When you hear the
phrase, Snowmobile Capital of the World, you immediately think of West
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.
in West Yellowstone.
Mount Two Top. Horse
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
Part of the allure
of West Yellowstone is its 400 miles of groomed trails that offer unlimited
riding outside of Yellowstone
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
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.
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
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
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.