When it comes to snowmobiling in America's national parks, it seems the only news we hear these days is bad news and that is usually about Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
We're here to deliver the word that there are a few national parks where snowmobiling is allowed, including Yellowstone National Park as well as Grand Teton National Park. We'll update you on those two parks later in the story.
SnoWest Magazine has exclusively published in prior issues information on which national parks and monuments it is legal to snowmobile in. However, it's been a while since we last updated that information.
Updating our information means bringing you up to speed on any changes that have taken place in the rules and regulations governing snowmobiling in the handful of national parks and monuments where sledding is allowed. It also means adding national parks and/or monuments we may have missed in the past where snowmobiling is allowed. We come across this information as we continually research snowmobiling opportunities in the snowbelt, in and out of national parks.
The good news is we have a few more national parks/preserves to add to our list. We are also happy to report that, as of press time (late November), you can still snowmobile in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, although that saga is still back and forth. We really do feel sorry for the administrators of those two parks. How can they possibly plan anything when their fate continues to be batted around by the courts.
It was in November, 2001 when SnoWest first presented exclusive information on which national parks and monuments allowed snowmobiling. Most snowmobilers know about riding in Yellowstone National and Grand Teton National Parks, as well as Crater Lake National Park, but many are surprised to find out you can actually snowmobile in more than a dozen national parks and monuments across the western United States.
We've had the opportunity to experience snowmobiling in a half-dozen of those parks and monuments and each experience was as unique as the parks themselves.
The purpose of this report isn't to make any claims about how good the snowmobiling is in the national parks open to sledding. Rather, we're presenting this information for the purpose of giving sledders options when they go riding. There are a small number of national parks and monuments which are snowmobile destinations unto themselves-like Yellowstone National Park or Newberry National Volcanic Monument-but most are simply a nice side trip if you're in the area. For example, if you're riding the Diamond Lake (OR) area, you should definitely visit Crater Lake National Park or if you're riding the southern Cascade Range in southwest Washington, then it's worth it to ride up to the Windy Ridge Viewpoint where you can get an awesome look at the Mt. St. Helen's volcano crater.
The following information on snowmobiling in national parks and monuments is the result of our research on what is allowed when it comes to sledding and the reason we're naming these dozen or so national parks is because we were able to find out some detail about snowmobiling. We've also come across other national parks and/or monuments where snowmobiling is allowed but there isn't any detailed report because information about snowmobiling there is pretty sketchy. For example, snowmobiling is allowed in Alaska's Klondike Gold Rush National Park and Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, but other than, "Since access to the preserve is limited to water or air travel during the summer season and air or various other means of adventurous options (including snowmachines) during the harsh winter months." is the only information given about snowmobiling in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (and similarly for the Klondike park). Planning is key if you're thinking about snowmobiling in those two parks/preserves. For more information, contact the Klondike Gold Rush National Park (907-983-2921) or Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (907 547-2233).
Our research also revealed that snowmobiling is allowed in the very remote Noatak National Preserve (907- 442-3890), Kobuk Valley National Park (907-442-3890) and Bering Lane Bridge National Preserve (907-443-2522), all located in the far reaches of northwestern Alaska. While snowmobiling is allowed in these parks and preserves, the real challenge is getting there.
We have also decided not to go into great detail about a couple of other parks and monuments where you can, technically, ride but it's not much to speak of. One such place is Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. At one time, snowmobiles were allowed inside RMNP but the park has since ceased allowing sleds. However, snowmobiling is allowed along a two-mile stretch of the North Supply Access Trail in the southwest corner of the park. The trail connects the town of Grand Lake to the trail system in the national forest. So, you see, technically, you can ride in RMNP, but not much and you must stay on the trail.
Dinosaur National Monument is another unique snowmobiling situation, somewhat like the circumstances in RMNP. Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Utah/Colorado border east of Vernal, UT. You can't actually snowmobile in the monument but the National Park Service owns the road between U.S. Highway 40 and Dinosaur National Monument. That road is Harpers Corner Drive and snowmobiling is allowed on the roadway. Sleds are required to stay on the roadway but there are a couple of turnouts along the unplowed drive where you can pull over and see some nice views of the monument.
There are other national recreation areas and historic landmarks where snowmobiling is legal, such as the Mt. Baker National Recreation Area in northwest Washington and the Lemhi Pass National Historic Landmark near Salmon, ID. There other such federal areas where riding is allowed and chances are some sledders have ridden in these spots and not even known of their federal status. Generally speaking, national recreation areas and landmarks don't have the same restrictions as national parks and monuments.
Below you'll find information on snowmobile opportunities in the national parks and monuments where we're allowed. One suggestion would be to call before you go (all numbers are listed in each park's section).
Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali is located in central Alaska and is home to Mt. McKinley (20,320 feet), the tallest mountain in North America. Mt. McKinley sits among several impressive mountains and is the centerpiece of the Alaska Range. Add to that many large glaciers, abundant wildlife and you have a great place to visit and ride. This is one of those national parks where snowmobiling is under scrutiny. Make sure you know the rules before you go.
DNP&P General Information
All lands within the former Mt. McKinley National Park, on both sides of the Alaska Range, are closed to snowmobile use.
Intentionally disturbing or frightening wildlife is prohibited.
Operating a snowmobile that makes excessive noise is prohibited.
Operating a snowmobile without a headlight and red taillight a half-hour before and after sunrise/sunset or when persons and vehicles are not clearly visible for 500 feet is prohibited.
The speed limit is 45 mph. Snowmobile operators must be at least 16 years old unless accompanied by an adult 21 years old or older.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Located on the southeastern edge of the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the most accessible national parks in Alaska.
And one of the most beautiful, as it is dominated by the Kenai Mountains, glaciers, and icefields as well as rugged peninsulas and fjords. The park is home to the Harding Icefield, the largest icefield entirely within U.S. borders.
This park is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in all of North America.
The park also points out that winter is one of the best times to view moose-at a distance, of course.
Kenai Fjords National Park General Information
Snowmobiles are allowed in the park once there is at least 18 inches of snow with a solid base.
The Harding Icefield has adequate snow cover year round, but the rest of the park is generally open to snowmobile use from November through April.
Snowmobile use is prohibited within the Exit Glacier Developed Area except on the Exit Glacier Road, the parking areas and on a designated route through the Exit Glacier Campground to Exit Creek.
Snowmobiles may not make excessive noise.
A maximum speed of 45 mph applies throughout the park.
Riders under the age of 12 must be accompanied on the same machine by a responsible person 21 years of age or older. Riders under the age of 16 must be supervised by a responsible person 21 years of age or older.
Lake Clark Park National Park and Preserve
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is an isolated wonder located in southern Alaska across the Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula. There is no highway access, therefore airplane access is the most practical option. An airport is located in Iliamna, about 30 miles south of the park. This national park only sees about 5,000 visitors all year long (and that's mostly in the summer months), partly because it is so remote.
Once inside the park the visitor will have the opportunity to enjoy more than four million acres of beauty. The park is home to several mountain ranges including the Chigmit, Alaska and Aleutian. The park is also known for its seismic activity as there are two active volcanoes, Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna, within the borders.
Snowmobiling within the park is not limited to trails. In fact, there are no trails or roads to follow within the park.
LCNP&P General Information
Snowmobiling is only allowed when there is adequate snow cover.
This is extreme backcountry riding so snowmobilers should be prepared for the elements and carry adequate supplies.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in the United States and is located in southeastern Alaska, along the border with Canada. The park spans more than 13 million acres and is home to three mountain ranges, including the Chugach, the Wrangell and the St. Elias.
The park/preserve includes the greatest concentration of glaciers and the greatest number of peaks above 16,000 feet, including St. Elias (18,008 feet), the second highest peak in the United States. Many of the peaks in the park's mountains were once active volcanoes. Today, the only active volcano is Mt. Wrangell (14,163 feet), located near the center of the upper portion of the park. According to park sources, in the winter and on cool summer mornings, it's not unusual to see a steam plume rising up out of the vents situated in the craters along the margin of the summit caldera. The park also reports that permanent snow and ice cover 50 percent of the land.
There are no groomed trails but there is plenty of snow in the mountains, valleys and drainages to keep sledders busy for days. There are two roads passing through the park which provide a riding guide for snowmobilers in the winter. One road extends 42 miles and the other extends about 60 miles into the interior. There are few restrictions on snowmobiles in the winter, except sledders should use common sense like not harassing wildlife and ruining the vegetation.
One kind of cool option for sledders riding in Wrangell-St. Elias is to overnight at one of the many cabins available for public use. Contact the park for more information on these cabins.
WSNP&P General Information
Snowmobiling is only allowed when there is adequate snow cover.
This is extreme backcountry riding so snowmobilers should be prepared for the elements and carry adequate supplies.
Giant Sequoia National Monument
The Giant Sequoia National Monument has basically been carved out of some spectacular mountainous national parks in southcentral California. It is surrounded by Kings and Sequoia National Parks, several Wilderness Areas and the Tule River Indian Reservation.
The riding in the national monument is on roads not plowed in the winter, including the Great Western Divide Highway in the southern portion of the monument. There are two sections of Giant Sequoia, a northern portion around Sequoia Lake and west of Kings National Park and the larger southern portion west of Springville and then curving south around the Indian reservation. The two parcels are bisected by Sequoia National Park. The national monument was created in 2000 to protect the giant sequoia groves (38 in all) within the Sequoia National Forest, which still manages the land in the monument.
Gorges, domes, spires, mountains, lakes, rivers and stream drainages all combine to give this national monument a terrain where you can climb from 2,500 feet to more than 9,000 feet in just a few miles.
Several miles of groomed trails are maintained during the winter, allowing sledders to take in the winter scapes and awesome scenery this part of California holds. Several trails lead up to vistas and lookouts so you can take in the views of the Sierra Nevada. Detailed maps of the available trails are on Giant Sequoia's website (listed below). Nearly 100 miles of the trails in the national monument are in the southern portion with the balance in the north.
GSNM General Information
Snowmobiling is only allowed on roads. No off-trail riding is allowed.
There are services such as gas and food in several spots in the national monument.
Curecanti National Recreation Area
Curecanti National Recreation Area, located in southwest Colorado, is a water lover's dream in the summer and a sheet of ice in the winter. The recreation area contains three reservoirs: Blue Mesa, Black Canyon and Morrow Point. The Blue Mesa is the largest reservoir in Colorado. The area surrounding the reservoirs is also impressive including mesas and steep narrow canyons. U.S. Highway 50 runs through the center of the recreation area, making it easily accessible to recreationists.
Snowmobiling is subject to conditions such as ice and adequate snow cover. Provided adequate conditions exist, snowmobiling is allowed on the Iola and Cebolla Basins, as well as the West Elk, Lake Fork and Cebolla arms. Snowmobiling access is also limited to established roads to and from the reservoirs.
CNRA General Information
Snowmobile travel is limited to the frozen surface of the Blue Mesa Reservoir and on established access roads to the reservoir only.
Maximum gross weight is 1200 lbs. (snowmobile and cargo).
Avoid interface with other recreationists.
Do not disturb wildlife. Snowmobile access may be limited to reduce stress to wildlife during harsh winters.
City of Rocks National Reserve
City of Rocks, located in southcentral Idaho, contains some of the most impressive rock formations dating back billions of years. Though the park is small-14,107 acres-there are 11 miles of road open to snowmobilers. The City of Rocks was a historical landmark for emigrants traveling the California trail in the mid 1800s.
Snowmobiling is restricted to roadways when there is appropriate snow cover. An option for riders is to ride the City of Rocks Backcountry Byway, a roadway, connecting both the Almo (east) and the Emery Canyon (west). The road itself is about 6 miles long but follows a scenic path past Treasure Rock, Elephant Rock, Bath Rock and the Bread Loaves rock formations.
It's also possible to enter the reserve from its southwest corner, at the Junction entrance. From there it's a five-mile ride to where it meets the scenic byway. There is no fee to enter the reserve.
Sledders can also access the Sawtooth National Forest through the City of Rocks park roads. Snowmobilers use the Logger Springs Road, which heads north from the main park road in Emery Canyon, go past Finger Rock and into the national forest. The popular destination is Almo Park, where you boondock, hillclimb and play in open meadows of the Albion Mountains.
CRNR General Information
Snowmobiling is restricted to existing roadways only when there is adequate snow cover.
Snowmobiles must have current registration.
The reserve is open year round but reserve headquarters hours in the winter are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is one of the oldest national parks in North America and one of the most unique. Crater Lake has become famous for its deep blue color and impressive ride of mountains that surround the lake. And all that is draped in a heavy blanket of snow during the winter as the park averages 533 inches of snow each year, making it the snowiest place in all of Oregon.
Snowmobiling is limited to one road in the park but it's where that road leads that makes a trip to Crater Lake so cool. The view from the North Rim Overlook offers great views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Sites along the road include the Pumice Desert, Red Cone (8,763 feet) and Grouse Hill (7,412 feet).
While Roseburg is the closest full service town, the Diamond Lake Resort (800-733-7593) has nearly everything a snowmobiler needs, including food and fuel.
CLNP General Information
Snowmobile use is permitted in Crater Lake National Park only on the North Entrance Road from the park boundary to North Junction, where the entrance road meets Rim Drive.
Snowmobile use is limited to the unplowed roadway only.
Both headlight and taillight must be illuminated while the snowmobile is in operation.
Operators must carry a valid state registration for each snowmobile.
Maximum speed is 45 mph.
Operators must possess a valid state license or proof of state certification by an authorized state snowmobile safety officer.
Snowmobiles must be equipped with a muffler in good working order.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Created about a dozen and a half years ago, Newberry National Volcanic Monument is a geological wonder with cinder cones, pumice cones, caves, streams, lakes, lava flows, waterfalls, mountains and spectacular geological features. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the monument is located in central Oregon.
The two largest lakes are located in the southern part of the monument, as are many of the geological features visitors like to see.
Snowmobile trails, groomed and ungroomed, lace Newberry National Volcanic Monument and take sledders past most of the monument's geological features. For the best view of the monument's caldera, ride to the top of 7,985-foot Paulina Peak, where you can also get a bird's eye view of the Oregon Cascades and the High Desert. Another good viewpoint is Cinder Hill. Or try the ungroomed Roller Coaster trail, which takes you past the Obsidian Flow.
And, unlike many other national parks and monuments, sledders are allowed off-trail to play in several areas, all of which are clearly marked on the trail map.
NNVM General Information
While off-trail riding is allowed, stay on the trails where required.
No snowmobiling is allowed on Paulina or East Lakes. Water under the ice is soft.
Trails are clearly marked on the trail map. Trails numbered with single digits means they are groomed on a regular basis. Trails numbered with double digits are occasionally groomed and trails numbered with triple digits may be poorly marked and never groomed.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument is small-just 6,154 acres-but the scenery is huge. Cedar Breaks is famous for its massive natural amphitheater which extends 2,000-feet deep and more than three miles in diameter. The park is located in Southern Utah and sits on the 10,000-foot high Markagunt Plateau. Deep in the bowels of the amphitheater are spires, columns, arches and pinnacles, all decked out in beautiful colors.
There is one trail available for snowmobilers and it's six miles from one end of Cedar Breaks to the other. The ungroomed snowmobile trail follows Highways 148 and 143 through the monument. On the way through the monument, you can stop and see Point Supreme (10,350 feet), where you can get spectacular views of the amphitheater as you are standing on the very edge of the cliff. There are also two other viewpoints where you can see the amphitheater from a different angle.
CBNM General Information
Stay on the trail. No off-trail riding is allowed.
Since the road is not plowed or groomed in the winter, caution is advised because there can be huge wind drifts on the trail.
The maximum speed (35 mph) is posted and enforced.
When snowmobilers encounter cross country skiers and/or snowshoers, slow down and give them the right-of-way.
Because Cedar Breaks was exempted from the ban on snowmobiling in America's National Parks, there is a special concern regarding this national monument. Snowmobilers need to remember that riding here is a privilege, not a right. Snowmobilers bear a special responsibility to heed use regulations in the monument, especially speed and staying on the trail. Failure to comply has brought considerable adverse attention to the monument and its exemption from the snowmobile ban in most national park units. It is the responsibility of each snowmobiler to comply or the privilege could be removed.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is located in southwestern Washington and has some of the most rugged backcountry in the state. Still an active volcano, Mount Rainier dominates the terrain, standing at 14,410 feet tall, and can clearly be seen from Seattle. Mount Rainier is encased in more than 35 square miles of snow and ice.
There are a couple of riding opportunities within the park-one in the south and one in the northeast corner. In the southeast corner of the park riders can explore from the Steven's Canyon Entrance to the road tunnel at Box Canyon. In the north, snowmobilers can ride for several unplowed miles from the North Park Boundary to the White River Entrance on Washington Highway 410.
We've ridden into the park from the north entrance and while it was beautiful, if the prize you're seeking is views of Mt. Rainier, you might be disappointed, at least on a snowmobile. You'd have a better glimpse of the mountain from outside the park as this route is through a tunnel of trees.
MRNP General Information Snowmobiling is only allowed where previously mentioned. No off-trail riding is allowed.
Be prepared for extreme winter conditions and check avalanche forecasts prior to entering the park.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Snowmobiling in Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument allows sledders the unique opportunity to view the massive crater left behind when the mountain erupted May 18, 1980.
Although ungroomed, there is a trail that leads up Mt. St. Helens for spectacular views of the mountain and the volcano. The snowmobile trail follows Forest Road 99 from the Wakepish Sno Park (located south of the town of Randle off U.S. Highway 12) providing access to the national monument and Windy Ridge Viewpoint where you'll get the best views of the volcano. You can also get some great views of the volcano from Forest Road 25, also an ungroomed snowmobile trail that leads south out of the same sno park.
That national monument states that nearly 230 square miles of forest was blown down or buried beneath volcanic deposits from the 1980 eruption while at the same time a mushroom-shaped column of ash rose thousands of feet skyward and drifted downwind, turning day into night as dark, gray ash fell over eastern Washington and beyond.
Inside the national monument's boundaries, you can choose to head north at Miner's Car on Forest Road 26 toward Ryan Lake, where you'll ride within the monument before exiting prior to getting to the lake.
MSHNVM General Information You'll be sharing the trail in some places with other winter users so be considerate and allow plenty of space between your sled and them.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is often overshadowed by the park up the road-Yellowstone National Park-but the views and scenery and snow from in this park are as good as it gets. Towering over the valley-most folks know the area as Jackson Hole-is the 13,770- foot Grand Teton. But 12 more Teton peaks reach past 12,000 feet in elevation. Mountains here are the youngest of the mountains in the Rocky Mountains. Grand Teton is also home to Jackson and Jenny Lakes, as well as an abundance of wildlife and other scenic treasures. Connecting Grand Teton and Yellowstone is the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.
There are groomed snowmobile trails in Grand Teton, but that number has been reduced over the past few years. While, as mentioned, regulations for the 2008-09 season are still up in the air at press time, one of the changes being talked about was grooming on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail inside GTNP between Moran Junction and Flagg Ranch would be discontinued. However, those interested could in through travel on the CDST could still trailer their sleds between those two spots.
For information on current trail conditions, snowmobilers can call (307) 739-3614, the Moose Visitor Center (307-739-3399) or check with the Flagg Ranch information center.
At Flagg Ranch snowmobilers can also head west on the Grassy Lake Road and hook up with the Island Park, ID, trail system. It's about 20 miles to the Idaho/Wyoming border from Flagg Ranch.
Snowmobile rules in Grand Teton tend to mirror (for the most part) the regulations in Yellowstone National Park. For more information, see the Yellowstone National Park section.
GTNP General Information
Snowmobile regulations in Yellowstone National Park differ from those in Grand Teton National Park and Rockefeller Parkway.
Snowmobiles must exhibit a valid Wyoming snowmobiling registration decal.
All snowmobiles must have a working headlight and red light.
Do not exceed posted speed limits.
Snowmobiles must travel on the designated snowmobile trail.
Entrance fees are collected at the Moran and Moose Entrances Stations in Grand Teton and all Yellowstone Entrance stations. Entrance permit is good for both Grand Teton and Yellowstone for seven days.
A person operating a snowmobile must possess a valid motor vehicle operator's license.
Snowmobiling is permitted between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.
Snowmobiles must meet Best Available Technology standards.
Yellowstone National Park
The crown jewel when it comes to snowmobiling in our national parks and monuments is Yellowstone National Park. That's why the snowmobile industry has been fighting so hard to keep this park, along with Grand Teton National Park, open to snowmobiles.
Yellowstone is not only the first, and oldest, national park in America, but also in the world. Yellowstone has nearly 10,000 hot springs and geysers, the most famous being Old Faithful. Lakes, rivers, waterfalls and streams are plentiful in the park and a must-see is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Then there's the wildlife, which includes bears, bison, elk and wolves.
There are two Wyoming entrances to Yellowstone National Park, one south of the park near Flagg Ranch and the other at Pahaska, west of Cody. The West Entrance is West Yellowstone, MT, and to the north is Gardiner, MT.
About 96 percent of the park lies in Wyoming, and riding there is one of snowmobiling's most unique experiences. There are far fewer people in the winter (fewer than 25,000 snowmobiles a winter compared to more than 2 million vehicles in the summer) and that means you don't have to fight the crowds to see the park's many features. All snowmobile trails follow the park's roadways and aren't plowed in the winter but are groomed. Snowmobiles share the same trails as other recreationists on cross country skis, snowshoes and snowcoaches, so be careful. Most of the park's roadways are open to snowmobiling in the winter except the road between Canyon Village and Tower-Roosevelt, as well as the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to the Northeast Entrance, which is plowed during the winter to provide access to Cooke City, MT.
In Yellowstone all snowmobiles are commercially guided and all snowmobiles are required to meet NPS best available technology requirements.
To find out who the approved commercial guide services are, log on to the Yellowstone National Park webpage (listed below) and click on the Plan Your Visit section. Then click on Things To Do. Then click on Winter Activities and you'll see a Snowmobile & Snowcoach Touring section. Click on that and you'll find the listing of guides.
As mentioned, all recreational snowmobiles entering Yellowstone National Park will be required to be four-stroke machines that meet the cleaner, quieter National Park Service (NPS) "Best Available Technology" (BAT) standards. A list of NPS-approved BAT snowmobiles is available on the park's website at www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/current_batlist.htm.
Despite the current legal wrangling that continues to go on regarding Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, the administrators for those parks were working hard to implement a plan to continue to allow snowmobiling in the parks this season while a long-term solution is worked out.
Your best bet would be to continue to monitor the parks' websites or call the phone numbers listed below. We also try to keep our readers posted on the latest developments on www.snowest.com.
YNP General Information
You must stay on designated roads. Sidehilling, berm riding or any off-road travel is prohibited and carries of up to $5,000.
Thermal basins, viewpoints and walkways are snowpacked and icy during winter; fog reduces visibility. Stay on boardwalks or maintained trails; walk carefully.
If bison or other wildlife are on the road, stop at least 25 yards away and/or pull your machine as far as possible to the opposite side of the road. Give them a chance to move off the road.
All snowmobile operators are required to have a valid driver's license; no learner permits are allowed.
Roads are open only from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Snowmobiles are not allowed to operate in the park between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Maximum speed limit is 45 mph or less where posted or as conditions warrant.
Speed limit is 35 mph from the West Entrance to the Madison Junction and from the Madison Junction to Old Faithful.
Do not idle your machine longer than five minutes.
Drive in single file.
Drive on the right side of the road even if the road is rough.