What is today the Route of the Hiawatha was also known as one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. When the Milwaukee Railroad was operating, the trains traversed through eleven tunnels and over nine high trestles, covering a 46-mile route that crossed the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. The Route of the Hiawatha's most well-known feature is the long St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel, which burrows 8,771 feet (1.6 miles) under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line between Idaho and Montana.
The Idaho section opened the first 13 miles in May 1998 for hikers and wilderness biking. This stretch of the trail between Roland and Pearson currently goes through eight tunnels and travels over seven high trestles, following the mountainous terrain along Loop Creek drainage. Between Moss Creek and Pearson the trail is open only to non-motorized traffic. The ride from Roland just below the West Portal of the St. Paul Pass (Taft Tunnel) to Pearson is gentle along a gravel road. The grade is an easy 1.7%, from 4,160 feet at the West Portal to 3,175 feet at Pearson, over 13 miles. If you don't want to ride up hill from Pearson to Roland, a shuttle bus provides transportation for riders and their bicycles.
The Taft Tunnel, a dark 1.6 miles, is popular with trail goers; motorized vehicles are not permitted. If you want to explore this area, the main parking area is at the East Portal, 2 miles from Taft Exit 5 off I-90; follow the signs. Midway through the tunnel an interpretive sign indicates the IdahoMontana state line and discloses which crew reached the center of the tunnel first in 1907. Look for the beautiful waterfall at the West Portal of the tunnel. If you want to bypass Taft tunnel, drive up and over the tunnel for 5 miles along Forest Service Road 506 and Roland Summit and park at the Roland trailhead. It's about 15 miles from the East Portal trailhead to Pearson.
From Lookout Pass to the East Portal the trail follows the old Northern Pacific railroad grade approximately 10 miles to the Taft site. Along the way the trail crosses the St. Regis River three times, passes through one tunnel and goes under Interstate 90 twice before arriving at Taft. From Taft, the trail rises gently at an about 2.1% grade for 2 miles to the East Portal of the Taft tunnel.
Another 31 miles of trailknown as the Route of the Olympian
stretches from Taft to St. Regis, Montana, and includes one more tunnel and two trestles. The section adjacent to the Route of the Hiawatha from Taft to Saltese is open to non-motorized use only during the summer months.
The main parking area is at the eastern end near the Taft tunnel (East Portal), 2 miles from Taft Exit 5 off I-90 in Montana. Signs will direct you. Or you can drive up and over the tunnel for 5 miles on Forest Service Road 506 and park at the Roland Summit trailhead, a good option if you want to bypass the tunnel.
Trailheads are also found at Moss Creek, off FS Road 506; off of FS Road 326 (Loop Creek Road); and at Pearson off FS Road 456.
From reading the reviews, it looked like our road bikes would not be the best for this trail so we rented mountain bikes from Lookout Pass. I was pleased that they were such great bikes (Treks) and the people were helpful and friendly. As for the ride? ...
I road the Route of the Hiawatha ("Hiawatha") in mid-August, 2011. On a sunny Saturday it was a fairly heavily used trail - especially considering the relative remoteness. As noted on the TrailLink.com site, the principal trailhead is in Montana. There ...
We rode this trail in September 2010. Somehow I had the idea it was paved. It is gravel so it was sort of bumpy going down on our hybrids. But, we did fine. Coming back up was easier since we did not have to control our speed on the gravel. This is a ...