The crown jewel of America’s Rails to Trails is right here in Glacier Country—just one more reason why Western Montana is the perfect place for an adventure on two wheels. The Route of the Hiawatha bike trail is part of the Olympian Hiawatha route and is noted as one of the most breathtaking scenic stretches of railroad in the country. USA Today called it a Rails to Trails “Top Ten Pick.” Biking this beauty is one way to experience an authentic, family-friendly adventure in Western Montana’s Glacier Country.
ABOUT THE TRAIL
The Route of the Hiawatha offers a scenic, easy ride through 10 tunnels and over seven high trestles, crossing the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains between Montana and Idaho. The Taft Tunnel at St. Paul Pass is a highlight of the route, burrowing under the crest of the Bitterroots. You’ll find an interpretive sign—one of 47 along the entire route—midway through the 1.66-mile tunnel, showing the Montana/Idaho line. There’s also a waterfall at the West Portal of the tunnel—a great spot to commemorate your adventure with a photo.
Lookout Pass Ski Area operates the Route of the Hiawatha. Located adjacent to Interstate Highway 90 on the Montana/Idaho state line at Exit 0, the ski area is just 30 miles west from the St. Regis Travel Center. If you haven’t already bought tickets online, Lookout Pass is where you can purchase trail and shuttle passes and pick up rental bikes and helmets, bike racks and tagalongs/Burley trailers. It’s important to note that Lookout Pass is not where the trailheads are located; riders will need to drive from Lookout Pass to one of the trailheads. If you already have your gear, you can skip Lookout Pass and purchase a ticket at the trailhead or online.
Most folks start at the top of the trail—Taft Tunnel’s East Portal—and take the shuttle back up from the Pearson Trailhead. This is the most-popular option and is great for kids because it offers an easy, gradual downhill ride. If you can ride a bike, you can pedal this trail, as there’s no uphill required. To get there, park at and access the trail off I-90 at Exit 5. After exiting I-90, follow the signs for 2 miles to the trailhead. From the East Portal you’ll enter the Taft Tunnel and then continue the 15-mile ride on a slight downgrade to the Pearson Trailhead. For those who want to bypass the Taft Tunnel, the bike trail can be accessed south of the tunnel at the Roland Trailhead. For advanced riders who’re ready for a 30-mile round-trip adventure, it’s best to start at the bottom of the trail—at the Pearson Trailhead—so your ride back is all downhill. Parking is available at all trailheads. Please note, passes are not available for purchase at the Pearson Trailhead.
Shuttle buses run between the Pearson and Roland trailheads only; they do not shuttle riders from Pearson back to the Taft Trailhead or to/from Lookout Pass Ski Area. Shuttle seating is first-come, first-served once you reach the Pearson Trailhead, and shuttle buses fill up quickly. Trip Tip: Start your Hiawatha ride early to avoid afternoon shuttle wait times.
The Route of the Hiawatha—including the trail, trailheads and facilities—is open daily 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. from late May through late September. Shuttle buses operate every day the trail is open. Group rates and season passes are also available. For a unique spin on this bucket-list bike ride, experience one of the Full Moon Night Rides on the Route of the Hiawatha. Reservations are required for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. See more Route of the Hiawatha events here.
WHAT TO PACK
Bring your own headlamps/lights and helmets, which are required for biking the trail. Both are also available to rent at Lookout Pass Ski Area. Make sure to carry snacks, drinks and extra clothing on the ride. Even though it’s summer, the Taft Tunnel runs 47 degrees year-round, so layers are encouraged.
LODGING, DINING AND ATTRACTIONS IN THE AREA
For an overnight adventure, there are multiple lodging options in Western Montana. Relax after your ride with a mineral soak at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana, just about an hour’s drive from the trail. And don’t miss the famous 50,000 Silver Dollar in Haugan, a unique family-friendly stop offering a restaurant, gift shop, motel, gas and a convenience store.
Food is available at both the Taft and Pearson trailheads on most days. You’ll find items like sandwiches, bottled water, soft drinks and Gatorade. You can purchase a picnic lunch at Lookout Pass Ski Area, too. Also at the Taft Trailhead, you’ll find the perfect souvenir, like Route of the Hiawatha T-shirts, sweatshirts, backpacks, magnets and more.
August 19, 2019