Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two part series about a self-guided snowmobiling adventure spanning three states including the mountainous regions of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The final day the group of Howard County residents would take in a 120 mile guided ride through Yellowstone National Park.
Sometimes, when the late winter doldrums tighten its grip the best thing to do is face what ails you. “You guys want to snowmobile Yellowstone National Park?” asked Corey Fields. At first I thought he was pulling our leg, seeing the flagship of our national park system from the seat of a Skidoo. “Count me in!” I said emphatically, without giving it another thought. Two other friends, Craig Arvin and Greg Davis quickly followed suit.
Our wives, Deanna Fields, Amy Davis, Michelle Arvin and Peggy Martino would also take part in the trip. Normally preferring beach scenery, they would forego sand and sunshine for snow and lots of it. Fields’ brother, Michael, a resident of the Cowboy state, and his son Blake, age 11, would also meet us there for a one day.
Fields explained the trip would consist of three full days of riding. The first two would be on our own, riding hundreds of miles on mountainous public trails that span the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The final day we would take a private tour of Yellowstone National Park.
Here’s the great thing, almost anyone can do it, even first timers, regardless of age or experience. Getting a guide for instruction and also escort you on public land tours are numerous and can be provided through the same business where you rent your machine. They are all very accommodating. To me there is nothing more exciting than seeing the remarkable landscape certain parts of the country has to offer from the seat of a sled. And if snowmobiling isn’t your thing, winter scenic tours of our first national park can be taken from the comforts of a readily available, heated snowcoach.
We were giddy with excitement as our trip began by flying from Indianapolis to Denver then on to Idaho Falls where we rented a van. From there we drove two hours north to the historic town of West Yellowstone. During winter this quaint little city is a hub for outdoor activities.
Finding businesses renting snowmobiles are plentiful. Although there are many, we utilized the services of Three Bear Lodge. They offer touring snowmobiles made for one or two passengers. They also have single passenger and even high performance, long track, mountain snowmobiles for the more adventurous (and skilled.) Don’t worry about outerwear either. Almost every place can provide cold weather clothing needed to stay comfortable in sub-freezing temperatures.
Early the next morning, after picking up our machines, the group of us began exploring the extensive network of beautiful back country trails, spanning hundreds of miles through the peaks and canyons of the Rocky Mountains. Even though these paths are outside of the park, they are still part of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in North America.
Almost every turn provided a cinematic expanse of beauty where several mountain ranges, including the towering Grand Tetons, could be viewed at the same time. Most trails are marked but you still need a map and GPS and know how to use them if venturing too far. Arvin and Fields did a great job keeping track of our location, most of the time anyway. I on the other hand was overcome by the spectacular scenery, from snow covered valleys, canyons and passes to soaring peaks reaching for the sky.
We continued to climb in elevation eventually reaching the summit of Two-Top Mountain where we were greeted with strong winds and whiteout. Following trail markers, one at a time, we slowly picked our way down the slope and back into the timber where conditions were much better.
After crossing the Continental Divide we followed the famed Henry’s Fork River, a tributary of the Snake River. Locals call it the Ribbon of Untamed Water. We stopped to view the Upper and Lower Mesa Falls. Dropping 114 feet the huge cascade of water is the last on the Snake River Drainage to resist any type of human control.
It was here we met Redge Smith. At the age of 71 he’s an area farmer and also works for the Idaho Department of Parks where he manages a warming cabin for adventurous winter travelers. “I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up,” he said with a laugh. Only accessible by snow machine he provides those making it to the scenic site with a place to relax by a warm fire and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Tall and raw-boned he was as tough as the country he lives in. He explained how his family moved to the backcountry in 1884. Since then he has carved out land to farm and raise several generations of family.
After enjoying the natural beauty of the Mesa Falls area we continued for several more hours, eventually reaching the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. Anyone entering the park must be accompanied by a licensed guide. This is the only area where visitors are permitted to “sneak in the back door” for a few miles to view the park’s Cave Falls. It is the widest, spanning 250 feet. It gets its name from the large cave located adjacent to the river and is a popular tourist attraction in warmer months.
The public snowmobiling opportunities in this tri-state area are some of the best in the nation. Abundant natural snowfall and jaw-dropping scenery provide a backdrop hard to describe. We all agreed this kind of trip provided non-stop exhilaration and a sense of complete freedom.