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The 31-mile long Route of the Olympian is one of several rail-trails occupying the former Pacific route of the Milwaukee Road, which originally connected the railroad's Wisconsin hub with Washington state—nearly 2,000 miles to the west. The trail directly links with the popular Route of the Hiawatha, allowing for a longer journey across the border into Idaho through the jaw-dropping Taft Tunnel.
The Route of the Olympian has a complex set of use restrictions due to its fragmented course and local transportation needs. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the first 8.6 miles of the trail from the connection with the Route of the Hiawatha at Taft to the tiny community of Saltese are restricted to non-motorized use only. Those with ATVs can use the parallel NorPac Trail to travel from Taft to Saltese, although that route is shared with full-size motor vehicles.
The stunning Dominion tunnel and trestle are located near the midpoint of this section of the Route of the Olympian. The trestle is restricted to non-motorized use year-round. The trailbed from the trestle to the trail's eastern terminus is a two-lane road of fine gravel. West of the trestle, the trail turns into a single-lane gravel road and has much more loose surface rock.
Bikers and walkers share the trail with motorized vehicles from Saltese east to St. Regis, as the route provides popular locations for fishing and a local transportation alternative to busy (and difficult to access) Interstate 90. Portions of the route, in fact, are technically marked as county roads, though they see very little traffic.
A variety of upcoming improvements will do much to further help separate vehicular traffic from non-motorized recreational users. For now, enjoy the extended trail mileage and the gorgeous mountain scenery in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
The Route of the Olympian runs adjacent to I-90 at times, so access is fairly easy. The main parking area is located at the Taft trailhead, which is shared with the Route of the Hiawatha. The trailhead sits at the East Portal of the Taft Tunnel, located 2 miles from Taft Exit 5 off I-90 in Montana. Signs will direct you to the tunnel from the exit.
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