Yellowstone Bike Tour—2013: Part 2, Madison Campground to Lewis Lake

Natalie with Yellowstone Lake in the background
Natalie with Yellowstone Lake in the background

Day 3: Madison Campground to Canyon Village Campground

This was the shortest day of the tour. Most of the group left Madison campground by about 9:00 am. Finn and I ended up talking with our friend Tim until 10:00 or so. From Madison the road heads north past some small geysers then begins to climb to the first real roadside attraction, the pretty Gibbon Falls. We stopped there for a short break.

Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls
Finn and Natalie at Gibbon Falls
Finn and Natalie at Gibbon Falls

Shortly after Gibbon Falls we stopped at some bubbling hot pots right alongside the road. Here there was a long line of cars backed up. Someone told us they were backed up for about 1.5 miles. It was nice being on a bike and zipping by all those stopped cars. The road continued to climb for a couple miles up to a high meadow. There were lots of cars stopped and people milling about. I didn’t see anything around. I commented to a ranger who was trying to get people to move their cars that I didn’t see anything. Her response was, “Exactly,” and she rolled her eyes. I later learned from my brother Kyle, who rolled through that area awhile later, that the previous night two grizzly bears had killed an elk. When they were done feeding a wolf pack moved in. When they were finished the coyotes took their turn. Finally, that morning, a lone wolf was lingering around trying to finish things off. Kyle said he saw it, a small dot, off in the distance. I wish I would have seen it. I’ve always wanted to see a wolf in the wild.

After a couple more miles of climbing we topped out then descended down to the junction that heads north to Mammoth Hot Springs, or east to Canyon. Finn and I stopped here to wait for the others.

Finn waiting at the junction
Finn waiting at the junction
Evidence of past forest fires
Evidence of past forest fires

We then rode the half mile to the Norris Geyser Basin. We hiked around the Porcelain Geyser area. It was nice to get off the bikes and hike around for an hour or so. The turquoise water seemed unreal. The whole geothermal activity in Yellowstone is really amazing.

Porcelain Geyser Basin
Porcelain Geyser Basin
Vivid colors in the Porcelain Geyser Basin
Vivid colors in the Porcelain Geyser Basin
Finn and Natalie at the Porcelain Geyser Area
Finn and Natalie at the Porcelain Geyser Area

From here we had some more climbing before reaching the Canyon area. We knew that Canyon Village was about 1000′ higher in elevation than Madison. The steepest part of the climb was a mile of 8% grade climbing, then a mile of 8% downhill, then another mile of climbing an 8% grade. At the top of the first climb Kyle, Natalie, Finn, and I  bummed some water off some passing tourists. It was ice cold and delicious, especially since we were running low. Kyle stayed behind to wait for Shauna and Kjirsten while Natalie, Finn, and I took off. I arrived at Canyon Village first and waited for Finn who arrived shortly after. I then ran to the grocery store while he waited for the others. I picked up a few things for our dinner that night. We had some dehydrated refried beans so I bought fresh tortillas, a jar of salsa, some sour cream, and cheese. I also bought a nice bar of dark chocolate which I shared with everyone as they rolled in. We then rode out to the Canyon Campground, registered and headed to the hiker/biker area. It was a large area on the side of a wooded hill. We found a nice flat campground and set up camp. It was the nicest campground so far. It was a bit of a walk to the bathrooms and water, but it was quiet and secluded, and unlike Madison Campground, we were the only ones in the hiker/biker area.

Our camp at Canyon Campground, adjacent to Canyon Village
Our camp at Canyon Campground, adjacent to Canyon Village

Canyon Village had a gas station, grocery store, cafeteria, cafe, and gift shop. They also had a laundramat and showers. After we set up camp, we put all our food in the bear boxes, changed into our hiking clothes and hiked the 1.5 miles down to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was a nice hike through the woods, first through an area of rental cabins, then through the woods. The canyon is quite impressive. There are several viewpoints right on the edge of the canyon, with Lower Yellowstone Falls nearby.

Looking down into the canyon and the Yellowstone River
Looking down into the canyon and the Yellowstone River
Lower Yellowstone Falls
Lower Yellowstone Falls

After hiking around a bit, we returned to our campsite and cooked dinner. After dinner Kyle and I paid the $3.80 for a hot shower. It felt really good to have a shower after three days of riding.

That evening Bill and Lorna that we had met at Madison showed up and set up their camp. Then just as we were getting into bed, Tim also showed up and set up his camp.

Breakfast at Canyon Campground
Breakfast at Canyon Campground—breakfast burritos

Day 3 total mileage: 26.8

Time in the saddle: 2:27

Average speed: 10.9; max. speed: 37 mph.

Day 4: Canyon Campground to Lewis Lake

The weather in Yellowstone was fabulous, with highs in the mid 70’s and lows in the 40’s. It was really ideal riding conditions. Up to this point we had great clear weather with beautiful blue skies and puffy white clouds.

We left camp around 9:00 am and headed south on the Grand Loop road toward  Yellowstone Lake. The road followed the Yellowstone River through a beautiful river valley.

The Yellowstone River above and south of the falls
The Yellowstone River above and south of the falls

Soon we left the forest and entered the Hayden Valley, a wide meadow area. This is where we encountered our first (and only) bison herd. It was pretty exciting to see probably a hundred or so buffalo milling around just off the side of the road. Some bison crossed the road right in front of us. When Kyle, Kjirsten, and Shauna passed through here awhile after us, there were dozens of bison on the road that they had to wait for. They said it was pretty scary riding by bison only a few yards off. Bison are impressive and very large animals. They are the iconic animal of Yellowstone National Park where large numbers of them roam free.

Herd of bison
Herd of bison
Bison grazing along the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley
Bison grazing along the Yellowstone River in the Hayden Valley
The Yellowstone River flowing through the Hayden Valley
The Yellowstone River flowing through the Hayden Valley

Just after leaving the Hayden Valley we stopped at the Volcano mud geyser alongside the highway. This was a bubbling pot of mud. At one point it was a full on geyser shooting mud high into the air, but it blew itself out long ago. Now it is just pot of boiling mud. There was also a hot spring bubbling out of the side of a hill, called Dragon’s Breath Hot Spring.

Mud volcano
Mud volcano
Dragon's Breath Hot Spring
Dragon’s Breath Hot Spring

I should mention that all the hot springs we had encountered so far were much too hot for bathing. They were literally boiling.

After a few miles of pleasant riding we arrived at Fishing Bridge and Lake Village on the shores of huge Yellowstone Lake. We took a break here at a small grocery store/cafe. A nice lady at the cafe filled our water bottles. Kyle, Kjirsten, and Shauna decided to stay and have lunch here. Natalie, Finn, and I decided to keep riding on the Grant Village and take a break there. We arranged with the others to meet at Lewis Lake Campground later in the day where we would be staying for the night. The riding along the shores of Yellowstone Lake was really nice. The weather was a bit cooler, with even a few sprinkles of rain.

Natalie riding through beautiful lodgepole pine forests
Natalie riding through beautiful lodgepole pine forests
Driftwood, Yellowstone Lake
Driftwood, Yellowstone Lake
Approaching Grant Village
Approaching Grant Village

By the time we arrived at Grant Village it was looking pretty stormy to the north where we had come from. We bought some snacks at the grocery store and found a nice bench out front to eat and relax. After about a half hour or so, I suggested we needed to get moving. Finn said it looked like a storm was coming. My response was that it doesn’t do much good sitting around waiting for a storm that might arrive. So we headed back up the road to the highway. Only about a quarter mile up the road it started raining, great big cold drops of rain. I was out front and turned around to head back to the safety and cover at the store. Just as I started heading back Natalie came along and cheerfully shouted “Retreat, retreat.” Her and Finn turned around and we raced back to Grant Village. We waited just a short time, maybe a half hour before it cleared again and we took off. Since the storm was behind us and seemed to heading our way, I suggested we take off again and stay ahead of it.

The ride south toward Lewis Lake was just as pretty as anything we had seen up to this point. The riding in Yellowstone really is wonderful. Storm clouds were gathering as we rode. We experienced short spatters of rain here and there but didn’t really get wet. Along this section we also crossed the Continental Divide.

The Continental Divide
The Continental Divide
Heading south and descending toward Lewis Lake
Heading south and descending toward Lewis Lake
Impressive storm clouds
Impressive storm clouds
Lewis Lake
Lewis Lake

The highway hits Lewis Lake on the north end then follows the shoreline down. The campground is at the south end of the lake. We arrived before it rained, but it was quite cool and very windy. We were looking forward to swimming in the lake so after setting up camp we changed into our swimming suits and walked over to the lake. However, when we got there it was looking pretty stormy, and was really windy and cold.

Lewis Lake and the gathering storm
Lewis Lake and the gathering storm
Finn testing the water
Finn testing the water

We decided it was too cold to swim so we returned to our camp. We were disappointed with the campground at Lewis Lake. The campsites were situated on a steep hillside. The hiker/biker area was very small and pretty lousy so we stayed in a regular campsite. By this time we were getting a bit worried about Kyle, Kjirsten, and Shauna. It was looking pretty stormy and we hoped they didn’t get caught in it. They finally arrived, actually sooner than we expected them. They did get caught in the storm and rode through heavy cold downpours of rain and hail. But they arrived happy and ready for a not meal. By this time it was sprinkling so we boiled water, added it to our freeze-dried pouches and retreated to the larger pyramid tent. We put the food pouches under some sleeping bags to keep them hot while they rehydrated. We all sat around in the tent telling stories, laughing, and talking. By the time we finished dinner the light rain had subsided. Everyone was pretty tired so we went to bed a bit early.

Kyle and Kjirsten at the Lewis Lake Campground
Kyle and Kjirsten at the Lewis Lake Campground

Day 4 mileage: 53 miles

Time in the saddle: 4:15

Average speed: 12.5 mph.; max. speed: 35.5 mph.

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