Planning a winter trip to Yellowstone national park? Interested in fun activities outside the park? Let me familiarize you with the surrounding forest areas of Caribou-Targhee and Gallatin. Endless breathtaking vistas and miles of groomed trails beckon the novice as well as the expert snowmobilers to these forests every winter.
Here’s some information and tips for snowmobiling in Targhee National Forest.
Targhee national forest is in the states of Idaho and Wyoming in Northern USA, and is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Custer Gallatin national forest in Montana, sharing its borders with Yellowstone is also part of this ecosystem.
Fly in to the regional airports in Twin Falls or Idaho Falls in Idaho and drive to the small towns of Island Park or West Yellowstone. These towns are close to each other; Island Park is in Idaho, and West Yellowstone is in Montana. Most of the trail system to explore Targhee and Gallatin begin from these towns.
We did a sixteen hour road trip from Bay area, California to West Yellowstone, Montana. If you are planning to hit the road and drive through the states of Nevada and Idaho, you can expect the scenery to be like this… all the way. More pictures from the road here.
West Yellowstone is right outside the west entrance of Yellowstone National park and has varied options for accommodation. In case you run out of choices here, you can also check out the few hotels/cabins in Island Park, Idaho.
We stayed in Yellowstone lodge, West Yellowstone.
There are a number of snowmobile rental operators in West Yellowstone. Few of them also offer guided tours in Targhee and Gallatin forests. Since we couldn’t reserve any guided tours in advance, we went ahead and decided to tour ourselves. We rented a double seating snowmobile from HiCountry snowmobiles (reserving in advance is recommended). Actually, single rider snowmobiles are much better than the double one. The main reason being – the pillion rider takes the beating from wind and extreme cold. The driver has heated handlebars and leg-rest, but no heated facilities for the pillion. So if you are planning to sit behind, layer up!
In December, expect the temperatures to be anywhere between -13F and -31F (-25C to -35C). So get in your base-layer/thermals, wool sweater, fleece, down-vest, water-proof jacket, weather-proof snow pants, glove-liners, gloves, ski-socks and snow boots. Then go ahead and rent the snowsuit too, before you venture out.
Cocooning yourself is the key to enjoyment while snowmobiling.
Carry a day-pack with snacks, thermos, flashlight (just in case), batteries, camera.
Don’t be alarmed if your iPhones are suddenly discharged or just dies.
500+ miles of well-groomed trail system is at your disposal. For the expert, back-country is your playground. These trails are known as one of the best in the country.
Frozen lakes, snow ghosts, picturesque views, and on clear days you can also see the Teton mountain range from Two top mountain.
Take a trail map from your operator and get going. All trail junctions have a number, and once you get a hang of it, it’s easy to navigate. Roads around the town are shared between snowmobilers and motorists. Usual speed limit is 45 miles/hr, while in the town it’s 25miles/hr.
This is the trail that we took –
West Yellowstone -> Madison Arm trail to Hebgen lake -> West Yellowstone -> Two top mountain trail -> Meadow creek lodge -> West Yellowstone
We started from West Yellowstone and took the Madison Arm loop trail towards Hebgen lake. Smooth, flat ride through the forest, and we reached a frozen Hebgen lake. Great trail for beginners and to get accustomed to your snowmobile. From the lake marina we took the trail back to West Yellowstone and then headed out on the Two top mountain trail.
Two top mountain trail is one of the popular trails; for snow ghosts and the endless, spectacular panoramas. What are snow ghosts? These are trees not covered in snow or hoarfrost, but heavy accretions of ice called rime.
In the early mornings, there maybe thick fog lingering in the forests (as we were informed by our snowmobile operator). So early afternoon is a good time to head towards the Two top trail.
From here we went further to a lodge/family-run restaurant for lunch. In winter this place is accessible only by snowmobiles, and that exclusivity makes it even more thrilling. It’s called the Meadow creek lodge. That perfect, cozy place in the middle of woods, to warm-up with a glass of delicious hot-chocolate with marshmallows and buffalo burgers. Just what we needed in the freezing weather. The only downside – it can get really crowded. This is one of those famous pit-stops for all snowmobilers. Even with a small menu and a sign that says, “This ain’t no Burger King. You eat it my way or not at all !”, people are happy to wait.
By the way, it’s a cash-only place.
On this route, you will be crossing the Idaho/Montana boarder multiple times.
So what are you waiting for? I just gave you all the details and you have seen our best pictures. Pack-up and go, the mountains are calling.
Have you tried snowmobiling? Where?