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Note: Route of the Hiawatha is operated by Lookout Pass Ski Area under a special-use permit of the U.S. Forest Service. Trail users must obtain and display trail passes, which cost $10 for adults and $6 for children aged 6-13 years. Group rates and seasonal passes are also available. For more information, please visit the organization’s website.
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 Idaho–Montana 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 trail—known 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.
In nearby Mullan, you can also pick up the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, which was inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame with the Route of the Hiawatha in 2010. The rail-trail, stretching nearly 70 miles, continues west to Plummer near the Idaho/Washington state line.
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.
We traveled all the way from southern California in September of 2017 to experience this incredible trail, and we were not disappointed! It was everything we had hoped it would be!
You start off with a bang by pedaling through Taft Tunnel, 1.66 miles of pure, exhilarating, creepy darkness. From then on, it's more tunnels, unbelievably high trestles, historic monuments, breathtaking vistas, and unlimited photo and video ops. We were in awe, so we took it slow to savor the absolute beauty and majesty of the surrounding valleys and forest.
We rode this on a weekday during the last week of shuttle operation in late September. The weather was a sketchy, but we didn't have to deal with the large summer crowds I've read about.
The last couple of miles is somewhat tedious: no more downhill, an extremely washboardy trail, and no views except for dense forest on either side.
We arrived at the end just as they were loading up the shuttle bus, but alas, when it was our turn to get on the bus was full, so we had to wait for an hour for the next one. By the way: the shuttle doesn't take you all the way back to the parking lot. It drops you off not far from the Taft Tunnel, so you get to end your day pedaling through the supposedly haunted tunnel once again. Oh boy!
All things considered, it was worth driving 1,300 miles from SoCal to create memories that will last a lifetime! (Plus, we got to check off two states, Montana and Idaho, on our quest to bicycle all fifty!)
Love this trail and have ridden it for yrs but rode again summer 2018 and couldn’t believe how poorly maintained it was. Wash-board most of way. In addition, the Taft Tunnel had a few extremely slick areas and I almost crashed. Didn’t used to b that way. First time I had ever been excited to leave. Had a very long wait in the heat for the shuttle bus d/t the large masses. Hope they get their act together bc this is a treasure!
I am from Florida but ever since I first read about the Route of the Hiawatha it was on my bucket list. I traveled out to Idaho with my Dad over Labor Day weekend 2018. I wanted to share the experienc with him because his grandfather worked on the Milwaukee Railroad and the Route of the Hiawatha. The trail lived up to everything I had read and more. My Dad and I created memories for a lifetime in a beautiful part of this country. I decided to ride back up to the East Portal after we reached Pearson (my Dad took the shuttle back). The ride up was tiring for this Floridian for whom bridges are a big climb but it wasn’t all that bad. I will say when I go back (when not if, I’m already planing a return trip with my wife) I’ll probably skip the ride back up and just take the shuttle. The ride down is enjoyable and leisurely, the ride up is definitely exercise and I was paying much less attention to the beautiful scenery. Make sure you have a camera and don’t miss the Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes, especially down near Lake Coeur d’ Alene in Harrison!
It’s a great trail but it gets pretty rough, like a forest service road. Doable with hybrid tires. The first tunnel is 1.67 miles long, and is 48° all the time, so even though it’s 80° outside, it’ll be cold in the tunnel so being a jacket. It’s also wet in the tunnel so if you don’t have fenders, expect a dirty back. Tip, if you get there early and only plan to go one way, drive to Pearson at the bottom and park your vehicle there, then take the shuttle to the top, and then ride down to your car. The shuttle line was huge yesterday and once school starts they only have one or two shuttles. It was an hour to get in the shuttle yesterday.
I really cannot add more about the spectacular scenery that other reviewers have commented on. This really is a must-do trail. If you decide to make that effort be warned that weekends will present heavy bike traffic with a number of folks not knowing which side of the trail to ride on and parents oblivious to rules of the bike road. I encountered one accident where a boy who was not supervised by his guardian caused an accident with a small girl on a bike. Be alert or go during the weekday. Accidents can happen, but guidebook authors are not kidding when they state how popular this trail is.
I went in July with a friend who was riding an adult trike. I rode a single speed mountain bike and went down and back from the East Portal. The trail is rough with small stones (not pea-size gravel like many rail-trails) so skinny tires would not be advised. If you are going to ride your trike on this trail be advised that there are bollards and some of them have posts spaced too close together to get your trike through. And, you cannot go around them. While my friend got through a few of the bollards by really having to slow down, there were several areas where friendly folks had to help lift the bike up and over the bollards. This is definitely a drawback - even people who were pulling carriers had problems. When my friend finally got to the end she was talking with one of the shuttle drivers and he mentioned "oh, just tell a trail steward at the start of the trail that you have a trike and they will send someone to remove one of the posts so you can get through." Ok, but this was not posted anywhere, nor did any of the numerous trail stewards at the East Portal mention this to her as we awaited instructions for going through the long tunnel. None of the guidebooks or the Hiawatha Trail website or literature mentions this either. I understand the need for the bollards but somebody needs to make these areas a bit more trail friendly.
And yes, the Taft Tunnel at the East Portal trailhead is long and pitch black. Get a powerful light to use and have a rear blinking light so others behind you know where you are in the tunnels.
So the day started out a bit on the shaky side traveling with over 18 riders from ages 4-76 and with little to no help from the staff at the Lookout Pass we were a bit confused and frustrated and running on low patience by the time we got to the trail head and gathered our bikes and Tagalongs etc. However, things turned around rather quickly when we were greeted with the most pleasant informative staff member I believe she’s labeled as a Trail Marshal but her name was Charity and she was definately named properly she was just AMAZING IN EVERY WAY & not only was she helpful, informative and put us all at ease but later in the day we had a member of our team whom needed some serious medical attention and Charity jumped to our aid to save our entire day when it could of easily gone so far off from a good, Trail Marshall Charity saved our trail ride day. Charity tended to every necessasary medical/Trail need that we encountered that day and was just a joy a true hero of the day. The trestles are so amazingly beautiful and the tunnels are too but the Taft tunnel is a bit scary especially when you have older folks riding that haven’t ridden a bike in so long but they are so enjoyable just need to take your time and listen to the instructions of the Trail Marshall’s such as joyful Charity because they obviously do know a thing or two to ensure a safe enjoyable experience on there “Rails to Trails”. I recommend this trail for all new and novice it’s truly a gift from Mother Earth to be enjoyed and treasured amongst all of us. I highly suggest this trail and make sure to say HI to Charity when your there she’s truly remarkable.
a must do trail ...
This trail starts off with a bang, with a 1.66 mile stretch through the St. Paul tunnel. Extremely dark inside, so make sure to bring good lighting. Many wonderful trestles (7), tunnels (10) and view points. We did the ride in late fall, on the last day it was open for the season. We road down and back and found the trail an easy ride to do physically, but, we found the trail very rough with lots of cobble-like stones in the roadbed. It was as if the trail had not been maintained for some time. The trail is best suited for a sturdy hybrid or mountain bike.
Rode this trail June 4, 2017, from the top to the bottom and back to the top, 29.8 miles round trip. Definitely need a bright light in the longer tunnels, twice I had deer standing in the tunnel and scurrying out ahead of me as I exited. The tunnels have significant cold water dripping from the roof onto your back and creating numerous puddles (your bike will get very dirty). Fun ride, friendly staff, beautiful environment. Riding my own bike, instead of a rental, made it faster and more fun. Bring a picnic so you can hang out after and enjoy the sunshine after the cold, dark tunnels.
We rode this trail for the first time on the 4th of July starting from the east portal which starts at the tunnel and ending at Pearson. I am glad we got some tips as to the time difference, we were staying in Washington so we lost an hour but were still able to catch the shuttle. Helmets are required if you do not have one you will be required to rent one when you buy trail passes, $12. It is fairly steep, 3-5% grade. We hadn't planned to take the shuttle but were glad we did. The last shuttle is at 4, it is very easy to loose track of time and miss it. It took 4 hours to ride 13 miles, not that it was difficult, it was so beautiful that I kept stopping to enjoy the view and take pictures. I am sharing many of the photos I took, the views are indescribable. The trail is rocky and all downhill with many tunnels some long, some short. I wish we had more time to explore but we only had one day. Definitely a hall of fame trail that I plan to visit again.
This trail is very similar to the Iron Horse Trail near Easton, WA only even easier to ride. It is all a gentle down hill slope the entire distance. there are cold , damp and very dark tunnels. The longest is 2 miles so take a good bright light. The trail is in very good shape. it is gravel so road tires are at a bit of a disadvantage. Plenty of places to stop and enjoy the surroundings and picnic. There is a shuttle to take you back to the drop off point which makes it very convenient. Very worthy of your time. A great family outing.
This is a pretty amazing trail. From Moscow, Idaho, I drove to the Pearson trailhead, 9 miles past Avery, Idaho. It took forever but was a beautiful drive along the St. Joe River. Taking the shuttle first then being able to bike down right to the truck was perfect. I wasn't quite so fond of the long tunnel at the top. It was a little too dark and wet and cold for me. Bring a sweatshirt even if it's August if you get cold easily. I loved the shorter tunnels and all the trestles. Spectacular ride, but because of the time to drive to it, I'll most likely only be doing this every few years or so.
I had grand ambitions to start at the bottom of the trail and then coast back down rather than take the shuttle. however 2 things changed my mind: the temperatures which were nearing triple digits and locals telling me the drive in to the bottom trailhead was over a poor road and would take much longer than anticipated. So I cheated and just did the downhill run.The first thing you do when you start at the top is the Taft Tunnel. All 9000 plus feet of it. I had two lights: one on my bike and I held a flashlight. But I was the only person going through that early and it was DARK! I did not enjoy it at all. (At the end of the ride when I cycled back through with a group and met numerous cyclists coming the other way it wasn't freaky at all. So I suggest going through in a group). The rest of the tunnels are much shorter and less scary. The trestles are fabulous. There are enough potties and a lot of trail marshals. The day I rode the trail marshals had brought huge jugs of water and placed them at a midpoint rest stop. That was appreciated! The last couple miles are kind of blah but you can look back and see where you came from. There's also lots of historical posts along the trail to stop and read.I took the shuttle back up which takes about 20 minutes.Overall a pleasant jaunt.
Starting at the East Portal of the Taft tunnel it hits you how real the experience you are about to undertake really is. Human beings are stopping you to clarify some things. These human beings are some of the kindest most caring people who exist, but ask yourself when are YOU actually stopped and informed or corrected (It doesn't happen often to ADULTS). With dazed eyes I look upon my group, they are no different. We are all so excited and it feels like airline stewards explaining what to do in case of a wreck. I know this is real and the information important, but can see my group just can't focus. The last 14 days of thought and 6 hours travel have taken the toll, we are ready to ride and are being held back with information. Flotation device in tact we are set free. Really listen.............. ALL THEY ARE SAYING IS "ENTER TUNNEL STOP, TAKE OFF YOUR SUNGLASSESS" LET YOUR EYES ADJUST THIS TUNNELL IS 1.66 MILES LONG WITH NO LIGHTS. As humans we need this kind of wake up call.
Away we go free at last, through the tunnel, and start on the journey. I travel with the younger group leading and we successfully make it through the tunnel, waiting now for the others. We are only beginning, but there is so much more to see. Once our group is full we continue, a deer crosses the path we stop and watch it. Tunnels, trestles, forests, cliffs and creeks. It is stunningly beautiful the enjoyment continues as we pull ourselves down the hill. In our group no one has a problem, which is a rare occurrence in a group of 10 someone usually has a chip on their shoulder. We read the signs of the past and roll on down the road.
You can ruin the whole trip with a bad start listen to those explaining how to proceed from the beginning. Slow down have a light on your bike, and enjoy the tunnel. Other tunnels will come and you will need this light again. Enjoy the scenery. Stop, eat some (Insert snack here) and look around you this is about as beautiful as life will ever get.
Arrive at the bottom and load up onto a school bus, enjoy the ride to the top. Now once more go through the tunnel by bike.
IT IS WORTH IT this trail is an absolute Gem. I hope you get the chance to experience the same pleasure.
You don't have to be a hard core mountain biker to succeed at this ride, simply to follow the warnings, take it easy and enjoy the experience; it is not one you will soon forget!
This will be a long post. If you want a concise and accurate synopsis...this isn't it.
If you want to read about an experience, please continue to utilize your eyes and imagination. I hope I can deliver some prospect on what it took for our group to ride this delightful trail.
I'll do my best to speed up the boring parts.
Our family leaves Klamath Falls by car at 10:15am. Eat lunch in Bend at 12:30. At 2 we push forward on a route that takes us to Condon and the smallest branch of Powells book store. They have ice cream and life is cool again. Several hours and 10,000 wind turbines later we are at ecousins house in Tri-cities. Dinner and farm fresh corn...July!
As we agreed in a stupor the night before, I am chugging water and packing my wife's car in it's new "surveillance" role. I end up with the equivalent of 1/2 a phone booth for my seat. Ecousin and my wife have plenty of space up front. 5 bikes on the rig and hardly a spot in the back for a mousekin to find comfort. At least I had a window seat.
As the "probe", we left first to make sure that we found a camping spot in that popular Montana forest. Other members of our party (including my daughter) were rolling out later to join us for dinner and a soak at Quinn Hot Springs Resort.
When we found our spot, an idyllic pasture just 5 miles from the hot springs, we thought we had options. Wrong. We investigated several other spots and got back just in time to claim our tent site. Within the time it took to park the car and find the tents another few travelers were attempting to enter our claimed domain.
Luck was on our side.
We established our small subdivision and played frisbee. Nice site. Large river, railroad and mountains to the north, more mountains and forest to the south. Rafters quietly drifting by. Coal trains embracing and creating China.
My family has now driven 15 hours to find what it is that separates Montana from Idaho.
What separates Oregon from Washington?
Eventually, and not without confusion due to our complete reliance on what could vaguely be described as a phone (some people call them "smart" phones), the remaining 7 people in our party arrived unscathed, and hungry for the summer camp feast.
With bellies full we went to Quinn for a 1hr soak. Nice facility, but had to get back to roast marsh mallows. 4 kids and 10 S'more's later we found darkness and sleep save for coal trains.
Those things are loud.
4am July 3. I awake with first light but my body has other ideas about how to navigate it's head so I roll from my bedding at 6. Tea, and soon Pancakes as the troopers arise and arrive. Dan is up already sketching in spite of the small rain cloud storm thingy drippy whatever Montana kind of thick air drizzle. I find a raincoat and promptly overheat.
Fast forward. Everyone knows what breakfast is...or at least I hope everyone has opportunity to fulfill the concept.
An hour back east with the car loaded full again.
East Portal entrance. We all made it through, but sadly someone didn't and she was walking east. I hope she is OK. Those troughs on the side are brutal. Really. Pay Attention! They try to explain this at the entry, but I am sure one could never address all the variables of riding a bicycle through a man made cave that is two miles long. I have to say that the staff at this facility are top notch pros.
They know where to look. they know when to look, and they keep this gem of a trail in the best possible condition!
Fast through the 13 mile decent down to the shuttles. I think 3hrs 45min is pretty good for our 3 generations of cyclists. Our median age was 42, the same age I am. The mean was 34, the age I would prefer to be (again) if possible. I think some deep anthropological extraction could occur by deconstructing our ride, but I only get so much space to bore my audience.
For a good description of the actual ride experience refer to any number of fine posts on this page. I am not qualified to judge any trail. I take them all for how I find them.
My ride was perfect! Seventeen stars and a rainbow riding a unicorn eating s'more's.
At the shuttle we collected ourselves and on that lovely Thursday it was "Load and Go" on the bus. We arrived back at the top and slid back through the portal.
Wallace fed us well and we all drove without incident to our final destination for the day.
How lucky are we?
$400 in gas to ride a 17 mile trail?
Completely worth it!
I'd like to thank all the people, dead or alive, who made this trail possible.
As we all get older I am finding that these rail trails are a meaningful way to bring folks from multiple generations together, and it is important to ride as much as possible, because...ya know...death. The dead don't get to ride with us.
"Life is about quality of relationships"
--Richard Chaney (UO anthropology professor)
Also, the answer to my two questions earlier in this post is "ambition".
We just got back from riding this trail the second week of June. I could ride this trail over and over and over!! We left a little late from Coeur d'Alene and were in danger of missing the final shuttle, so I'd recommend getting there earlier than 130 in the afternoon! We couldn't enjoy the last 5 miles because we were sprinting to the bottom in order to reach the last shuttle bus. I'd recommend parking at the bottom/Pearson, riding the shuttle bus up to Roland, and riding your bike back down to your car. Making sure you catch the last 415 shuttle is rather stressful with young families. If you miss it it's your responsibility to get back up the 15 miles to your car! Not cool. Parking at the bottom would've made the day much more enjoyable, not being on someone else's timetable. Particularly having my 6 year old son with me. However, if you park at the bottom you'll have to make sure to go back up through the Taft Tunnel at the top up to East Portal before you start down. The shuttle only takes you as far up as Roland. You'll want to ride up to East Portal before you start down to experience that tunnel. That tunnel is AMAZING. It's almost 2 miles long and you can't miss it. If you prefer not to ride the tunnel then you can avoid East Portal altogether by just starting down at Roland. I pulled my son in a burley trailer behind me and we were in awe around every corner. He LOVED it! He followed the map and was my tour guide. :-) The tunnels were chilly but luckily we had coats. We also brought headlamps to add additional lighting to the bike headlights we were required to have for the tunnels. Make sure you remember to remove your sunglasses before entering the tunnels. My dad failed to do so in one tunnel and he crashed from not being able to see his bike headlight well enough...hit the wall. Be prepared to get very dirty as the tunnels drip mud on you as you ride through, and the dirt trails will cover you in a layer of dust. Also check with park staff before you bring a burley trailer from home on the maximum width needed because the trails have poles that were barely wide enough for me to get the rented burley trailers through. I definitely ran into a few poles as I tried to get the trailer through the narrow openings! Lol It was such a GORGEOUS ride. The tunnels are so amazing and the bridges are such beautiful engineering marvels. The views the entire way were just breathtaking. Bring your camera! :-) Enjoy! Can't wait until next time!!
We just got back from riding this trail the second week of June. I could ride this trail over and over and over!! We left a little late from Coeur d'Alene and were in danger of missing the final shuttle, so I'd recommend getting there earlier than 130 in the afternoon! We couldn't enjoy the last 5 miles because we were sprinting to the bottom in order to reach the last shuttle bus. I'd recommend parking at the bottom, riding the shuttle bus up, and riding your bike back down to your car. Making sure you get the 415 shuttle is rather stressful with young families. Parking at the bottom would've made the day much more enjoyable, not being on someone else's timetable. Particularly having my 6 year old son with me. I pulled my son in a burley trailer behind me and we were in awe around every corner. He LOVED it! He followed the map and was my tour guide. :-) The tunnels were chilly but luckily we had coats. We also brought headlamps to add additional lighting to the bike headlights we were required to have for the tunnels. It was such a gorgeous ride. The tunnels are so amazing and the bridges are such beautiful engineering marvels. The views the entire way were just breathtaking. Bring your camera! :-) Enjoy!
I have done this trail many times and I will do it again and again. Brought my own lunch and started from the bottom. Road to the top and ate my lunch and turned around and road back to the bottom. It has 11 Tunnels and 9 High Trestles. Bring you backpack and your camera and enjoy the ride. If you are out of town, stay in Wallace, ID. We are from California and it is worth the travel.
Rode the trail from top to bottom in June 2013. Enjoyed it so much I went back in August. Rode from bottom to top and went a couple of miles into the Route of the Olympian before turning around to go back to the bottom. Stayed in Wallace, ID. Friendly folks, good burgers at the Red Light Garage, and good brew at the City Limits Pub. I plan on going back June 2014 to ride the Milwaukee Road Trail, Route of the Hiawatha, Route of the Olympian, NorPac trail, and Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes over a long weekend. I guess twice is not enough either. See ya on the trail.
The trail is breathtaking. I went on the trail after Labor Day in 2013. I just returned. 20 people on the trail on a Tuesday afternoon vs 800-1000 daily during peak season. The Park Rangers were very nice and accommodating. I rode the trail up from Pearson to the East Portal. The shuttle service stops for week day trips but does offer the weekend service until the season ends. The uphill climb was nominal. Many stops for sure to take in the scenery. Went through all the tunnels and the St. Paul Pass is a cool 45 degrees with a head wind going into the East Portal in Montana. The trail is a rough ride though. Large rocks over large size gravel. Bike should be checked frequently. Enjoy this great trail. It was worth the drive from Chicago.
My girlfriend and I recently rode this trail and found it excellent. It was a beautiful sunny day, the scenery was mellow and beautiful, the trestles were awe-inspiring and the tunnels were a welcome cool-off. Actually, the Taft tunnel at 1.7 miles or so was quite a trip, something of a sensory deprivation type of experience.
We took the trail down, and rode the shuttle back up. I would have preferred to ride back up but my rental wasn't up to it (see below). We found ourselves rolling slowly down the grade, stopping at every interpretive display and learning about the area. We were in no rush for the day to be over, and where in most cases a fifteen mile ride would seem pretty short, here you can easily spend all day, just to give yourself the time to savor it.
This is a rougher, rockier trail than most rail trails, although it seems fine for a hybrid. We rented from the ski resort, a couple of mountain bikes. Terrible. I don't think I've ever ridden a more run-down, gnarly piece of "junk" in my life. Fortunately I only needed it to roll down the hill. Any attempt to ride this up the trail would've met in disaster. Another rider on the trail busted his chain. I'm sure it's tough to keep up on these bikes with all they go through, but at about $36 a rental, and a trail swarming with bike rentals, I would expect a much better attempt at service.
But on the whole, a most excellent way to spend a day.
We had much anticipated riding this trail with all of the hoopla surrounding it. Unfortunately, it did not meet our expectations. For those of you who have ridden "back east;" it reminded us of the Virginia Creeper Trail on a weekend, i.e., loads of kids having fun and riding somewhat recklessly on a 16 mile downhill ride. Yes, the scenery was spectacular, but the final 4 or 5 miles of the trail/road were particularly rough. This trail does not compare favorably to the Greenbrier River Trail, the New River Trial or the GAP.
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? Well, it was everything the reviews said it would be and that first tunnel?? Wow! It was indeed long (1.7 miles) dark, wet,COLD and such a thrill!! We at first planned to ride back up since the grade was reasonable -- but the day was hot (it made the cold tunnels welcome) so we climbed aboard the shuttle (an old school bus) and returned to ride that tunnel one more time.
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 is a large parking area with facilities.
As other reviewers have noted, the trail is compact gravel (portions of the trail follow a forest service road). On a mountain bike it's an easy surface to navigate. Note that helmets and lights (see below) are required.
Almost immediately after leaving the main parking lot (east end of the trail, off I-90, exit 5), the trail passes through the Taft Tunnel that is 8,177 feet in length (1.66 miles). A headlight or headlamp is essential for travel through the tunnel. A couple of the guys I was with rented bikes from Lookout Pass Ski Area (http://www.skilookout.com) that came with headlights - we found these serviceable, but a bit dim. We'd all brought LED headlamps and these worked well. The other essential item for traveling through the tunnel is warm clothing. On our ride it was in the mid-70s outside, and probably low-50s in the tunnel.
Upon exiting the tunnel, the trail has a gentle (but noticeable) 1.7% grade for the next 13 miles (total elevation change of about 1,000 feet). The trail passes through several other shorter tunnels and crosses a number of trestles. There are stunning views along much of the route. There is also interpretive signage covering the history of the area, and the construction and operation of the railroad. A shuttle bus is available to return you and your bike to the trailhead parking area. Surprisingly, most people took the shuttle. We rode back. A couple of us took the forest service road (FS 506) that goes over the mountain through which the Taft Tunnel passes. FS 506 ascends steeply over 1,000 feet from the Hiawatha trail to the summit near the Idaho-Montana border, and then descends equally steeply to the trailhead parking area. Only recommended for strong legs and good brakes.
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 beautiful trail. The scenery is awesome. Lots of great interpretive signs to read and sights to take in. Take your time. When they say bring a headlight for the tunnels--they mean it! It is dark and cold in there. What a great adventure. A different kind of bike trail. A must do ride.
TOOLBEAR ON THE ROUTE OF THE HIAWATHA
What a fun ride! Put this on your Must Do list.
T.B.’s RATINGS – 1-5*s
3* Trail surface: hard packed gravel road with loose surface rock averaging about .75” diameter. In short, average well-maintained forest road. Not for high pressure roadie tires. Fat tires do fine. Try 55#.
4* Facilities: Vault toilets at the trail heads at both ends of the St. Paul tunnel, at Adair at the Big Loop half way down, and at the bottom trail head. These are done in an attractive 19th Century Depot style. The same style is used for the information kiosks. Did not see any water points.
5* Scenery: Tunnels, trestles, mountains. It’s a great place for pictures. Check out the videos and decide for yourself.
6* Interpretive signs: They have excellent interpretive signs the whole length of the trail covering the history of the rail road and the area. These are very well done and quite educational. I was two hours on the trail and two and a half hours stopped, reading signs and taking pix. Allow enough time to browse.
Finally! A trail where I could get a shuttle uphill for a change. This was the cherry on top of a week riding the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.
The trail pass is $9, and so is the shuttle bus ticket. Money well spent. You can get them at the Lookout Pass ski area or drive up to the trail head, go through the tunnel and get them from a trail ranger (they will find you). This is a comfy downhill trail through some very interesting scenery. They have one of the largest concentrations of RR tunnels and trestles in the West. Plus, they have done an excellent job on the interpretive signs which run the length of the trail. I took more time reading the signs and taking pix than pedaling downhill.
Have enough light.
I learned this in June on the Bizz Johnson. My Planet Bike front light just gave me vertigo. That sent me to the lights section on Bike Forum to read the mail. I bought a Coast LED lenser from Lowes. It’s bright and it can focus. The word on the forum was that you can buy a really bright flashlight and work out the clamp, giving you a dual purpose tool. They were right. I looked for something claiming more watts and lumens than the others. This is getting better each month.
It worked just fine on the 1.66 mile St. Paul tunnel – and all the others were anticlimatic. (Just remember that you do the SP twice.) I could adjust the focus to show what I wanted to see and the beam illuminated the tunnel very well. Riding the tunnel was a snap. It was hose-clamped to the Planet Bike clamp. Other folks that day had used tape, zip ties, etc. Just in case … I had a bright head light on the helmet – velcroed through the vent holes. Of course, there was a full set of spare batteries in the gear. Not needed.
Another thing you might like: fenders.
The St. Paul tunnel is long, dark, cold and wet. There are culverts on both sides running a lot of water. These are marked with yellow reflectors. Avoid them. Even so, there are drips and dribbles from the roof and wet spots. It is cold in there and I was the second one thru that day.
I had a GoreTex jacket over a fleece vest and kept thinking I should stop and zip it all up a lot more. Just kept on, however. With a full set of removable fenders, I had mud down below on the bike. Those with the manly mountain bike look (“Fenders are for sissies, dude!”) had the manly mountain bike mud stripes all the way up their backs. One guy, on getting back out, was seen washing his jersey in the brook. One note on rug rats in trailers – they are in the mud slipstream in the SP tunnel. They might not like that too much.
FINDING A TRAIL RANGER…
I watched them arrive for the day and set up. It appears that one is topside at the Roland trailhead to handle the shuttle bus unloading and such. Another is down at the bottom doing likewise and the third is going up and down the trail, checking tickets, etc. Ride on; they will find you.
ENJOY THE RIDE…
I sure did. This would be great with kids. Boys would love to see how they built and ran the road. What lad, regardless of age, could fail to be interested in the gigantic cantilever crane (30 tons of rails for ballast) that inched out as they built the trestles, lowering girders?
While I was down below, reading every sign, twice, Dear Wife at the trail head was having a Schadenfreude Moment. One, then two, then three school buses arrived and belched forth kids of assorted ages. (“All headed for ToolBear. Yes!)
First I knew about the “special groups” was when three of the more aggressive boys (well ahead of the pack) came whizzing out of a tunnel like wasps out of a drain pipe. They screeched to a stop to announce that I might want to get a move on (flee) as dozens if not hundreds of kids were behind them, all headed this way. (Vision: Mongol Horde.) Then they admired the Gutterbunny, proclaimed it a “cool bike” and went pounding off downhill.
Too many signs to read to flee. Successive swarms overtook me, all riding Hell-bent for Election. There must have been a prize for first down in class. But, but. Don’t you want to learn about the 1910 fire that burned 3,000,000 acres of forest and 89 people? About the silk trains? About the copper mine up that canyon? About the train signals? About… oh, never mind.
I had a fear that the shuttles would be backed up for hours, but not to worry. The operators had it well in hand with extra busses and moved the crowds uphill swiftly to off load at Roland. I had lunch at the bottom, then boarded a shuttle.
My, you can see a long way down when sitting on the outboard side. My, that road seems narrow. Glad it’s not raining. Glad I came. Do it again? Sure.
The scenery is gorgeous but the bike rentals at Lookout and the trail marshalls leave a lot to be desired. The rentals are expensive and poorly maintained. We had TWO breakdowns. Unfortunately, no repair gear is included in your rental, not even tubes! When I asked about repair gear at the rental shop, I was told not to worry about it because the trail is patrolled by marshalls that will be able to help you out. Not so! We sat for 90 minutes and never saw one. Thankfully some good samaritans happened by and helped us out. There were supposed to be four marshalls patrolling the trail but they were apparently understaffed.
It's a great trail but bring your own bikes and equipment. The prices charged at Lookout Pass are far too high for the poorly maintained bikes you get. And be ready to handle any situation on your own as the trail marshalls can not be depended on.
Thanks to the writer who informs me there ARE pit stops on the trail. I didn't see any when i've been there a few previous years, but next time, i'll be sure to look for them.
"There are in fact four restrooms along the way – at either end of the Taft tunnel, half way at Adair, and at Pearson (the bottom trailhead).
What an incredible experience! This is a must do bike ride - round trip is the best!
"I've ridden this trail twice in the past 5 years. I'm 58 years old...when I cycled this trail the first time I kept having deja vu feelings. Along the route, about 3/4 of the way down, it dawned on me...I rode this trail on the Milwaukee Road train, the Hiawatha, twice in my childhood with my family, once as a 10 year old and again as a 16 year old, on a family vacation to Seattle. I remembered it because of it's beauty, which so impressed me from the train. Though these recent trips were by bicycle, it was such a beautiful remembrance for me, and even more breathtaking than from a dome car window. Here's my review:
This is an easy trail, all ages can do it. A slow grade, downhill mostly. Beautiful vistas with tressles and cliffs, nothing dangerous. For those that are brave, or strong enough, you can ride the trail in reverse and go upgrade. For those that want an easy, gorgeous ride, go the conventional route, and at the end of the ride a bus takes you and your rented bike back to the starting point, which is a fun ride in itself! There are lots of historical markers along the way telling the history of the railroad that once traversed the area. The trailhead is in Idaho, and during the ride you cross over the Montana border. You have to rent the bikes at a ski lodge that is about two miles from the trailhead, off the main interstate, but unfortunately I can't remember the name of the ski lodge. Hint: there are no johns along the route, and it's a 15 mile ride, so pack a snack or lunch and be prepared to go off trail if nature calls. Plan to start early so you can take time to see the sights along the way stop and see the alpine flowers and great views etc. It is a wonderful recreational trail to ride, for any ability or age level.
"This is a must do bike ride. High mountains, great views, and the tunnels. The Taft tunnel is over a mile long, level, cold, damp, and a once in a life time experience. The other tunnels are short and interesting and then you go over the trestles looking deep into the canyons below. Good information placks along the way and good places to stop for lunch. Bring water, it can get very warm in the summer. "
"I did the up and back from Pearson, great fun, but take a very good light if you plan to do the Taft Tunnel. It is long, dark, cold and wet. If you are not comfortable with riding in the dark, skip the Taft or bring lots of lights. "
"I have ridden this trail twice, it was a great ride. The taft tunnel is long, wet, and cold, so dress appropriately, this is the case even in the heat of summer.
The view is spectacular, the tresles are high, open, and a bit scarry if you don't like heights. You won't work up a sweat if you just ride down hill and take the shuttle back to the top.
If you drive to Pearson and ride up the trail first, you will have 20 miles of dirty road from Wallace, or ten miles of dirty road from Avery, so take the freeway to Taft, exit 5, and go the 2 miles to the trail head and ride down the trail.
Plan on all day, take your lunch, a camera, and water. You won't be disappointed. "
"I came to the Route of the Hiawatha in early October after the seasonal closure, but before the snowfall. There were no trail patrols and the St Paul Pass tunnel was closed. However, the rest of the trail and tunnels were accesible.
I was the only bicyclist, but there were quite a few hunters. Lots of pretty fall colors were visible. "
"I rode this trail with my sister's family on 09/05/04 (Sunday of Labor Day weekend). With that in mind, there were a lot of people on the trail, but all seemed very courteous and out for a great ride. We started at the top and rode down to the Pearson trailhead - with my Dad driving shuttle. Even with high expectations from what I had read about this trail, it met our expectations in every way. The scenery is beautiful and the history of the area is incredible. We plan on returning to this area (from SE Idaho/Utah) at least every other year if not annually. "
This is the most scenic trail we have ridden. The Taft Tunnel was wonderful. The area is beautiful and the people at Look Out Pass were very helpful. This is must ride trail for everyone.
"My family and I rode the trail on August 5th, 2004. We started at the Pearson trailhead and road to the Taft tunnel. Due to weak bike lights and dead batteries in our bright flashlight we had to abandon the Taft tunnel portion.
Great scenery, beautiful tunnels and trestles and clean restrooms.
The trail was bumpier than expected and quite rough in a few areas which resulted in instant flat tire 1.5 miles from the Pearson trailhead on the return trip. Crushed stone similar to Mickelson Trail or Pine Creek Trail would make the trail perfect.
If you start at Pearson, beware of the 20 mile narrow winding gravel road from Wallace.
Still a very good ride. "
"We biked this awesome trail last summer on our way home from a conference in Coeur d'Alene. We had so much fun we allowed a whole day for this year's ride.
We arrived at the east portal trailhead and the kids were excited to go. After donning the proper gear (helmet and headlight) we headed into the Taft Tunnel. What a thrill! After a small bend in the tunnel you can actually see the light at the end of the 1.8-mile tunnel. Exiting the tunnel you find a small water fall and a photo op. (see our pics that are posted). Breathtaking views and informative trail signs are the rule. You will love the trestles and the other tunnels.
We completed the ride in two hours. One member of the family drove the road on the other side of the canyon and met us at the bottom. They actually could see us on several of the trestles. With hours to spare, we headed back to the top for another ride. It was just as good as the first ride."
"What a great trail. We came from Tennessee just to ride this trail. We could not have been more pleased. The tunnels, trestles, and views were unforgettable.
The trail is just a short drive off the interstate, and there is good parking and rest facilities. There is also a shuttle back up if you need it. We biked back up and the ride was easy.
We did the trail in August 2003. We started at the West Portal (top) and rode through the Taft Tunnel (jackets and lights are necessary for this tunnel). You can do the other eight tunnels without the jackets and lights. The Taft Tunnel was the best though. Enjoy!"
"My wife and I have been traveling around country for nine months and have ridden rail trails in twenty states. Recently we rode the Hiawatha Trail and would like to share our experience with others.
Our trip started at the Pearson trailhead and we rode up to and through the Taft Tunnel and returned back down to the Pearson trailhead. The trail did live up to its reputation for dark tunnels, long trestles, spectacular scenery, and the best set of signs explaining the history of the railroad we have seen on our trip.
The areas where we felt it came up short were the following. The trip to the Pearson trailhead is a twenty mile drive from Wallace on a dusty, winding dirt road, and then twenty miles back to Wallace on the same road. The eight dollar day use fee is excessive. It would cost a family of four thirty two dollars to ride a fifteen mile trail.
Our biggest disappointment was the rough trail surface. It was like riding on a dirt road coated with a fair amount of gravel and it was bumpy enough to detract from the ride, especially the downhill return trip. What should have been a pleasant downhill ride was instead bouncy ride that took away from our enjoyment of the scenery and one that we were happy to see come to an end.
We are not advocating that the trail be paved, but a smoother surface such as the one found on the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota would make the Hiawatha Trail a much more pleasant experience. Don’t attempt to ride this trail on a road bike. "
"I have been riding rail-trails for about five years. This is the most spectacular by far. I was expecting to be disappointed after all the hype I have heard in the past. If anything, the trail is undersold.
The trail marshalls were great fun and very knowledgeable about the trail and bicycle touring. Thank you to all involved.
If you are considering this ride, don't miss it. We rode in early spring, the first week it was open this year and the new growth along the trail was lovely."
"We took this trip two years ago (it was a graduation request from my oldest daughter) and the family loved it so much we did it again this summer.
It was a lovely, warm day and while there were a lot of bikers out and about, there were not enough to cause any problems. Everyone is so nice and helpful.
I dropped my husband and two teenage daughters at the trail head and I drove to the end to pick them up. Not only did they have a great time, but I enjoyed a quiet lovely drive through the mountains.
They arrived at the bottom in 2-1/2 hours full of stories and grinning from ear to ear. It was such a great trip, we are going to start making it an annual affair.
I recently biked this outstanding trail that seemed the perfect way to take in some limited exercise for a vacation in Montana for a flatlander from Florida. We drove over from Missoula and discovered a treasure that recieves little recognition or publicity. This is a real jewel of the West that goes unnoticed by most visitors. We traveled during the week with very few other bikers but the trail offical said that business picks up during weekends..This trail is for all ages and all levels of biking experience. You cannot help enjoy the experience due to the perfect conditions and scenery from heaven
This past summer we biked the trail in both directions (we had planned to take the shuttle back up but the trip down was so much fun we decided to bike back) and found it to be one of the very best biking experiences we have ever had.
" I recently rode this trail. I is great, well groomed and well used. I did the round trip starting at the Pearson Trail Head up to the Taft Trail Head and back again. They have signs installed now that explain much of the history of the area. Take the time to read, learn and enjoy. Pause on the trestles the views are great and take time to talk with your fellow bikers I found everyone very friendly. Trail Marshalls take good care of the trail and are willing to answer any questions. Do this ride!"
"This trail is great! Yes, you can take the shuttle up and ride all the way down, so the trail is accessible to families with young kids or riders who are not sure they could handle a 13-mile ride.
It’s also great for fit riders who want a little more of a workout as you can skip the shuttle and ride up the trail. It’s a gentle 2% grade and a 26-mile round trip this way. I go at least twice a year and it’s my favorite ride every time.
Make sure you take flashlights as the tunnels are dark, and you may want a camera, as the scenery is outstanding! Pack a picnic and enjoy! "
"We traveled out of our way on our camping trip to Montana just to ride the Hiawatha trail....and were not disappointed. We only wish the trail was longer! Non-stop scenery, bridges and tunnels a great experience, great for all ages. The shuttle bus driver even made the trip back to the lot fun!"
"Before you go, make sure you have either a head lamp or bike light, a couple of the tunnels are long and dark. We bought headlamps and secured them to our helmets - this turned out to be a good setup.
My wife and I rode the Hiawatha in June. . The trail is well maintained, the scenery is beautiful, and yup, its down hill. Next time we go to Idaho, we'll take a ride on the Hiawatha.
Lessons learned: Next time we will buy our tickets at the trail head, and then drive to the lower end of the trail: I would much rather do the up hill first and ""get my reward"" (i.e. the down hill) last. "
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