West Yellowstone Cross-Country Ski Trails (beyond Rendezvous)
After arriving in West Yellowstone earlier this winter, my first stop was the Rendezvous trail system just outside of town in the Gallatin National Forest. I was the second skier out in the morning, and I enjoyed a nice ski along the Rendezvous Loop, Doug's Doodle, and Deja View. I could easily spend several days skiing on the Rendezvous trails without complaint, but on this trip, I decided to venture out and see what skiing was like on other trails in the area. What I found were beautiful skier-tracked trails wandering into quiet valleys of Yellowstone National Park and classic-groomed tracks leading to the open waters of the Madison River.
Fawn Pass Trail
22 miles north of West Yellowstone on US Hwy 191
I arrived at the Fawn Pass trailhead at first light and set off to find the trail, which starts below the parking area and crosses over a flat river bottom before disappearing into the trees. Since it was my first time at the trail, I had to follow the tracks of skiers before me, though that proved difficult to do on account of the new snow and flat morning light. I could just make out disturbed areas of snow here and there, which I followed as best I could. Occasionally, I would ski across a small bridge over part of the Gallatin River and I'd know that I was on the trail. At one point, the trail I was following took a sharp turn, as if the person who had skied it before me decided to take a closer look at Fan Creek. It seemed like the Fawn Pass trail should go straight, but it was impossible to make any progress though the chest deep snow, so I decided to follow the only path available. After a bit of wandering and zig-zagging I nearly turned back for my car. I was fairly certain I wasn't on the real trail, and without knowing the area I didn't want to take too many chances. But just then, the trail I was following found the main trail, and since I was now in the protection of the woods without the wind, it was easy to follow the path of everyone who had been that way before me. I'm glad I stuck with it, because the Fawn Pass trail turned out to be amazing! The trail winds through an evergreen forest with occasional clearings providing views across the valley. As soon as I made it over the first ridge line, all noise from the highway was gone and the only sound was from the occasional tree unburdening itself of the snow load it had accumulated the night before. The trail is 18km one-way, but I only covered a short fraction of that on the morning I was there since I wanted to get back to my family for the rest of the day's activity. This trail is definitely on my list to explore further in the future. It would be fun to take the whole day and ski Fawn Pass in its entirety.
The Riverside Trails head out of town at the end of Madison Avenue, just down the road from Marketplace grocery. There's parking along the road and a sign marking the start of the trail. The trail runs in a straight line through the woods to a junction near the Madison River.
At that point, you need to choose either the upriver or downriver loop. We tried both directions and found nice views of the river on both paths. The trail from town to the junction was well-tracked, but it became less defined on the river loops (since it was more exposed to the wind).
It snowed the entire time we were on the trail (quite hard at times), but as soon as we made it back to town, the sun came out and it turned into a bright day.
Before arriving in West Yellowstone, we had spent three days in the northern part of Yellowstone near Mammoth (link to that blog post), where buffalo and elk were abundant, but the only creature I saw during my stay in West Yellowstone was this little guy barking at everyone who passed his tree.
The Boundary Trail continues on where Boundary Street ends at the North end of town, and it runs along the edge of Yellowstone National Park. The trail ends at the Madison River and Bakers Campground. There are few spots to park along Hwy 191 near at the campground road if you would rather start near the river, otherwise the main trailhead is in town (3.5 miles from the river).