Are you planning a winter trip to Yellowstone national park? Interested in fun activities outside the park? Then let me familiarize you with the surrounding forest areas of Caribou-Targhee and Gallatin. Endless breathtaking vistas and miles of groomed trails in these forests beckon the novice as well as the expert snowmobilers every winter.
Here I have penned down all the info that you will need for snowmobiling in Targhee National Forest.
Targhee national forest spans across the states of Idaho and Wyoming in Northern USA and is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Custer Gallatin national forest in Montana shares its borders with Yellowstone and is also part of this ecosystem.
You can 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 in West Yellowstone you can also check out the few hotels and cabins in Island Park, Idaho.
We stayed in West Yellowstone, and it worked very well for us.
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 (I would recommend to reserve in advance).
Also, in extreme cold conditions like this I would recommend to rent a single rider snowmobile. Why? In a double seater snowmobile the pillion rider takes the beating from wind and extreme cold. The driver has heated handlebars and leg-rest while there are no heated facilities for the pillion.
In December expect the temperatures to be anywhere between -13F and -31F (-25C to -35C). So, get in your base-layers or thermals, wool sweater or fleece, down-vest, water-proof jacket or parka, weather-proof snow pants, glove-liners, gloves, ski-socks and snow boots. Then before you venture out, go ahead and rent that snowsuit too. Yes that’s right, to enjoy snowmobiling in these parts you need to cocoon yourself.
Carry a day-pack with snacks, thermos, flashlight (just in case), batteries, camera.
And don’t be alarmed if your iPhones are suddenly discharged or just die!
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. Outside the town 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. After a smooth ride through the forest we reached a frozen Hebgen lake. This is a great trail for beginners as well as 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’s a chance of 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 the Two top mountain we went on further to a lodge/family-run restaurant for lunch. In winter this restaurant 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.
Meadow Creek lodge is one of those famous pit-stops for all snowmobilers; so it can be really crowded. 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.
What was your first snowmobiling experience like?