the last section of trail from Trail Creek Campground to the top of Teton Pass, stitching together all but six of the approximately 17 miles from Victor, Idaho, to Wilson, Young said. Bikers can use two miles of old transmission line access road leaving only four miles that need to be built from scratch on the Teton Pass portion of the trail. Young didn’t know exactly how many section or miles would be left when with the Teton Pass section finished, but said it left only small gaps in the overall trail from Grand Teton to West Yellowstone.
Aside from crossing the iconic national park and forest landscapes, the Greater Yellowstone Trail offers access to local communities and fun features, Young said. The Ashton-Tetonia Trail, for example, crosses old railroad bridges with spectacular views.
The trail also offers other recreation opportunities and ways to explore the area. The Greater Yellowstone path connects to other mountain biking, running and hiking trails.
The Greater Yellowstone Trail “is sort of becoming a spine that has a lot of interesting opportunities for visitors and locals from each community,” Young said.
Young doesn’t know when planners will be able to finish the Greater Yellowstone Trail. It all depends on funding for trail construction and improvement. But even though it’s not officially finished, people can still ride from Grand Teton to West Yellowstone primarily on pathways — provided they’re willing to brave a few gravel and dirt road sections. With the rising popularity of gravel or hybrid bikes, which have thicker, more durable tires than road bikes, but aren’t as heavy as mountain bikes, more people are making the trip, he said.
Grand Teton National Park plans to extend its bike-path as far north as Colter Bay. Eventually, Young envisions people riding from Colter Bay, through Grand Teton National Park, over Teton Pass, all the way to West Yellowstone.
“Talk about a low-carbon vacation,” he said. “I think it’s a visionary look at how we can be more sustainable in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”
If people took advantage of the finished pathways, it could alleviate pressure from cars in the parks and surrounding communities. It also will offer a chance to connect with the landscape in a more intimate way, Young said.
“I’m excited for the Greater Yellowstone Trail to reimagine vacations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” he said.