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West Yellowstone

Published online: Dec 10, 2007 Feature
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When you hear the phrase, Snowmobile Capital of the World, you immediately think of West Yellowstone, MT.

West Yellowstone is world famous for its snowmobiling. People travel from all over the world to ride a snowmobile here.

Can the snowmobiling really be that good? Are SnoWest Magazine readers just picking West Yellowstone as the No. 1 trail system in the West just because of its popularity and it's the bandwagon kind of thing to do?

What makes West Yellowstone the best place in the West (and we claim the snowbelt) to ride a snowmobile?

If you've never been there (and if you haven't, you'd be about the only one) then all the words in the world won't convince you.

You have to experience it to see what all the fuss is about.

In your mind's eye, imagine yourself standing on a mountaintop where all around is draped in winter's white blanket. We're not talking a thin blanket where the grass and weeds are poking through, we're talking a thick blanket where the pine tree boughs are ready to snap off the trunk because of the weight of the snow hanging on them. You take a deep breath and take in the cold, crisp mountain air and things are eerily silent. The air is clean, still and refreshing.

Look to the horizon and you see the canyons of Yellowstone National Park. You see a funny mountain that looks like the head of a lion. You're standing amongst what some people are calling snow ghosts-trees where the snow is wind whipped and caked onto its trunk and branches. You can see forever in every direction with mountain range after mountain range extending in all points of the compass.

You close your eyes, thinking to yourself, this is too good to be true. Then you open them up again and there is that same awesome scenery unfolding before you.

That's snowmobiling in West Yellowstone.

Mount Two Top. Horse Butte. Lion Head. The Big Sky Trail. The South Plateau. Yellowstone National Park. Those are just some of the spots that help make West Yellowstone so famous in the snowmobiling world.  

We've ridden the West Yellowstone area for years and we've ridden all over the West. There are dozens of places that are fun to ride and have lots of great qualities snowmobilers look for. But every time we ride West Yellowstone, it's easy for us to see why this area consistently ranks at the top, a spot its held every year except one since we first started the Top 15 survey years ago.

West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park are both famous and infamous-famous for their snowmobiling and infamous for all the issues surrounding snowmobiling in the Park. So, for West Yellowstone to stay on top is quite an accomplishment. Even though the best snowmobiling opportunities are outside of Yellowstone National Park, people relate the park's accessibility to riding opportunities. And with all the negative and misleading publicity surrounding the Park, it's bound to affect the community. However, West Yellowstone has been pretty resilient through it all and manages to still attract a fair amount of sledders, who are still finding the same great riding as there has always been around the area.

You would expect nothing else from the Snowmobile Capital of the World. Champions always rise to the occasion.

Part of the allure of West Yellowstone is its 400 miles of groomed trails that offer unlimited riding outside of Yellowstone National Park.

The most advanced riders will probably want to head right up the Big Sky Trail. It's the most challenging trail on the map and has more than its share of off-trail excitement. It eventually ends up at Taylor Creek, many miles north of town. A more moderate ride can be had on the Horse Butte Trail. This trail does offer about 400 feet of elevation change and some pretty good views. Hebgen Lake lies at the foot of the Horse Butte and Yellowstone National Park can be seen way off to the east.

If the altitude on Horse Butte tickled your fancy, try out the Lionhead Trail. It reaches up over 10,000 feet. Since the trail is only five miles long, this combination makes for some serious inclines. The trail is located on the east side of the Continental Divide and makes up for what it lacks in length by featuring what many consider to be the best off trail riding in West Yellowstone.

If you are into longer trail rides, you might try the Madison Arm Loop or Two Top Trails. Both of these trails head south of town and are long, wide and well groomed. The Two Top Trail showcases some of that award winning scenery and allows sledders to look over into Wyoming and Idaho.

Another part of the allure is the hundreds of square miles open to riding of all sorts from tree and ridge running to hillclimbing to powder busting to boondocking.

Trails leaving right from your motel room take you out into the national forests and disperse you into hundreds of miles of open riding.

West Yellowstone averages nearly 150 inches of snow a year and the season is long-usually from mid- to late-November to April, sometimes May. The grooming program doesn't cover all of that time frame (usually mid-December to late March), but there's usually snow to be found somewhere in the area. And along with the hundreds of miles of groomed trails, if you're into off-trail riding, there are numerous places to jump off the trail and boondock through the trees and play in wide-open meadows.

One of our favorite times to ride the trails around West Yellowstone is in late November and early December before the groomers go out. The powder is awesome along the trails and you don't have to worry about rocks and stumps. We were also able to ride late in the season last winter, well into April and even into early May. 

Of course, the complete trip to West Yellowstone would include a ride into Yellowstone National Park. Yes, it's open to snowmobiling. And it adds to the uniqueness of the West Yellowstone experience.

The community of West Yellowstone is also able to handle the crowds, which we admit, do come, with its plentiful accommodations and eating establishments. The town also offers the largest snowmobile rental fleet of anywhere we know of in the West. There are also guides available (a requirement inside the Park) who can show you all over the area.