Grand Teton: Spring biking in winter conditions, car-free

Plow it and bikes will come.

Spring in Grand Teton National Park can be difficult. The ranger-led snowshoe tours end mid March, but the road through the park remains closed to cars until May 1.

What’s a visitor to do? Follow the lead of locals, of course, who rank this as one of the best times to visit the park. Why? Because even though hiking trails are still buried beneath literally feet of snow and none of the concessions or lodges are yet open, 15 miles of the road—the prettiest 15 miles in my opinion—belong entirely to bikers, runners, rollerbladers, stroller-pushers, skateboarders, pogo stick-ers—any non-motorized form of locomotion is welcome.

It’s just too nice (and novel) to ride in the middle of the road and not keep an eye out for cars . . . especially when you’re cycling past Jenny Lake, the Cathedral Group section of majestic peaks along the horizon, and across Cottonwood Creek.

It all started in March 1977, although former GTNP Superintendent Jack Neckels didn’t necessarily realize at the time that he was starting a tradition. Neckels just knew the Inner Park Loop Road needed several weeks to "dry out" before its annual May 1 re-opening to cars, which meant plowing it in mid-March. The road didn't need to be dry for bikers and hikers, however, so Neckels suggested they come and enjoy it.

Scores of people took him up on the offer.

In 1992, after the road surface was improved and it no longer required a drying out period, park staff briefly considered ending the tradition. To call the community response an “uproar” would be an understatement. Ever since, no one has suggested doing away with—or even altering—the tradition.

The 15-mile section is between the Bradley/Taggart Lakes Trailhead and Signal Mountain Lodge. Fitzgerald’s Bicycles in Jackson (245 West Hansen Avenue; (307) 734-6886) rents bikes. Read up on road conditions at www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/roads.htm. You can call the park at (307) 739-3300.

Dina Mishev’s article, “An Insider’s Guide to Grand Teton National Park,” can be found in VIA’s 2011 spring edition in the Mountain West region, comprising Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.

This article was first published in February 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.