Words & Photos by: Brandon Caplar
West Yellowstone, Montana. If you’re a trail rider from east of the Rockies, I’m willing to bet it’s a place you’ve been told is a snowmobiler’s paradise but in the same breath never made it a priority place to ride. On the flip side, if you don’t own a sled of your own, you likely find yourself looking for a fully catered snowmobile experience. No matter which boat you’re in, you need look no further. West Yellowstone is everything is chalked up to be and more. Not only that, it caters to every audience. Novice and experienced. Young and old. Owners and renters. It really doesn’t matter, if you want to ride a snowmobile and experience every discipline the sport has to offer, this is the destination for you.
Around the OSM & STV studios I’m the new guy to the industry side of things. I’ve got 20 years of riding experience, but like most riders, most of that time has been in my own backyard, Ontario. When the opportunity came to visit Yellowstone Country Region I was chomping at the bit to experience a place I’ve heard so much about.
Experience to date, sledding trips can be summed up quite simply as this; You load the sleds on a trailer, you drive the trailer hours on end to your riding destination, you unload, you ride for a few days praying you have no mechanicals while you’re a thousand plus kilometers from home, you load up, you drive home. The West Yellowstone experience turned all of that on its head. No sleds, no trailer, no gear required. We drove to Toronto’s Pearson Airport, hopped on a 7hr flight to Bozeman, Montana (with a layover in Minneapolis that may or may not have included a draught beer break), drove our rental car 90 miles until we hit 2000 meter in elevation and the town of West Yellowstone. It doesn’t matter how inexperienced you are in the sport of snowmobiling, if you can pack a bag and board a plane you check all the boxes you need to enjoy West Yellowstone.
Day 1: The Experience in Town
Being more tourist than snowmobiler industry guy at this point, we spent day 1 in the town simply exploring. Taking it all in. Really just trying to wrap our Southern Ontario heads around just how much of a winter wonderland West Yellowstone really is.
First off every street is snow covered. And we mean every street, parking lot, side road, back alley, everything. Not once did we hear that dreaded carbide on asphalt type sound which if you’re new to the sport can only be described as nails on chalk board. If you need to get to a restaurant, a gas station, your hotel you need not worry. Similarly, the trail is not hard to find as it surrounds the perimeter of town on all sides save for the Eastern edge which borders on the infamous Yellowstone National Park. This really is as snowmobile accessible as it gets.
Once I managed to get my eyes off the snow covered streets we turned into 3 Bear Lodge where we saw what can only be described as the biggest fleet of rentals we’ve eve seen. This town truly is the place to go no matter your experience level. On one end of the lot was a small group of current year Polaris Khaos’ ready to boondock to your hearts content. On the other end, a full fleet of fully loaded 600 grand touring trail sleds perfect for first time riders. And that remained true as we hit the trails too with a perfect mix of groomed trail, rough back country trails, boondocking, and mountain riding. But more on that later.
As we departed town for a small tour we’d be foolish to ignore calling out just how much more West has to offer beyond the snowmobile scene. This town is truly a vacation destination in the winter. We passed a long list of outfitters supporting everything from ice fishing to snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing to snowcoaches. Any snow-related activity you want to do is a short ride away.
Day 2: Climbing the Mountain
We may have been in tourist mode for day 1, but day 2 the helmets were on first thing in the morning. It was go time. After a delicious breakfast at 3 Bear Lodge we hit the trail towards Two Top. Now what is “Two Top” you might be asking? Good question. Here I was thinking we were headed to any old landmark; little did I know it would be one of the most breathtaking rides I’d ever go on.
Two Top as it turns out refers to Mount Two Top, who’s peak sits 2.6km above sea level. As we set out from town we hit a series of intersections and it seemed all roads led to two top. Not only were there groomed trail options for the beginner rider, but there were also hydro line short cuts you could boondock through for the intermediate rider. For the advanced rider, you could point and shoot your way through the trees. No matter your cup of tea, West Yellowstone delivered and the ride to Two Top was one like no other.
As we neared the mountains peak, the trails eventually ended, and we traversed about a half kilometer of completely ungroomed mountain top. I can promise you, even if you’re a groomed trail hero, this rough ride to the peak is worth it. Once at the peak you’re surrounded by a 360 degree of mountain ranges that’s unlike anything a trail rider would get to experience anywhere else.
In the end, West Yellowstone was everything I ever thought it would be and somehow more. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced rider, West Yellowstone should without a doubt move to the top of your bucket list.
Yellowstone Nordic Ski Festival – Thanksgiving Week
Rendezvous Ski Race – 1st weekend in March
Kids’N’Snow – Monthly from December to March
West Yellowstone Skijor – Mid-March
Toronto, ON – 3206km – 30hrs driving
Buffalo, NY – 3229km – 30hrs driving
Roseau, MN – 1627km – 15hrs driving
Valcourt, QC – 3860km – 35hrs driving
Travelers Note: Nonresidents who plan to ride their snowmobiles and motorized snow bikes in Montana must purchase a Snowmobile Nonresident Temporary Use Permit for $25 per machine
Travel Reference Guide: Trail maps are available at most outfitters and hotels and for free at www.fs.usda.gov
The sledder friendly options in West are endless, below are just the places that we stayed.