Notes from the Road: The Perfect 2014 in Yellowstone CountryHere’s my disclaimer: I’m not really one for resolutions. I generally try to reevaluate my year around my birthday in May, because usually, adding another candle to my cake sufficiently freaks me out enough that I feel like I should do some goal setting.
However, I do have a very long Bucket List and fortunately, Yellowstone Country is home to many of the activities I want to check off that list. And because I’m a slight overachiever, I thought I’d aim for one new thing a month (and hopefully give you something to do in every season).
Go snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. How have I not done this yet? I’ve lived in Montana for a few years but I’ve never actually gone to Yellowstone in the winter, nor have I ever gone whizzing up and down groomed snowmobile tracks under a clear blue sky. I’m going to chalk it up to the same reason people who live in New York never visit the Empire State Building or people in San Francisco never going to Alcatraz, but before the first month of the New Year comes to a close, I’m going to perch myself on the back of a snowmobile and see the world’s first national park a different way (bonus points for wildlife spotting).
Hike the Ridge. Let me preface this by saying that I am terrified of heights. I love skiing steep bowls and powdery faces, but there is definitely a lot of compromising going on in my head as I take that first plunge down a steep chute (along the lines of “If you make it down, you can go to the lodge and get a beer”). The Ridge is exactly what it sounds like: the ridgeline running the length of the resort at the top of Bridger Bowl. Amazingly, people will ascend the Bridger chairlift and then strap their skis on their back as they climb up the face for another 20-45 minutes, to the now famous “Ridge.” And then they ski down. It’s like a combination of resort skiing and backcountry skiing.
This sounded absolutely insane to me when I first arrived in Yellowstone Country, but after spending two ski seasons here, I think I’m finally ready to tackle it. Now all I need is an avalanche beacon and a willing buddy. Any volunteers?
(Sidenote: Bridger Bowl also offers guided trips up the Ridge, so if you’re interested in doing it, but nervous about not knowing where to go and potentially hucking yourself off a cliff, check in at the ticket window about a guided trip.)
Learn to kayak. Winter is very long here in Yellowstone Country and, while there are staffers at YC HQ that could ski everyday for the entire winter and then again in the summer, I am not one of those people. Around March is when I get ants in my pants for it to be summer weather. Fortunately, the recreation department at Montana State University offers kayaking classes in their swimming pool. While I know kayaking basics, I’ve never managed to do a full roll in a kayak, nor have I kayaked in a pool, which just sounds awesome. Plus, I’ll get to throw on my bathing suit and pretend that it’s actually almost summer time.
Head to the Pond Skim. If you’ve never been to the Pond Skim at Big Sky Resort, rest assured that the rumors you’ve heard are true. Imagine hundreds of people, dressed in costumes, short shorts, tee shirts, bathing suits, wigs and pretty much anything else you can imagine, hurling themselves down the slope and trying to skim across a 30’ long pool of water. Aside from simply wanting to dress up in a bathing suit and skis, this is an unbelievable way to spend a sunny April afternoon.
Try downhill mountain biking. Let me preface this by saying that my least favorite part of mountain biking is the downhill, which is unfortunate because downhill mountain biking is EXACTLY that. You basically push a heavy-duty mountain bike up a trail and then jump on and let ‘er rip. I’m pretty Type A and the idea of allowing my body to careen down the side of a mountain is essentially my worst nightmare come true. But what’s that adage about doing one thing a day that scares you?
Learn to ride a motorcycle. Last year I learned how to drive a stick shift (manual transmission is not as common on the east coast as it is here), so now I’m all kinds of confident about my motorsport ability. The whole motivation for this goal is to be able to do the drive from Livingston to Cooke City and up and over the Beartooth Pass. It is my favorite drive in all of Yellowstone Country and doing it on a motorcycle is definitely at the top of my Bucket List.
Go to the Livingston Rodeo. The first rodeo I ever went to was last summer in Three Forks and I remember sitting next to a man who asked me if I had ever been to the Three Forks Rodeo. To which I replied, “I’ve never been to any rodeo.” And he laughed and said, “Yeah, right.” This year, I’m vowing not to repeat the experience (because I have actually been to a rodeo now) and head to the Livingston Rodeo, which is a whopping THREE DAYS of rodeo, fireworks and July 4th celebrations.
Let me tell you something about rodeos: they are the most fun things ever. There are people doing all sorts of circus acts on the back of livestock, there is an honest to goodness rodeo clown and there are even kids trying to rope sheep, which is by far the most adorable thing I have ever seen in my life. Plus, cowboy hats are pretty much an excuse to get me to go anywhere.
Take a float trip on the Yellowstone. Taking a trip on the Yellowstone River has been on my list for a long time. I’ve done daytrips, but I’ve always wanted to do an overnight trip (the best part about the Yellowstone River is that you don’t need permits to camp; you can basically camp anywhere that isn’t private property). While the flow is quite low in August, it makes for a very slow and lazy floating/camping trip, which means the put-in and put-out locations don’t need to be more than 20 miles from each other (perfect for shuttling cars).
A word on boat rental: Although I have friends who own rafts and drift boats, they’re just as easy to rent from a camping or outdoor store and, as long as you have a general knowledge about how to oar or paddle a raft, the Yellowstone is a very easy river to navigate in most spots (check with the local outdoor store that you rent the raft from for recommendations about simple floats).
Take a backpacking trip in the Beartooths. Probably best done in early September (because you never know when the snow is gonna fly in Montana), I’ve always wanted to do a quick overnight backpacking trip somewhere in the Beartooths. They are among the most remote mountains in the country AND the drive up there was named the Best Drive in America. I’ve yet to have a backpacking experience where I haven’t seen a single other hiker and I feel like a trip into the Beartooths is just the way to make that happen.
Hike all the trails in the Bozeman Day Hikes book. This is more of an ongoing project, since I started last year, but I’d love to finish this goal this autumn. I’ve done most of the hikes in town, but the best part about this book is that it also has some unbelievable hikes in Emigrant, Livingston and some out towards Big Sky. By no means exhaustive, but I’d say 111 hikes is a good way to get to see some of the best parts of Yellowstone Country.
Go to a show at the Murray. While Yellowstone Country has lots of opportunities to choose from, in terms of live music, I’ve heard stories about the party that comes to the Murray each weekend when a band lights up the dance floor. Plus, it’s got this super cool, old hotel vibe that makes it not just a musical experience, but a historical one as well (excuse my inner history nerd).
Soak in the Boiling River. The Boiling River is a few miles into Yellowstone National Park from the Gardiner entrance. Essentially, there is a spot in the river where superheated water from a thermal bubbles into the Yellowstone River, making it a veritable natural hot tub. However, the wade in takes a little courage because the water at the outset is colder than you might be expecting. This soothing yet exhilarating activity is best undertaken after a long ski or snowshoe day.