Yellowstone Shortline Trail: West Yellowstone’s Newest Bike Trail

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By Lou Melini — Imagine going back in time when you could hop on a train (perhaps with your bike) in the early evening from Salt Lake City, exiting the train in West Yellowstone the next morning. From June 11, 1908 to the late 1970s you could do that. With the tracks torn up after the train was abandoned, the railroad property was deeded to the Town of West Yellowstone and the United States Forest Service.

Big Sky country; view from the Yellowstone Shortline Trail. Photo by Julie Melini

During the last week of September of 2023, Julie and I had an opportunity to ride the Yellowstone Shortline Trail. We were able to ride 7 miles on the paved trail until we came to the paving equipment. The final 2 miles to the Idaho border was to be completed, we were told, the first week of October. The West Yellowstone trailhead is located on Iris Street as it intersects with Obsidian Avenue. If you are traveling from Island Park as we were, take the first right (Iris Street) as you enter town and park at the end of Iris.

A friend said he saw a bear near this bridge. Julie Melini on the Yellowstone Shortline Trail. Photo by Lou Melini

The trail has numerous educational kiosks and pullouts. It follows the south fork of the Madison River. Near mile 6 is the origin of the south fork. The scenery along the trail is, of course, worth putting this on your to-do list if you are visiting West Yellowstone. The paved trail, per Forest Service policy, is open to non-motorized vehicles which excludes e-bikes. This is bear country so having bear spray and knowing how to use it is a good idea. Bear spray can be rented at Free Heel and Wheel in West Yellowstone.

Lou on a gravel road parallel to the Yellowstone Shortline Trail. Photo by Julie Melini

Converting the rail-bed has been dreams of many residents in West Yellowstone for decades. In 2019, with grant money in hand the project began. I should mention that the bike/Nordic ski shop, Free Heel and Wheel, in West Yellowstone was part of the team of locals spurring the development of the trail. As I understand the big picture, this trail will eventually connect with the paved trail in Tetonia and Victor, Idaho and go up and over Teton Pass. Cyclists will then connect with the bike trails in Jackson and onto the bike trail in Teton National Park. The Idaho portion east of Island Park is still in the dream phase and probably won’t happen in my lifetimeIf you prefer gravel, there is a parallel road that connects to the paved trail at the border at the 6940 foot Reas Pass so that you could ride up pavement and down gravel or vice-versa. Julie and I rode up and down each for a lengthy outing. The day we rode the ShortLine trail and gravel road was one of 4 gravel rides we did in the Island Park area during our 5-day stay. The remaining three rides ranged from 38 to 48 miles. One day was FS road 119 that connected onto FS road 082 that then brought us back near our timeshare on FS 291. Another day we used the Island Park OHV/ATV map and went off on shotgun gravel road (unnamed on most maps) that connected onto Kilgore-Yale road (part gravel-part paved) to return home. The third ride was an out and back on FS 119, 059,066, 001 to Montana border and back.

Get a map, bear spray, and enjoy the rides.

 

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