NorPac Trail

Idaho, Montana

13 Reviews

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NorPac Trail Facts

States: Idaho, Montana
Counties: Mineral, Shoshone
Length: 22.2 miles
Trail end points: I-90 near Mullan, ID (Coeur d'Alene National Forest) and I-90 and Silver Creek Rd. (Saltese, MT)
Trail surfaces: Concrete, Dirt, Gravel
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016382

NorPac Trail Description

Notice: The US Forest Service has closed the Borax Tunnel indefinitely as it is in imminent danger of collapse.Contact the Superior Ranger Station at Lolo National Forest for more information and updates: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/lolo/about-forest/offices

The NorPac Trail follows the old right-of-way of the Northern Pacific Railway (hence the trail's name) in western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle, crossing Lookout Pass. The trail runs from Idaho near Mullan at the trailhead for the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, past the East Portal of the Route of the Hiawatha (south of Taft, Montana) and on to the small town of Saltese. The entire trail offers spectacular views of the forested Rocky Mountains as well as lakes and streams.

Beginning at the Trailhead for the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, the NorPac Trail is paved, mostly on quiet country roads, for the first 4 miles. At the trailhead, follow the signs for the NorPac Trail and Shoshone Park through the community of Mullan. After 3 miles, you'll reach the fish hatchery; turn left off the pavement onto the gravel Forest Service Road 133 (avoid Forest Road 6531 to the Little North Fork). When you reach Mullan Pass Road, cross it and take Forest Road 3026.

At mile 5 you'll go under I-90. At the junction of Forest Road 3026 and Willow Creek Road, take a hard left, heading uphill on the switchback (still road 3026). As you continue toward the top of Lookout Pass on the Idaho–Montana border you'll pass remnants of trestles and a water tank. At the pass you'll find food, drink, restrooms and a bike shop (rentals and repairs), the latter which is open from May to October.

The NorPac Trail continues straight through the parking lot, after which you'll make a few hairpin turns. Camping is available throughout the area.

At around mile 15.5 you'll enter a tunnel; the road through here is rough and wet. Soon you'll go under I-90 again and head east. Another rest area is nearby before you head under the Interstate again and arrive at the junction of Forest roads 4208 and 507 (old Highway 10); bear left onto 507 around Exit 5 on I-90.

Around mile 20.5 you'll see signs for the Route of the Hiawatha. Take Forest Road 506 (Rainy Creek Road) another 2.5 miles or so uphill to the Route's trailhead at the East Portal of the Taft tunnel. From here, the NorPac Trail continues parallel to the Route of the Olympian. During the summer months—when the Route of the Olympian is restricted to non-motorized use only—the NorPac Trail offers a way for ATVs and other recreational vehicles to travel from Taft to Saltese.

Parking and Trail Access

To access the Montana side of the NorPac Trail, take Exit 5 off I-90 and follow Rainy Road/Forest Road 506 up the mountain to the main parking area for the Route of the Hiawatha and Route of the Olympian. This is the East Portal of the Taft tunnel.

To access the Idaho end, take I-90 to Mullan, Idaho, and take Exit 68. Park along River Street between 2nd and 3rd streets.

NorPac Trail Reviews

Been there, done that, don’t need to go back.

Went from Saltese to Lookout Pass one day and Lookout Pass to Mullan the following day. Take a map. Only saw three signs indicating Northern Pacific Trail and they were on the Idaho side, very little help. The Borax tunnel is closed but a steep bypass route is available, hike-a-bike up this steep road. Again this is a multi-use trail, 10 ATVs passed by, campers along the trail, Forest Service truck and semi with excavator on a trailer came down the trail, plus a few bikers encountered on the trail. Saw a number of deer, including a very nice buck. Trail condition was good and easy enough to ride. On the Idaho side a couple mile section of the trail has a 4% grade, the norm is 2%. That section was easy to coast down with a little more effort to come up but still not terrible. The trail map shows the trail ending at the fish hatchery but the description talks about starting in Mullan. Estimate the overall trail length from Saltese to Mullan to be close to 28 miles. Don’t expect trail signage, take a map, and read the trail description details.

Nor Pac Trail

Rode the Nor Pac Trail in June, 2021 as second leg of the 300k Bitterroot Loop. The signs showing the connection from the Coeur D'Alene trail have been swiped, here is the route we took: At the Coeur D'Alene trailhead in Mullan, continue East on River, which turns into Friday, which turns into Larson. 1 1/2 miles from the Coeur D'Alene trailhead bear left to stay on Larson (not right to WIllow Creek). After another 1 3/4 miles on Larson, turn right onto Yellowstone (no street sign). Go up the hill and the Nor Pac is at the top -- take a sharp right onto the trail. After 2 1/2 miles on the Nor Pac, take a 180 turn to the left to stay on the Nor Pac (the railroad must have had a switchback here).

The Nor Pac surface is packed dirt with no soft sand. There are some small rocks, ruts, and potholes, but you can steer around them. I was able to ride it without difficulty using a road bike (gravel bike design) with 35 mm tires. Beautiful scenery of forest and mountains climbing up to Lookout Pass. Snacks available at the Lookout Pass ski area. I would have given this trail 5 stars, except that the dirt surface will be muddy after a rain.

As others have reported, the Borax Tunnel on the Montana side is closed, with no ridable detour. We rode the 5 miles from Lookout Pass to Taft on I-90, which is legal in Montana. Yes, there is truck traffic, but there is a wide paved shoulder for the bikes. We have rear flashers & rear view mirrors & are comfortable riding on highway shoulders at home, so for us it was not a problem. We exited at Taft & jumped back on the Nor Pac to Saltese. The trail runs alongside I-90 between Taft and Saltese.

If you are going to stop at the Old Montana bar in Saltese for lunch, ride all the way to the end of the NorPac at the I-90 Saltese exit. If continuing East beyond Saltese, turn right off the NorPac 1/2 mile before Saltese and climb up the hillside to the Olympian Trail. The turnoff is marked with a sign pointing to the "upper grade" which means the Olympian Trail. Saltese has a motel & dinner is available, but not breakfast. So we continued on the Olympian Trail to Haugan & stayed there.

Borax Tunnel Closed

The U.S. Forest Service has closed the Borax Tunnel due to imminent failure. Warning signs are posted on the trail at Lookout Pass and Taft, Montana. The tunnel is located approximately four miles East of the Lookout Pass summit.

A steep bypass trail has been constructed a half mile uphill of the tunnel. The quarter mile long bypass is steep and rocky. Cycling the bypass downhill is tricky; uphill is extremely difficult. Best course of action is to walk your bike both directions. There is currently no signage at either end of the bypass.

Riders can view the tunnel roof's failure from the barrier at the downhill portal. The tunnel will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Borax tunnel is closed

The Borax tunnel is indefinitely closed due to structural issues that render this tunnel unusable, unstable and very dangerous to ride through. There isn't a go around or any other remedy to continue on this trail using this tunnel. You cannot ride your bike on I-90 in this area due to high traffic volume and huge amounts of semi trucks. The local bike club is working on either a go around or shoring up the tunnel (highly unlikely). This means, for now, that another tunnel on the Northern Pacific is gone. The Borax tunnel is the tunnel that is mentioned in the writeup for this trail between Mullan and Taft.

Accordion

Rode the loaded with 38mm tires, about 40lbs of gear. most sections smooth some a bit rough but very rideable.

Rode the loaded with 38mm tires, about 40lbs of gear. most sections smooth some a bit rough but very rideable.

Drove a small section

I was recently exploring trails connecting to the Hiawatha, Coeur d'Alene. I drove the section east from Mullan and had difficulty following the route. As mentioned in previous posts, it is not well signed. The turn at the fish hatchery was a guess and then signed 50 yds up that barely noticeable overgrown gravel road. I encountered this problem several times and mentioned it to the host at the Wallace Railroad Museum (which is awesome!). She said that PEOPLE STEAL THE SIGNS! That's very unfortunate. Perhaps they can engrave on posts that won't be so easy to steal?
I wasn't on it for long, but this section is very scenic, remote and worth the effort.

Almost perfect

My husband and I rode the NorPac as part of a weeklong bike tour, self-guided, in the Bitterroots. It's incredible that you can link several trails together and experience this great region without major climbing. I can't give it 5 stars for a few reasons. First, there need to be more signs. Second are the directions for following the trail given here and elsewhere; they are confusing since road numbers are hard to find.

The connection in Mullan from the Trail of the CdA is seamless. It's easy to see on online maps that one must follow Friday Ave to Larson Rd, and there are some signs. Staying on Larson til it ends at the fish hatchery gets you to a dead end, even though the NorPac is an invisible spitting distance away. Better to turn left onto Cole Ranch Rd just before Shoshone Park and find the trailhead immediately on your right. My Garmin Etrex 20 showed the trail and tracks so we easily found it from the hatchery anyway, as you could also do from Shoshone Park.

The climb from there to Lookout Pass was very easy and beautiful. The beginning of the descent required lots of braking, and the rest of the ride we had to go slowly down to avoid big rocks. Wider tires might have helped; we used 700x32. Though it was slow going it was very nice. If you don't mind bumpy, then you might not worry about avoiding rocks.

We did not turn up Rainy Creek Rd towards the Hiawatha; instead we continued straight onto Randolph Creek/NorPac Railway which follows I-90 and the St Regis River to Saltese, MT, riding the entire length of the NorPac Trail. I detail this and neighboring trails in my journal: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/myidahopanhandle

Rough and Remote

My wife and I did the Bitterroot 300 K loop, July 2017 and this included the NorPac. We had to stop and ask some construction workers how to find the beginning of the trail since there was only one sign that we saw and that was in Mullan. There needs to be some better signage for the first four or five miles. The first 15 miles is uphill, so much so that we took many walking breaks up the various inclines. The surface is anything from dirt, sand, gravel, to large 3+ diameter inch rocks. The last 10 miles is down hill and we did not have to peddle, in fact I rode my breaks on the way down.

First 4 Miles Paved??

I rode from Osburn to Mullan today to ride the new paved section of the NORPAC Trail - but it is not. At least not at the west end. I rode east all the way through Mullan to Shoshone Park and there the pavement ends. Maybe someone meant at the east end in Saltese? I even stopped and asked the proprietor at the Sinclair Station and he verified where I was and said it is no paved.

Mullan to Lookout Pass (and back down)

We started at the Mullan Trailhead of the CdA, and rode up to Lookout Pass and then back. The directions from the Friends of the CdA site, along with Google Maps GPS (for orientation) served us well. Starting out at Shoshone Park would also be a good option if you aren't interested in riding that first few miles of pavement.

The climb up to Lookout is steady, but never steep. Since much of the trail is in direct sun by midday, water is a big necessity. All surfaces were good, clear, and easily maneuvered. We rode a 29er and a Fatty, so rolling was smooth and easy, and quite fast on the way back down.

This was a fun ride with some nice views, wildlife (bullsnake, falcon, tanager, grouse), and a good bit of exertion. We'll be back!

atv ride

we followed the directions given-many roads were not labeled as described but we found our way to the Hiawatha trail-it does NOT allow motorized vehicles as described. we were told to take the other road through the parking lot. it ends a few miles at a beautiful, I'm sure built for mountain bikes, bridge that is gated. 3 thumbs down!

NORPAC - Idaho side

We cycled DOWN from the ski resort parking lot on the MT/ID state line down to where this trail ends & meets the Trail of the Coueur d'Alenes. No people, no pavement, no facilities. Great views on the way down which requires a minimum amt of pedaling. We cycled w/ 35x700 tires on hybrids w/o problem. Wouldn't recommend narrower tires. Bring spare tubes. Highly recommended.

NORPAC TRAIL - ROUTE DIRECTIONS FROM THE FCDA

This is a little late (8 years) to help that chap, but the people to see about the NorPac Trail are the folks at the Friends of the Coeur d'Alene Trails. They have a great website and much helpful information. If you are riding in the panhandle, check them out.

<friendsoftcdatrails.org>

This is from them...

ToolBear
11/2009


NORPAC TRAIL


Route Directions:
This route follows the Northern Pacific Railroad grade over Lookout Pass then down to Taft, Montana. You then ride up Rainy Creek Road to the East Portal of the Taft Tunnel on the Route of the Hiawatha (The Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railway). We start at the east end of the Trail of Coeur d'Alenes Trailhead parking lot in Mullan. The trailhead is near I-90 Idaho Exit 68. The NorPac Trail is paved for the first 4 miles. A mountain bike or other bike with at least 700x32c tires is needed for the rest of the ride. Most of the Forest Service roads are packed gravel, but loose gravel is found in some sections.

Mileage Comments
0.0 Mullan Trailhead. At the East end of the parking lot you will see a NorPac Trail sign which points to a paved trail between the large brick building on your left and the store on your right. Follow this through town.
0.5 Ride past the ball park, join the I-90 Business Loop road present on your right, and pass by the freeway interchange, following the sign to "Shoshone Park." Proceed past the Lucky Friday Mine and over Willow Creek to an important fork in the road.
1.5 Take the lower road to the left. It is Larson Road and will take you through the "historic village" of Larson (2.7), which today consists of four houses and a barn. Stay right past the first fork and arrive at a junction marked "Shoshone Park"
3.3 The NorPac Trail continues along Mullan Pass Road, straight ahead. Shoshone Park is off to the left. There are rest rooms in the park. An alternate route is to ride past the park to the Hale Fish Hatchery. At the Fish Hatchery, turn left off the pavement onto NFD 133, which is packed dirt and gravel. DO NOT take NFD 6531 to the Little North Fork! Stay on the old railroad grade to the right. This will take you to the intersection of Mullan Pass Road and NFD 3026. Go straight across Mullan Pass Rd onto NFD 3026.
3.9 Turn right onto NFD 3026. You will pass under the interstate (5.0), pause at a post card view of Lone Lake Basin (5.8), and proceed to a junction with Willow Creek Road.
6.4 At the junction of NFD 3026 and Willow Creek Road, make the hard left switchback uphill to stay on the railroad grade (NFD 3026). The road becomes rougher. Don't take the uphill road on the right.
7.8 You just passed the site of the remnants of the Dorsey trestle and now can see the concrete foundation for old Dorsey Water Tank on your right.
9.2 Site of the remnants of the second trestle. Almost to the top.
11.5 Top of Lookout Pass. At the Lookout Pass Ski Area you will find rest rooms, a bar, a cafe, and a bike rental and repair shop from late May to early October. The NorPac trail continues straight ahead through the parking lot.
12.2 Marvel at the beautiful view of Copper Lake Basin, and then after rounding the next corner, the larger St. Regis Lake Basin comes into view further to the southwest.
12.7 The trail to lower St. Regis Lake begins at the hairpin turn with several dispersed campsites nearby.
13.7 The steep trail into Copper Lake begins further down the road, again with dispersed campsites nearby.
15.5 Suddenly the trail enters a very dark and bumpy tunnel. It is a wet and rutted jeep trail. Be prepared to stop and walk through the tenth-mile-long tunnel.

Mileage Comments
15.8 A hair pin turn heads you back West with the interstate visible far below you to the right. Soon, however, you will find yourself going under the freeway (16.8), and heading East again
19.7 After following the freeway downhill for a while, you will pass within yards of a Highway Rest Area with clean bathrooms. You will ride back under the interstate and arrive at the junction of NFD 4208 (which we have been following since Lookout Pass) and NFD 507, (old Highway 10) merging from the right. Bear to the left onto NFD 507 to the I-90, Exit 5 (Montana) interchange area.
20.4 Continue around the huge "circus tented" sand pile to the view the sign “Route of the Hiawatha” at the beginning of Rainey Creek Road NFD 506.
20.5 Follow this road approximately 2 1/2 miles uphill to the East Portal of the Taft Tunnel.
22.4 If you continue through the tunnel, have your day-use fee ready to hand to the concessionaire's trail marshals when you see them at the West Portal, 1.7 miles of darkness away.

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