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The Railroad Right-of-Way Trail winds through the pristine wilderness of Idaho's Targhee National Forest. The sprawling forest is a unit of the even larger Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which borders famous Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Built on a former railroad corridor that once provided tourist access from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to West Yellowstone, Montana, the trail parallels Warm River for a few miles from its south trailhead at Warm Springs Campground. About 3 miles north of the campground, a short tunnel—original to the railroad—leads through a steep piece of terrain. Unfortunately, the tunnel suffered a cave-in in 2008, so access is prohibited. The trail has been rerouted just to the east, providing closer views of the Warm River.
North of the closed tunnel, the trail continues through pine and fir forest before emerging into a boggy stretch of terrain. Springs and creeks are abundant along the entire length of the trail, but this section can be particularly wet. Trail users who want to stay dry (or avoid slogging through sandy soil) can take the adjacent forest road to avoid this segment.
The trail continues north of the Idaho–Montana state line, but a decrepit river bridge prevents the full trip along the railroad grade to West Yellowstone. Trail users can instead take S. Fork Road (Forest Road 478) to reach the city, which offers lodging, restaurants and shops as a popular gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
The main access to the Railroad Right-of-Way Trail is from the Bear Gulch Trailhead northeast of Ashton, Idaho. An underpass leads under the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway (State Route 47) from the parking lot to the trail.
The trail can also be accessed from Warm River Campground at the actual southern terminus, but a parking fee is charged by the concessionaire.
July 10, 2013, my 81-year-old dad and I rode up and back from the Warm River Campground to the Warm River Fish Hatchery Road for a total of 17.9 miles. The trail is fairly smooth. There were only a couple rocky portions. We also came upon some bear tracks on the trail!
I have more details on the Yellowstone Branch Line Trail and also the Ashton-Tetonia Trail on my blog at:
Our Scouts just finished a fifty mile hike, the majority of the hike was along this trail. They started in West Yellowstone and finished at Bear Gulch. They hiked this distance from 3:00am until 7:30pm in 16.5 hours. They were sore and some of their feet were in rough shape, but they were finishers. The rain the last two hours had them all cold.
I just posted 4 photos showing the tunnel. The five star rating I gave was far this part of the trail. I haven't been past the tunnel, but plan to next year. This part of the trail is not open to ATV's so the trail surface is very firm. It is only about 3 miles from the campground to the tunnel and there was one geocache along the way. I think it is great that these abandoned railroads are being reclamed for other uses.
Rode (mountain bikes) about 8 miles (in the Island Park/Big Springs area). The trail surface was soft sand and pea gravel, kept churned up by lots of ATV use. Difficult riding, and couldn't enjoy the scenery because all focus was on the soft trail. Chose to use surface roads for the remainder of our ride. This is a great ATV trail, but I wouldn't bike it again.
I've ridden the length of this trail several times and hiked large portions of it repeatedly. The south end about three miles north of the Warm River campground passes through a short, historic tunnel. The tunnel suffered a cave in recently and the alternative route around the tunnel is sketchy at best. A better route is to follow the Forest Service road that heads to the north just above the Bear Gulch parking lot and follow for about 4 miles to the junction where the trail and the road meet.
About eight miles north of the southern terminus of the trail the trail crosses some very boggy terrain and the best choice is to follow the Forest Service road that runs close by to the east. That road continues next to the trail for about 7 miles or so but a rider can re-enter the trail at almost any point along the route.
The sandy stretch continues for about two miles just south of the Henry's Fork crossing. It's a dig but it doesn't last too long.
There are abundant springs and creeks along the trail so water can purified almost anywhere. Services are available downstream from the Buffalo River and Henry's Fork River crossings. On the Montana side, the sign that says bridge out needs to be taken seriously. At that point, cross the South Fork of the Madison River and take the Forest Service road that follows the river until a few miles from West Yellowstone.
It's a great ride!
"My wife and I have ridden about 30 miles of this trail. The scenery is amazing and we had a great time. There are some soft and sandy spots that make pedaling more difficult, but overall excellent."
I just finished an 11 mile hike along this trail with my wife and a friend. The trail was fabulous. It was a cool day and there was great light for photos. Thanks to the creators of this trail!
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