Motorcycle Ride Report: Las Vegas to Glacier National Park

A full ride report and route for a two week, 3,500-mile motorcycle tour from Las Vegas to Glacier National Park. 

Las Vegas to Glacier National Park Motorcycle Ride Report

Contents

This article has been written for Mad or Nomad by an author who wishes to remain anonymous, but still share their experiences and route info so that it might help others plan their trips too. 

Motorcycle Ride from Las Vegas to Glacier National Park, USA

Why do we ride? A long-standing, unanswered question came to me again as I tightened the straps on the passenger seat bag. It was a cracking, Las Vegas September morning. And I had asked this question over and over again, despite the plethora of answers from YouTube, friends and family.

Perhaps it was a long-coming vacation, or the adventure, or to simply go and see Glacier National Park, a bucket list entry in a bucket full of places. I put the question aside, mounted the BMW R1250  – and paused. This truly was the moment. I had imagined what my departure would feel like and this was it. A sense of the waiting road and the unknown lie ahead. The Bonneville Salt Flats, the Tetons, Yellowstone with the Old Faithfull Inn, Glacier NP, Creators of the Moon National Preserve, 3,200 miles and 14 days were waiting. I stopped the waiting, started the bike and headed out.

Ride Report

Day 1: Vegas, NV to Ward Mountain, NV

It took over an hour to get out of Vegas and finally hit the US Route 93 heading North. This road, the 93, would become my friend, and I would ride it both ways for most of the time. The plan was to ride for two weeks with a mixture of hotels/lodges and camping. All that shiny new camping stuff had to get used! And the bike needed a long run too, beyond the few weekend rides. And I needed to see if I could do it, and more importantly, enjoy it. Maybe this was the test for the grand prize of a round the world motorcycle dream…

The Nevada desert was relentlessly hot, even for the end of September. While the 93 was relatively empty for a Sunday, it quickly shot up to just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I took a break after about 100 miles and enjoyed the coffee I had prepared in the morning. It would be 251 miles to Ward Mountain Campground, and all on the 93.

I pushed on and so did the temperature – reaching 105 degrees. More breaks and a lot more water followed. The wet t-shirt cooling system worked well. Nevada has great expanses of endless desert lined only with featureless black ribbons – relatively characterless strips of blacktop cutting through the barren land.

Finally arriving at the campground turnoff, I suddenly realized the road was not a road at all, but a dirt track. This would be the first time on dirt! Finding the campsite, I parked the bike with little attention to where, and got off. I just could not wait to end the ride that day. The first long day coupled with serious heat was just too intense.

Las Vegas to Glacier National Park Motorcycle Ride Report

Day 2: Ward Mountain, NV to West Wendover, UT

A short 130 miles to West Wendover was a simple ride. Once I got to Wendover, I went to the Bonneville Salt Flats and immediately rode out to the viewing point.

Apparently, it was Bike Week, but with all the rain, the event had been cancelled and the salt flats turned into a shallow salt lake. All the water created amazing reflections.

Another visitor struck up a conversation and reminded me of the importance of the Bonneville Salt Flats, including Triumph naming a very famous motorcycle after the place. Many land speed records have been broken here, including the first Bonneville land speed record set by Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1935 at 301 mph with his Blue Bird. This truly is hallowed ground for all things machines and speed.

The rain would come back and follow me for many days. I really needed some sleep and stayed at the West Wendover Best Western. Of course, the breakfasts are the best part of these chain hotels, up and down the country.

While loading the panniers, I didn’t pay attention to the lean on the parked bike. I loaded up the near side first, the opposite to the kick stand side. The bike became upright and toppled over. In the car park. Right in front of the hotel entrance. With lots of people milling about getting ready to leave. My helmet went flying as did my camera bag, and the GoPro snapped off the tripod that I had carefully mounted on the back rails. The helmet visor snapped off. I lifted the bike, gathered all my clutter and set off – a little more humble. Without the visor, the helmet looked cool, but I had constant glare in my eyes. I couldn’t fix it, so this is how it was going to be. A lesson learned. Watch where and how you park the bike and load the bike with care.

Day 3: West Wendover UT to Lyman, WY

The third state in as many days, was a long, 270-mile ride with lots of I80. The best was the early morning part, skirting the salt flats for over an hour.

You can look over the flats and see for miles, with no end in sight. Stopping for a coffee mid-morning, the place had a skiing village feel to it.

I eventually arrived at my campsite, a KOA in Lyman, crossing from Utah to Wyoming. The KOA sites are much more organized and often have showers, a shop with some food, usually a laundry, and campsites, trailer sites with hook-ups, and even cabins for rent. I paid $30 for a campsite. That evening, the mosquitos decided to look for revenge, and for whatever crime I had committed against them, I was the target.

I looked up and took my camp sky photo. The evening also put on a free display, and the sky lit up with a beautiful sunset, with the reds and ambers glowing on the horizon.

Las Vegas to Glacier National Park Route: Day 1 – 10 

Day 4: Lyman, WY to Jackson WY

The Lyman to Jackson section started with a short four-mile dirt track mostly used by the ranchers, before jumping on to the 412. This led to the beautiful 189 cutting through rural communities and eventually to the 191 to Jackson. This short 180-mile ride led me to the Hoback Campground. This was the first time I finally found tree-lined roads. The country was changing, becoming cooler with more trees and less desert.

Day 5: Jackson WY to Yellowstone WY

Day 5 would be a short 117-mile ride, but would go via the beautiful Tetons. Taking my time, I stopped at Jackson. This is a busy town, clearly made ready for tourists with lots of coffee shops, restaurants and plenty of shops touting the “Wyoming-look” wears. I stopped at a traffic light and one of three guys crossing the road looked back and said “very cool bike!” A compliment from a stranger. There is greatness in people.

I rode through the Grand Teton National Park. The mountain range is truly magnificent, but being so far away on the road is simply not enough. One would have to be much closer or even somewhere up these mountains to appreciate the grandeur and magnificence.

I stopped at the Grand Teton Lodge for lunch. Later, I would compare the Old faithful Inn in Yellowstone and realize the Grand Teton Lodge feels far superior, has inherently better service and is much less crowded. Views of Jackson Lake from the dining room are amazing. I am sure some of the rooms would have equally amazing views of the lake with the Teton mountains as the backdrop.

On the way to Yellowstone, twice I passed a sign announcing the Continental Divide. It’s a great photo opportunity and they now even have a small parking lot in front.

Finally arriving at the Old faithful Inn, I found the place filled to the brim with people. I had stayed in the lodge 15 years ago, but things felt very different this time. After checking in, I went to the deck and watched the Old Faithful geyser.

My room was in the West side of the lodge built around 1927. The room had absolutely no character and looked and felt like any low-cost chain motel. The dining room had cold, limp and tastelessly awful food for both breakfast and dinner. Given the truly stupid exuberant room prices, this was a complete disappointment. The only saving grace is the unique lodge architecture. You can go into the lodge and enjoy the architecture but leave and stay and eat somewhere else.

Day 6: Yellowstone Loop

The plan was to unload the bike and leave all the heavy panniers in the room since I was staying for two nights and do the Yellowstone loop. This is a great road, but a little busy. You get to see and experience many sites, geysers, bubbling mud, sulphur-coloured hills and the different terrain of the park. The loop is about 150 miles and well worth the trip. It rained about half the time, and so I ended up missing several of the sights.

The are many waterfalls in Yellowstone, especially on the Yellowstone River. I took a short hike down to the Brink of Lower Falls for both the waterfall viewing, and to see the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone Park with the Yellowstone River. Many places in Yellowstone have geysers bellowing out steam, often surrounded with trees that have now died due to the corrosive chemicals.

Las Vegas to Glacier National Park Motorcycle Ride Report

Day 7: Yellowstone WY to Challis, ID

The rain had all gone and the morning ride on a cold but sunny start became very pleasant. Heading out of the West Yellowstone entrance, I caught the 20 into Idaho and then back on the 93 to Cottonwood Campground, at a cost of $10! This 292-mile ride went through long stretches of endless road and at times meandered beside the Salmon River.

I ended up at the campsite at about three o’clock and had no issues getting a site without a reservation. I suppose the trick is to arrive early enough. The camp sky photo was mostly trees, which gave me lots of cover. This site is also right on the Salmon River, and you can see people enjoying themselves as they paddleboard or inner tube downstream. There were few tents, lots of motor campers and the campsite had just a simple outhouse with no showers. The host was very nice, and, in the morning, I left a $10 bill under a stone on his doorstep.

Day 8: Challis, ID to Polson, MT

It rained the whole day and increasingly became more uncomfortable. What should have been an amazing mountain ride turned into a slow, careful and cautious approach with plenty of rain soaking through my clothes.

Sometimes you have to ride roads to get to the good roads you actually want to ride. Case in point for the 93 in this section. With long, endless stretches of flat, open shapeless country, approach the crossing from Idaho to Montana, you start a glorious, curvy, treelined, mountain section. The road winds up the mountain until you reach the top at 7,000 feet and the Lost Trail Ski area, equally divided between Idaho and Montana.

This whole region shares reminder of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The story goes, that “Clark crossed Lost Trail Pass in a failed attempt to follow the Salmon River to Columbia in early September 1805. He and his hired Shoshone guide, nicknamed Toby, scouted ahead of the rest. They discovered that what they had heard about the Salmon River was true. The twisting, deep river earned the name “The River of No Return.” They chose to take Lost Trail Pass instead. Not only were they disappointed that they couldn’t travel by way of the Salmon River, but their only alternative was a steep and dangerous pass. Their guide lost the trail on the Idaho side and as they tried to retreat to Montana their horses fell several times on the steep mountain trail. This is how we got the name of our beloved Pass, Lost Trail.” You can read more about the story on losttrail.com

Once over the peak, the road drops down, with what can only be described as the giant slalom-like decent, with long curvy turns, few hairpins, and glorious views. On the way back home, I would ride this very same section again, but with a different experience.

The rain finally got to me. I abandoned the idea of camping. Stopping to fill up gas and get some hot coffee inside me. A local rancher saw me studying the map and we struck up a conversation. He quickly recommended a small hotel, the Nine Pines Lodge, right on the 93 and only 45 miles short of my planned campsite. I immediately booked it, and a few hours later found myself in a warm room, knowing I had made the right decision. I learned that the generosity of the people you meet on the road can truly be wonderful.

Day 9: Polson, MT to St Mary, MT

My plans would change yet again. The goal was to ride to St Mary and stay at the KOA, in a cabin. This would be a 190-mile ride on the 93 to the 35, head East on the 2 and then on the 89 to St Mary. I also secured my Glacier Park Entry Pass as soon as recreation.gov website opened at 7am, without which you cannot enter the park. The website opens the tickets for the following day. Up until then, I was not certain if I would even be able to ride the famous Going to the sun road in Glacier.

About an hour into the ride, I found the 35 and rode along the gorgeous Flathead Lake. With the woods on one side and the lake on the other it was a beautiful road. I found a cool Starbucks in Colombia Falls and after a nice Chai Tea Latte, got back on the road.

Almost immediately, the rain started. And it did not stop. The 2 to the 89 is an incredible road, through the mountains, long slow curves and very scenic. But the rain put an awful stop to all of it. I had been looking forward to this road, but it turned into a cold, damp and challenging ride, with cars speeding by, passing me at every opportunity.

Having remembered passing what looked like a lodge, I doubled back for about a mile and decided to try my luck to get a room, giving up on the KOA. It was the Glacier Park Lodge and both a wonderful surprise and welcoming place to rest up. Showering and drying out, I regained all the lost energy from the rain. I slept like a log that night.

Day 10: St Mary, MT to Troy, MT

After a great hot breakfast, I was on the same road I had abandoned the previous day, the 49 to St Mary, and the East entrance to the Glacier National Park. This park had been on my Bucket List for many years. I was super excited.

Abandoning the 49 proved to be the right decision. Now riding it on a bright sunny morning, with no rain, the narrow road was both challenging with numerous curves and switchbacks, but was also very scenic, all of which I would not have enjoyed at all in the rain.

Filling up with gas, I entered the park. And for the next two hours rode the dream of a road, the Going to the Sun Road. It cut through fog covered mountains, waterfalls that poured onto the road itself, and climbed and fell and twisted and turned… I took my time and savoured every mile.

I was informed that the road for the last nine miles before the West entrance exit was under construction and might want to reconsider riding it on a motorcycle. I ignored the question. Nothing was going to hold me back. And then I found the construction. To my dismay, there was no road, only mud, dirt and large water puddles, which at times were more like a water crossing. I had never been off-road, at all, whatsoever!

As I set off on the mud path, I would stand up for all the water and try to sit for the mud. It became more and more frightening. At one point, there was only one lane, but ignored by everyone and used by everyone. Ultimately, the bike saved me. It did not falter once. In Rain mode, the bike simply kept moving forward, and didn’t slip, stop or fall. I could see cars sliding in front of me all the time, but this amazing machine simply moved forward with solid confidence.

The bike was caked in mud and it stuck. But it was pride that owned the mud. Later, it would take me three attempts to wash it all off.

The balance of the day was the ride up to Troy and the Kootenai River Campsite. The camp host looked at the bike and immediately became a friend.

It felt a little sad in the evening as from now on I would be riding South on the home run. And I had indeed finished riding Glacier National Park. The two hours were clearly not even close to enough. I imagined spending several weeks in the park, riding the road in both directions, hiking and camping.

Day 11: Troy, MT to Hamilton, MT

The home run started with a 240-mile run to Hamilton, MT, and the Angler’s Roost RV & Campground, back on the 93. The rain misbehaved again and would come down in bursts. I made it to the campsite with the thunder sounding off in the background, quickly put up the tent and took a super-hot shower in the recently re-furbished bathrooms. Then, the rain started, and did not stop until six in the morning. Thank you, I thought. It’s great when it rains overnight. I slept to the sound of thunder and rain

Las Vegas to Glacier National Park Route: Day 11 – 14 

Day 12: Hamilton, MT to Arco, ID

I had been on the road for 12 days. By now, the days and time faded away and were replaced by places. Places I had to leave and places I had to get to. That bright sunny Vegas morning I left with an equally bright shining motorcycle felt so long ago. Today would be 250 miles to Craters of the Moon National Preserve, in Idaho. I would stay mostly on the 93 and would go over the Lost Trail Ski Area.

The road felt great. And as I climbed the 7,000 feet, I opened the throttle and took care to find the right line for the long and sweeping turns. I had the road to myself and I rode it fast. This was what I had missed the first time when heading North in the rain. Today, I got my fill.

The Craters of the Moon has a very nice campsite, but you can’t reserve it. I made it in for about three o’clock, found a site, paid my $11 and set up. I then hiked a few miles in the park and took some photographs and last camp sky photo.

It was a relaxing evening, and I ate the last of my dry camping meals. I was rewarded with a beautiful sunset and decided that I would cut one day from the ride, and ride 650 miles home. It would be a long day, but I would not have to camp again, and camp in the hot Nevada desert.

Day 13: Arco, ID to Home, NV

The day started early, and I was out of the campsite by 730am. The early morning rides are my best time of the day. There is something special about catching the early sun and the feeling that you own the road. The sensation of riding in the cold and the sound of the engine are very different in the morning too.

It was a long day on the 93, stopping at a McDonald’s in Twin Falls. An older couple came up to me as I was getting ready to leave and shared their own motorcycle adventures, and how they too had ridden for many years, but alas no more. I sensed they missed it. The wife asked me to be careful and stay safe several times. How amazing it is that strangers want to wish for your safety. Would she have said that if I was in a car I wondered. Perhaps not.

I pushed on and crossed into Nevada and was welcomed by the desert heat. Stopping often, peeling layers off and drinking warm water became the routine. Finally, I hit the I15 and knew home was only an hour away.

It was dark by now and this would turn into a night ride (another new for me). With the Friday Vegas traffic, it took me two hours. I finally arrived home, worn out by the super long 650-mile day, but it was great to back.

Read more on motorcycle travel in the USA and North America

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