Hiawatha bike trail opens May 22

by Clark Fork Valley Press
| May 20, 2020 4:37 PM

The Route of the Hiawatha – a scenic mountain bike trail that runs along the Old Milwaukee Railroad bed, opens Friday, May 22.

The trail is open 7 days a week through Sept. 20. Trail hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST).

Described as “The Crown Jewell of Rail-to-Trail Conservation in the Country,” the trail was chosen as a USA Today Top Ten Pick as well as being an inaugural inductee into the Rail-to-Trail Hall of Fame.

The trail begins high atop the Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho/Montana border. The long, dark and massive 1.66-mile long St. Paul/Taft Tunnel, built in 1908, is near the beginning.

After emerging, the historic rail trail incorporates 10 cavernous train tunnels and crosses seven sky-high trestles. Riders and hikers will venture past sparkling mountain creeks, encounter deer, elk and moose and enjoy endless views of the towering Idaho-Montana Bitterroots. This section of rail trail has aptly been described as “The Most Scenic Stretch of Railroad in the Country.”

The 15-mile family and kid friendly ride is all downhill from Taft, Montana to Pearson, Idaho. Shuttle busses are available to transport riders and their bikes back to the top.

The trail features incredible railroad history, majestic scenery, including snow covered mountains, abundant wildlife, riding in two states, one of the most unique Rails-to-Trails conversions in the country, seven sky-high trestles, 10 dark tunnels which require powerful lights to ride through safely, a waterfall resting spot and 49 interpretive historical signs.

Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation area operates the Route of the Hiawatha under a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. Trail passes are $13 for adults, and $9 for kids ages 5 to 12 years of age.

Lookout Pass is located 200 yards off exit 0 of Interstate 90 at the Idaho/Montana border. The Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead is another five miles east to Montana exit 5 off I-90 and then two more miles up a dirt road to the East Portal of the long Taft Tunnel.

Social distancing guidelines are being follwed at the lodge and on the trail. For the entire policy, go to www.RideTheHiawatha.com/Covid-19.

Guests, both local and international, start by visiting Lookout Pass Ski Area where they can pick up trail passes, rental bikes, helmets, bright lights, maps, water and snacks, before traveling five miles east to Exit 5 in Taft. From here it’s another two miles up a dirt road to the trailhead.

A historical marker on the tunnel wall about halfway through reveals if Idaho or Montana bored through fastest, and how accurate they were in joining up in the middle.

Remember all engineering was accomplished by hand, without the aid of computers.

Children ages 5 and up, who know how to ride a bike, have indeed finished this trail on fixed speed bicycles with small tires – no small feat, but then again they are young.

Learn more about rates, rental bikes, lights and history: www.RideTheHiawatha.com

For more information, go to www.SkiLookout.com or call 208-744-1301.