The Route of the Hiawatha: A Scenic Mountain Biking Adventure
The Route of the Hiawatha is a treasured gem within the world of rail-to-trail adventures. As an award-winning trail, it provides scenic mountain biking and hiking opportunities that draw in visitors from all walks of life.
Unveiling the Route
Stretching over 15 miles, the trail is a labyrinth of 10 massive, shadowy train tunnels and 7 towering trestles. Your journey begins with a thrilling ride through the 1.661 mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel, also known as the Taft Tunnel. This grand tunnel is a highlight of the trail, snaking along the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains near the Lookout Pass Ski Area.
The Allure of the Descent
What makes the trail even more appealing is its gradient. It’s majorly a downhill ride with shuttle buses available to carry you and your bike back to the starting point. This unique feature makes the trail accessible for a wide variety of people, from young children to super seniors.
Accessing the Trail
To embark on this adventure, you can secure trail passes, shuttle tickets, and mountain bike rentals with lights from the Lookout Pass Ski Area. This area is conveniently located right next to Interstate 90, Exit 0, at the Idaho-Montana state line. From here, the starting point of the Hiawatha trail is a mere 7-mile drive.
Timings and Contact Information
The Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop opens at 8 AM (PDT) and the trail is open from 8:30 AM to 5 PM (PDT) daily. For more information, you can contact them at 208.744.1234.
Note: The trail is closed from Mid-September to May. Please check the dates before your planned visit.
Hall of Fame Trail
The Route of the Hiawatha has been named a “Hall of Fame” trail by the Rail-to-Trail Conservancy, an honor only 15 trails in the country have received. It was once considered one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country, with the old Milwaukee Railroad passing through 11 tunnels and over 9 high trestles, spanning a 46-mile route across the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana.
The St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel
The St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel, is a major highlight of the trail. This 8,771 ft. (1.66 miles) long tunnel under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line is entirely flat and dark, offering an intriguing experience for adventure seekers. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in this tunnel to maintain the tranquillity of the trail.
For those who wish to extend their ride, there are options to bike from the Lookout Pass to the East Portal of the St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel. From the Lookout Pass parking lot, the trail follows the old Northern Pacific railroad grade for approximately 10 miles to the Taft Site. Then, from Taft, the trail rises gently at about a 2.1% grade for 2 miles to the East Portal of the St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel.
Plans are underway to stretch the trail for another 31 miles all the way to St. Regis, Montana. This extension will include one more tunnel and 2 trestles, and will be open for use by bikers, hikers and even horses, alongside automobiles.
Things to Know
- The trail is open from approximately Mid-May through Mid-September.
- The bike/hike trail is 15 miles long with 10 train tunnels and 7 sky-high trestles.
- Trail passes, shuttle tickets, and mountain bike rentals are available at Lookout Pass Ski Area.
- The trail, trailheads, and facilities are open from 8:30 AM to 5 PM PDT.
- Shuttle buses are available to transport you and your bike back to the top.
The Route of the Hiawatha is a spectacular mountain biking trail that promises an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re an avid biker, a casual hiker, or a family looking for a unique outing, the trail offers something for everyone.