Holiday weekends are the best – and this year I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Independence Day and the freedom I am blessed to enjoy than by riding Harley’s through this beautiful country that I love! From July 3-5, I rode along with my friend Dallas and his family through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, traversing some of the prettiest country I have ever seen. Read on to hear about this incredible ride I’ll never forget and why you should travel these miles yourself!
Day 1: Idaho Falls, Idaho to Bozeman, Montana
(Approximately 265.21 Miles)
Ready to Roll!
Thursday, July 3 marked the first day of our ride. I could hardly sleep the night before because I was so excited. After weeks of mounting anticipation, the wait was finally over – by the time morning came I was more than ready to go! We grabbed our gear and headed into Idaho Falls bright and early. We met up with the rest of the family and got ready to start our ride off at Chester’s Grand Teton Harley-Davidson. We’d rented bikes for the weekend from the dealership and were equipped with five beautiful motorcycles – three 2014 Ultra Limited Electra Glides and two 2014 Street Glide Specials – a bike for each couple. Once the paperwork was complete and we were instructed on all of the special features of the bikes, we loaded up and hit the road.
I had to pinch myself for the first few miles to make sure we were really on our way. But I felt that familiar feeling of becoming part of the bike grow with every passing mile as I listened to the rumble of the engine and felt the wind on my skin. I could feel the stresses of every day life melting away – no work, no school, no responsibilities – all that laid before us was miles of open road and the promise of adventure.
We headed north on I-15 for about 140 miles or so chasing a big black cloud promising rain on every side. We managed to dodge the storm (minus a few small raindrops) as we made our way to the small town of Dillon, MT. We stopped to fuel up and experienced a small delay as we realized that somewhere along the way we had lost a key for one of the bikes – ok, to our bike. We’d had a little mix-up when we were in a hurry to leave a stop and each of us thought the other had the key or that it was in a saddlebag. We’d never shut the ignition all the way off when we had stopped, and thanks to modern-day technology where you don’t actually have to put the key in the bike for it to run, we were able to still ride the motorcycle far from the actual point we think the key was lost. Unfortunately there was no going back. But hey, it wouldn’t be a vacation without some kind of unplanned adventure, right? After a quick call to Harley, an over-the-phone tutorial for the manual override and some teasing from the family, we were back on the road headed mostly west on MT-287 about 60 miles to our next stop: Virginia City, MT.
A Step Back in Time
As we pulled into town, I felt a little like we were riding into a scene from an old-fashioned western – wooden walkways, horse-drawn stagecoaches, old-time shops and store fronts were greeting us on both sides. After the bikes were parked, we checked out a few of the shops. We wandered through town and ate lunch at Outlaw’s Café and Antique Shoppe and then followed that up with some ice cream from the Virginia City Creamery. My legs enjoyed the rest after the long stretch of riding, and the time was just long enough for the storm to pass through while we ate as well! The weather was clear when we were ready to get back on the road, so we saddled up and headed down MT-287 until we reached MT-84. We followed that for about 35 miles towards Bozeman where we were staying for the night. The drive was pretty as we drove right along side the Madison River. We made one last stop to stretch our legs and take in the scenery before we cruised into Bozeman.
A Night Out in Bozeman
We checked in at the Ramada hotel where we had reservations in Bozeman, unloaded our stuff, and freshened up for dinner. We ate at a little joint called Roost, a down-home southern fried chicken place out of Tennessee. Dallas and I had both lived in Tennessee, and were excited to get another taste of the south! We feasted on cuisine like fried chicken, fried okra, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes – and it was delicious. We had a good time relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.
After dinner, we ended the evening by cruising around Bozeman on the bikes and checking out the nightlife – it was quite a happening town! But it was late, so we fueled up and headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next day’s ride. Minus the mishap with the key, it was the perfect first day of riding.
Day 2: Bozeman, Montana to Cody, Wyoming
(Approximately 263.18 Miles)
Rocky Mountain High
Friday morning, the fourth of July, marked day two of our ride. The morning greeted us with blue skies and sunshine, and I knew it was going to be a great day. Our ultimate destination for the end of the day was Cody, Wyoming where we planned to watch the town’s firework show that night. We packed up and got on the road about 9 am and headed east on I-90 for 20 miles or so before turning off on US-89 and heading south towards Yellowstone. That length of highway was beautiful as again it paralleled a river the majority of the way. We weaved along mountains and hills until we reached Gardiner, MT, where the North entrance to the park is located. We stopped at Yellowstone Gifts and Sweets to stretch, check out the souvenirs and pose for some pictures before entering Yellowstone.
I had never been to Yellowstone before. It was full of things to see! We rode along the beautiful Gardiner River and stopped to check out Mammoth Hot Springs. Although hiking is just about my favorite outdoor activity, I was glad the walk wasn’t long to the hot springs – July weather at the Hot Springs while being wrapped in denim and leather makes for a warm stroll! But it was well worth the stop to see. The geology was fascinating.
We even mingled with the wildlife! I am used to seeing wild animals, but it is a different experience being just a couple of feet away from a bunch of elk and buffalo while on a motorcycle. At a few spots I could have even reached out and pet a buffalo if I chose to. I am just glad we didn’t get to have the same experience with a grizzly bear…
At one point as we rode along I looked over just in time to catch a sign noting that we’d just crossed the 45th parallel, which put us exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. That was a fun random fact.
There were amazing views everywhere we looked. The mountains were beautiful, many showing traces of snow and many laced with multiple cascading waterfalls. Our ride through Yellowstone took us from Gardiner, MT, dipping us back down into Wyoming again until we exited the park back in Montana at the Northeast Entrance in Cooke City.
The Beartooth Experience
We grabbed a bite to eat for lunch at the Beartooth Café in Cooke City. As we were waiting for our food, we saw a truck drive by with a snowmobile in the back…and fresh snow still in the tracks! From the bit of snow I could see on the mountainsides, I was curious to know where there was still enough snow for snowmobilers to be out playing in July. Just when I’d started to convince myself I was just seeing things, a second truck passed by showing the exact same thing!
The next leg of the journey was one of the most anticipated stretches of the ride: Beartooth Pass. US Highway 212 E is open from Memorial Day each year (weather permitting) through early October and has been called one of the most beautiful roadways in America. We couldn’t wait to ride it! Knowing it reached a summit of 10,947 feet, we made sure we packed some warm weather gear for the ride just in case.
We weren’t disappointed – majestic mountains, rivers, waterfalls (some huge and tucked back in the pines, some from snow melt flowing right next to the asphalt), glacial lakes, open tundras, pine forests, steep sheer cliffs that dropped off for hundreds of feet – there was no end to the beauty. And snow! Lots of it! The first chance we got we pulled over and snowballs were flying in no time.
We were fine in just our riding jackets, but the snow only increased as we rode higher. Some areas still had a good 6-foot or higher wall of snow carved out next to the road. We even found the snowmobilers – one of them took our picture as we posed on top of a big snow pile. Not really something you think you’ll do on the fourth of July!
That may have been one of the curviest highways I have ever been on – the kind motorcycle dreams are made of. The turns got more fun as we made our way down from the summit. A couple of the bends had us leaning so far that we scraped the footboards on the asphalt as we hooked around the corner. I was so focused on leaning with Dallas and the motorcycle that it took a second sometimes to remember not to clutch him in a vice-like grip with my knees! The decent definitely got my heart pumping and gave me an adrenaline rush I won’t forget anytime soon!
The trek up and over Beartooth was around 65 miles, but took us a couple of hours to complete due to the rise and fall in elevation, and the sharpness of the curves. Once we reached the bottom, we stopped in the town of Red Lodge to stretch and grabbed some more ice cream. Then we jumped back on the bikes taking MT-308 and connecting to MT-72/WY-120, following that for nearly 40 miles into Cody. That was one long, straight road in the middle of nowhere!
4th of July Festivities in Cody
We got settled in at the Sunrise Motor Inn once we reached Cody, and cleaned up for dinner again. We had a little time to kill before we went to eat and watch the fireworks, so we each spent some time doing our own thing. Dallas and I cruised around town checking out the sights and looking for good spots to watch the fireworks. Seems like the rest of the town had the same idea! It was just a little unplanned adventure, but was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We met back up with his family and headed to Bubba’s Bar-b-que where we talked and laughed and filled up on ribs, steaks and brisket. When we were finished there, we headed down the road and posted up next to a fence with a good view of the firework show. In Cody, they shoot the fireworks up from a lower spot in the valley. So basically wherever you are in town, the fireworks look like they are only a few feet off of the ground and right in front of you. It was fun to watch them straight on across the valley. The show itself was pretty good too with an impressive display of shapes, sizes and variety! As I sat there watching that night, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my freedom and privilege to live in my country – BBQ, bikes, fireworks, friends, family – does it get any better than that? The rest of the evening was spent cruising around Cody and the surrounding area, checking out some of the roads we’d ride in the morning. What a great day!
Day 3: Cody, Wyoming to Idaho Falls, Idaho
The Final Ride
Day 3 marked the last day of our ride. As the majority of the ride was highway instead of freeway miles, we knew it would take a little longer, so we started out bright and early. We grabbed a few souvenirs, and then hopped on US-20 W and headed towards Yellowstone once again.
Every day we rode had gorgeous scenery, and day 3 was no exception. There was such a variety in the landscapes we passed through. Once we made it through the tunnel on the west side of Cody, we came right out on to Buffalo Bill Reservoir and rode along side it for miles. Not long after that, we rode for a distance through the Shoshone National Forest, which was lined with rugged red cliffs, green sage and pines. It was everything I ever pictured a ranch in Wyoming might look like. The North Fork Shoshone River was weaving itself through the canyon right next to the road as well. Due to the high snow pack this year, every river and lake in Wyoming and Montana (including this one) was full to the brim, which made them even more incredible to see.
We were almost to the east entrance of Yellowstone when the temperature dropped significantly. I zipped up the vents in my jacket, but still felt the chill! We froze our tails off for about 15 minutes until we reached Pahaska Tepee where we stopped to layer up and take a quick rest before we entered Yellowstone again. Once inside the park, we rode through forested hills and mountains and made our way higher and deeper into the park. After riding for miles, we came out of the forest and suddenly before us was one of the biggest lakes I have ever seen! At 20 miles long and 14 miles wide with 141 miles of shoreline, Yellowstone Lake is the largest mountain lake in North America. The water was almost to the road in some areas due to overflow, and seemed to stretch on forever! We rode along the shore for at least an hour as we wove around the lake.
When we made it around to the west side of the lake, we headed south down through the park along pine-lined highways, Lewis Lake, and cliffs carved out by the river down below. The views were spectacular and the ride was fun! We exited the park at the south entrance and soon entered straight into the Grand Teton National Park.
The scene that greeted us as we came up on Jackson Lake with the Tetons in the background was amazing. The jagged, snowcapped peaks were breathtaking, and I couldn’t peel my eyes off of them! Luckily I didn’t have to for a while because we rode towards and alongside them for miles and miles. We saw everything from sagebrush, to red cliffs, to wildflowers to mountains still painted with snow – all before lunch!
Fire and Ice
We went from freezing that morning outside of Yellowstone to melting in the heat as we made our way down to Jackson, Wyoming. By the time we pulled into town, all we wanted to do was sprawl out in the shade before getting something to eat. We had a certain time we needed to return the bikes by though, so we couldn’t hang around for too long. Once we were rested and fed, we followed US-89 out of Jackson along the Snake River. The rapids seemed even more turbulent than normal. Like all of the other rivers we’d seen, it was even more full than usual, and white water rafters were out in abundance! I was a little jealous of them as I sat there roasting in my leathers – that would have been the perfect way to cool off that hot day!
When we reached Alpine Junction, we followed US-26 northwest, crossing into Idaho. We split up for a little while as a couple of the bikes went to find some fireworks so that we could celebrate Wyoming style when we got home later that night.
We traveled about 30 miles through the mountain passes and cruised parallel with the Palisades Reservoir for a nice long stretch. After we made it through the pass, we stopped in Swan Valley to eat some square ice cream at favorite local and traveler’s stop, Rainey Creek. I’d never seen square ice cream before, but it tasted pretty good! It was the last ice cream stop of the ride – and our last rest stop before we tackled the remaining 40 or so miles into Idaho Falls. We tried to cool off as we waited for the other two bikes to return and then jumped back on the road. When we reached the edge of the mountains and the landscape opened up into wide plains, the wind kicked up pretty hard. The ride back into town was a constant fight with the winds coming up from the south, and by the time we made it back to the dealership we were ready for the rest!
A Weekend to Remember
The overall trip read 813.32 miles when mapped out, but when we returned the bike, our odometer read 917 miles – all in 3 awesome days of riding. We definitely will have lasting memories from this ride! Pictures won’t do the experience justice, so I am just going to have to encourage you to ride it for yourself. Pick a spot with amazing landscapes, grab the people you love, and get out there on your motorcycle and see the world! Let us know about a ride that you have done in the comments below, or by submitting a photo to our Reader’s Rides section on RM Rider Exchange!