glac3Would you like to travel to some of our country’s most beautiful National Parks, but fear the crowds?  Avoid the press of the touring masses by choosing to travel off-peak. Travel-savvy adventurists know how to play the shoulder seasons in our National Parks. As statistics attest, Yellowstone and Glacier experience their greatest share of visitors in the months of July and August. However, for those with more flexible travel calendars, these iconic landscapes deliver some of their most tranquil, wildlife-rich moments between now and then.

yellow1For Bicycles and Pedestrians Only

Yellowstone has recently opened for its superlative, albeit brief bicycle/pedestrian-only season. For travelers entering from the West Yellowstone gate, cars will able to access the Park starting Friday, April 19*, but the roads remain quiet and popular with cyclists through the early season. Visitors entering through the Gardiner/Mammoth gate (which remains open to autos year-round) will have options for cyclists and walkers as well.

The famed Going-To-The-Sun Road is open to bikes and hikers long before it opens to cars. Plowing has already commenced on this incredible, alpine roadway, and the estimated official opening is late June. That means bikers and hikers have almost two months to ride or wander up the road, taking in views of the greening valleys framed by snow-topped peaks, all at a slower, more contemplative pace

yellow3Wild Earth

Regardless of mode, early season visitors will find roads that are clear of snow, providing an unprecedented opportunity to view this world-renowned, geothermal landscape and its emerging mega fauna up close. Lumbering bison, herds of ranging elk, and bald eagles tending their nests are just a few of the wildlife wonders visitors are likely to witness.

glac4Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is also spectacular for opportunistic travelers in the pre-summer season. Just outside of these Parks, travelers will find charismatic, unpretentious small towns like Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Cooke City and Livingston (near Yellowstone;) and West and East Glacier, Whitefish and Polebridge (near Glacier). Locals will be all the more mellow and ready to chat it up, offering nuggets of regional wisdom before summer really kicks in around the 4th of July. Activities like whitewater rafting become available in early May and some of the most raucous river flows tend to occur in this lesser known, pre-season window of welcome.

If you go:

Be sure to check road conditions and resources: Yellowstone National Park map and road openings, plow progress and travel planning.

Glacier National Park road status and plow progress.

Yellowstone and Glacier in the News:

  • Fodor’s: Early-Season Biking in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks;
  • The Huckleberry Hiker: Plowing Activity Begins on the Going-to-the-Sun Road;
  • Billings Gazette: Yellowstone Route Open to Bicycle Traffic;
  • National Parks Traveler: Bicyclists Have Freedom To Ride In Yellowstone National Park;

Outfitters in the know:

  • In West Yellowstone: Freeheel & Wheel
  • In West Glacier: Glacier Raft Company.

Thanks to Montanapressroom.com for providing information for this piece.