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Just a few miles south of Butte, the Milwaukee Road Rail-Trail through Thompson Park offers a fun journey through two tunnels and across a trestle on the former Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. With a gravel surface, it is best suited for mountain bikes. The trail can also be used for hiking and horseback riding. Additionally, during the winter, the trail is groomed for snowshoeing, fat-tire biking and cross-country skiing.
This section of railroad was one of the first in the country to be electrified; Thomas Edison even came out to Butte to ride the Milwaukee Road. The relics of this past are highlights of the trail. One of the tunnels is 550-feet long, while the other is 1,110 feet. Bring your headlamp and taillights for the adventure!
The trestle is a stunner, too, at 600-feet long and rising 130 feet above the valley floor. The trail ends just 100 yards from the 2,300-foot long Pipestone Pass tunnel, which is closed to the public, but you can walk up to its entrance.
If you wish to stay longer, the park offers a network of more than 25 miles of non-motorized trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. At the Pipestone Pass Trailhead on the rail-trail's southern end, travelers can also make a connection to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which spans a whopping 3,100 miles across the country from Canada to Mexico.
Take State Route 2 south of Butte for approximately nine miles. After passing Continental Drive, look for a "Recreation Area" sign and turn right onto a dirt road. Climb to the summit at Sagebrush Flats. The northernmost access to the trail can be reached from the Sagebrush Flats parking area via a trail that says "Milwaukee Road 800 feet."
To access the southernmost end of the trail, continue driving up SR 2 through multiple tight switchbacks to the summit of Pipestone Pass. Park at the top of the pass in a large pullout with a Thompson Park sign. Park at the top of the pass in a large pullout with a Thompson Park sign. This site also accesses the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail to the north and south. Take the trail heading south toward Limekiln for about 200 feet where it will junction with the trail access to the Milwaukee Road Trail-Trail. The access trail will bring you to the entrance of the closed tunnel at Pipestone Pass.
Take Rt. 2 to Pipestone Pass. Around MP 75.5 (about 1/4 mile north of the Pipestone Pass parking area on Rt. 2), look for a locked gate that says "Closed to Traffic". Go around the gate and DOWN the path for about 300 yards (you will probably have to walk this). You will see an informational kiosk next to the abandoned RR tunnel. The R2T starts here.
This is such a fun trail! The trestle is HUGE the tunnels are LONG and cold even on a hot day. Definitely bring a light for the tunnels. We didn't the first time we did this and just pointed the bikes in the direction of the light at the end of the tunnel (probably not the smartest thing, but it was fine). Even in July we've encountered thick ice in the tunnels. Getting from the parking lot down to the trail is steep, but the rest of the trail has a very gentle grade.
This trail is a segment of the Great American Rail-Trail (GART).
Location: Butte, MT
Parking: Eagles Nest parking area…should have parked at Sagebrush Flats for a little closer to trail. Recreation area was before Continental Divide.
Trail Condition: Mt Bike trail for sure. Nice surface for fatter tires. A couple short sections with larger gravel chunks. Inside tunnels was a little rougher surface…need light.
Signage: A number of nice interpretative signs explaining the railroad and history of this portion.
Comments: Liked this trail and history signage. Encountered several other trail users. Nice easy grade both directions. Would do this trail again.
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