June 2017 trip through Montana, Wyoming & Idaho
Hey there, just wanted to share a fantastic week long trip I took this past June through much of the mountainous parts of Montana, Wyoming & Idaho on my '04 Ninja 500R that I'd highly recommend! In short the bike performed flawlessly, even conquering the 3,337 metre Beartooth Highway in Yellowstone, which proved to me what probably a lot of you already know: the EX500 is a totally competent long distance sport touring bike! See attached route and some photos. After this success, the wheels are already turning in my head for travels next summer... maybe Washington and Oregon or even northern California!
Before leaving on this trip though I wasn't sure of a couple things: how the bike would manage in the mountains; what it would be like in strong crosswinds (I live in Alberta, and prairie winds can be obnoxious); and how it would handle fully loaded with gear, since I was camping most of the way. Trip was around 3300 kilometres and I averaged about 600 km/day, and I managed to get about 370 km out of a tank of gas (including reserve). Anyhow here is a rough itinerary:
- Day 1: Calgary, Alberta to Fort Benton, Montana: not an ideal day is it was primarily a driving day with few stops, and I had high cross winds (80 kmh) for much of the ride, which is the one downside of a smaller bike: you are gonna get pushed around by the wind. I was just glad the bike was loaded down with gear, because it made the pummeling I received somewhat more tolerable. I like Fort Benton... the fort itself is worth seeing, plus the history is interesting: Fort Benton was the furthest west a paddlewheeler could get on the Missouri River, so it was the embarkation point for thousands of immigrants headed west in the 1800s.
- Day 2: Fort Benton to northern Yellowstone Park, Wyoming: the scenery and riding was superb south east of Great Falls through Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest... the landscape was lush and green everywhere!
- Day 3: Yellowstone Park to Sheridan, Wyoming: we did the Beartooth Highway... what a blast, though I have never been through so many hairpin turns in my life and you really do have to pay attention! I made sure to stop and get a photo of my bike beside the snow pack near the summit, because people told me beforehand it could get to around 20 feet, and it did not disappoint.
- Day 4: Sheridan to Shoshoni, Wyoming: a hot ride east across the plain between Yellowstone and the Bighorn Range, with a stop along way to Devils Canyon Overlook (think mini Grand Canyon) in Bighorn Canyon Ntl. Recreation Area in Wyoming. Then further east into the Bighorn Range towards Sheridan, which due to the elevation and more hairpins felt a lot like the Beartooth again! Though the ride down the Wind River was picturesque I was not crazy about Boysen Park... wind swept and bleak, so i was glad to move on the next day.
- Day 5: Shoshoni to Idaho Falls, Idaho: more beautiful riding west into the Tetons and Jackson.
- Day 6: Idaho Falls to Bitterroot National Forest, Idaho: Highway 28 from Mud Lake north to Salmon, Idaho is the most desolate road I have ever been on... a broad, empty valley, few towns and fewer services but a great place just to ride and think.. and think some more.
- Day 7: Bitterroots to Helena, Montana: nice valley and canyon riding east of Salmon, with a spectacular stretch on Highway 43 east of Big Hole National Battlefield across prairie carpeted with blue camus flowers. Actually camped north of Helena on the Missouri River at White Sandy Campground... nice spot with good swimming.
- Day 8: Helena to St Mary, Montana (Glacier National Park): steady riding with some great scenery through Glacier, including some menacing storm clouds and eventually high winds, rain and even hail (scary stuff on a bike). This was the only truly stormy weather on the whole trip though. A big shout out to the folks at Johnsons Campground and RV Park, who let me take shelter under their cookout structure! The hail on the metal roof sounded like a rock concert.
- Day 9: St Mary to Calgary, Alberta (home): uneventful ride, more high winds, but glad to be home.
Btw here are the mods and gear I added to the bike before the trip:
- New Michelin tires
- MRA touring windscreen
- 17 tooth front sprocket, 38 tooth rear sprocket - not as much pickup with this configuration, but I was sure glad when I got into places like Montana with an 80 mph speed limit! Generally on the highway though I was keeping the bike around 115 - 120 kmh, with the engine turning around 5000rpm, and it was totally comfortable there.
- Cortech 2.0 tank bag and saddlebags
- USB charger for phone
- Cramp Buster on the throttle to relieve hand pain - best $20 I ever spent!