Spring Transitions in Yellowstone Country

Bison and baby bison in Yellowstone National Park. NPS / Neal Herbert

Like that, spring hit in Montana’s Yellowstone Country, and the accumulated snow piles rapidly dissolved into slivers of green grass. Soon the trees will turn chartreuse with new buds.

It’s a beautiful time of year; people are itching to get on the rivers and into the mountains. But it’s also the time of year to exercise patience. This transition from winter to spring is delicate, and we encourage everyone to be mindful of taking care of the resources and recreating safely.

Plenty of snow is still in the backcountry, places like Cooke City, West Yellowstone, Bridger Bowl, and Big Sky all had banner years, and skiers and riders love the late-season conditions. Red Lodge Mountain is open this weekend, and there are still two more weekends at Big Sky Resort. In Cooke City, Beartooth Powder Guides have some lodging availability for incredible backcountry skiing. As always, check the avalanche report and current conditions before heading out.

Backcountry skiing in Cooke City, Montana Cooke City, Photo by Jonathan Finch

Rendezvous Ski Trails still have an excellent base of snow, and you can ski on the trails if the temperature stays below 32 degrees. (Think: above 32, your skis will stick like glue!) Early morning and late evening are the ideal times to get out. It’s crust-cruising season, where the warm sun softens the snow, turning to smooth ice overnight. Four trails in the Yellowstone section on Highway 191 between Big Sky and West Yellowstone run through wide-open meadows with spectacular views.

Speaking of Yellowstone, it’s the biking season! Roads are cleared, and the West Entrance is closed to vehicular traffic. It’s a beautiful time of year, and rumor has it that with the tall snow berms in and around Yellowstone, more animals are on the road.

The road between West Yellowstone and Cooke City is open to automobiles year-round, and spring is the ideal time to see all the wildlife babies.

Anglers should watch the conditions; if you hit it before the runoff, the fishing can be fantastic this time of year. All of the rivers around the region can be great for spring fishing, but keep in mind that water levels are going to be running high with the amount of snow we’ve had this year. If you plan to go fishing, it’s best to go with a professional guide who knows the area and be sure to leave small children and pets at home until water levels recede. You can find stream flows, fishing licenses and regulations at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Nordic skiers at Rendezvous Ski Trails Rendezvous Ski Trails, West Yellowstone, Montana

As you can see, there’s plenty still to do in Montana’s Yellowstone Country. There are also a few housekeeping items we would be remiss to not mention. Most trails are not ready for hiking or biking, and they are not ready for ATVs. As one local chamber explains, “Locals will get to the trailhead with their skis, snowshoes, and boots and evaluate what equipment to use when they get there.”

While things start to dry out, please be mindful of mud puddles; good trail etiquette is to walk through versus around the pool. Social trails or footpaths carved by the tread of hikers looking to go their own way kill native plants, spread noxious weeds, and undo strategic planning efforts and the hard work to maintain trail systems. In addition, bikers should wait until trails have completely dried, as the ruts created by riding in the mud are highly damaging.

Don’t forget to keep your pets under control, and pack out what you pack in. But, more than anything, don’t forget your smile. It’s the easiest way for us to share our gratitude and appreciation for this wonderland we call home.