I Rode a Can-Am Through Yosemite — Here's Why It's the Best Way to See a National Park
"The feeling of going that speed on open roads, it's awesome," Kristina Tracy, owner of Yosemite Adventure Co., says to me, removing her helmet in the parking lot of a roadside diner in Mariposa, California.
We had just spent the first half of the day riding Can-Am On Road bikes around Yosemite National Park, and as someone who avoids driving whenever possible, I couldn't believe how strongly I agreed with her. It was awesome.
Before setting out on this trip, Can-Am reps had informed me that these three-wheeled motorbikes are favored by women (women make up about 35% of Can-Am's On Road riders, vs. about 20% for traditional two-wheelers). They also told me it's the model beginner riders feel most comfortable on, and that (fun fact) Nicki Minaj is a fan. Still, the fastest vehicle I ride regularly is a beach cruiser bicycle, and I wasn't sure how I'd handle it.
But after a few quick instructions in the Yosemite Adventure Co. parking lot, we were off. Admittedly, I started out slow among our little pack of expert riders, but one thing was immediately obvious: I was enjoying the act of driving for, well, probably the first time ever.
The views certainly didn't hurt the experience — and I couldn't help but feel that being on my Can-Am gave me an advantage over my fellow tourists. As they craned their necks out of car windows to see the stunning fall colors, from the valley floors to the tips of the tallest mountaintop trees, I was completely immersed in it all. Cedar-scented wind in my hair, I could see every vivid detail of my surroundings, unimpeded.
On the chilly but crystal-clear day, Tracy led us to our first stop, Tunnel View — the famed Yosemite viewpoint where you can see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall in one frame. We parked our bikes and, like everyone else, went to take some photos of the breathtaking scene.
As soon as I sat on the bike, the three wheels felt stabilizing. At first, I did worry about the little things, like parking or turning it on and off, but I quickly realized how simple it all was.
"It doesn't take very long to get comfortable," Tracy assured me. "After about 20-30 minutes you're like, 'Oh, I can give it some more gas, I can move a bit quicker.'"
And I did. As we continued to tour the park, I felt myself getting more confident with each turn. Soon, the only reason to slow down was a new viewpoint worth stopping for — of which there were many.
"You take some of your standard things that you'd have on a motorcycle out of the equation that make it more complicated, so that point of entry is easier, more friendly, comfortable, and you're just out on the road having fun instead of worrying about how cumbersome a motorcycle is," Ross Robinson, "captain of adventure" for Uncharted Society, said.
Uncharted Society provides these vehicles to tour companies and also acts as a hub for travelers searching for places to ride them. As Robinson's epic job title indicates, the company offers incredible adventures, from ones like the trip we were on, to Sea-Doo rides to Catalina Island and off-trail snowmobiling in Utah.
Yosemite Adventure Co. has six of the Can-Am Rykers, and Tracy told me in their first season they were already popular among both brand-new riders like myself and experienced motorcycle riders. In addition to how stable they feel (thanks to the three wheels and a low seating position) and easy they are to operate (with automatic transmission), Can-Am Rykers can fit pretty much anyone.
"The handlebars and the foot pegs are adjustable," Robinson pointed out — and no tools are needed. "There's never a point where you're like, 'Oh, I can't reach the gas, or I can't reach the break.' You could be short or tall, and you can fit it to you."
The hours and miles in the park — 113 miles, according to Tracy's calculations — flew by, and after lunch, we switched over to a Can-Am Off Road side-by-side to explore Sierra National Forest.
As we climbed mountains, crossed rivers, and cruised narrow cliffside trails in these do-anything, go-anywhere vehicles, I was happy to spend most of the second half of the day as a passenger. I had already stepped up my street cred as a driver enough for one day.
As the sun set over the trees and the sky turned a deep shade of pink, Tracy and I made our way out of the forest. We had stayed out much later than planned.
While the experience and the scenery had all been new to me, for her, it was just another day on the job. Still, neither of us could stop marveling at the natural beauty surrounding us — and the thrill of speeding through it all on some powerful wheels.
Nina Ruggiero is Travel + Leisure's deputy digital editor. A New Yorker living in Los Angeles, she's happiest on a beach, a cobblestone street, or in a hotel bathtub with a view. Find her on Instagram @ninamarienyc.