We drove over to the border of Idaho and Montana to the Route of the Hiawatha Trail. It is a rails to trails bike path which is now open to the public. It is operated by the Lookout Pass Ski Area in Idaho right at the Montana border where you can purchase your tickets, rent bikes, helmets, and/or lights. A helmet is required as are lights as you will be going through some pretty dark tunnels.
It is a 15-mile long trail through the Bitterroot Mountains going through 9 tunnels and over 7 trestles. There are lots of interpretive signs all along the trail where you can stop and read about the area and about the Great Fire of 1910. Tons of history in this area and quite interesting. If you are into trains then you will love it. Even if you aren’t into trains you will still thoroughly enjoy it. The trail starts in Montana and crosses the border back into Idaho.
The best part of this bike ride, drum roll please, ………, is that the ride is all downhill, all downhill. Very little pedaling or exertion is required. There is a bit of pedaling when you get to the bottom of the hill but not much. So don’t go on this ride thinking you will get some exercise. You go on this ride to enjoy the spectacular, did I say spectacular, yes, spectacular scenery, ride over some trestles and through some tunnels, and learn some history about the railroad lines and the people who used to live in this area.
And the next best part of this bike ride is there is a shuttle bus at the bottom all ready to take you and your bike back up the hill. Doesn’t get any better than this? Of course, you don’t have to take the shuttle (you need to buy a ticket for it) as you can pedal back up the mountain and then you WILL get some serious exercise.
The first tunnel you go through if you park at the East Portal parking lot, is the Taft Tunnel, which is 1.7 miles long and very dark. Luckily it is straight but if you have a fear of dark places don’t go here. We rode our Dutch bikes (bicycles we bought and used while living in The Netherlands) on this route and they have a Dynamo light which means the lights on the front get brighter the faster we pedal. So we pedaled FAST as we headed through the tunnel, just so we can see. AND our bikes have rear reflectors on them which is great for anyone behind us. So many US bikes these days don’t have any lights or even reflectors on the back which means you can come right up on someone and not see them.
We recommend heading out on this trail first thing in the morning for many reasons. One is that you can take your time and enjoy all the sights, stop and take pictures, stop for a picnic lunch, etc. Two is that if you go first thing in the morning then the Taft Tunnel isn’t very full and therefore pretty easy to go through. It does get rather congested later in the day in both directions. If anyone falls then it can be complete chaos in the tunnel as it is dark and there are always a few dare devils riding at breakneck speed and causing problems. Be careful. And third, the shuttle bus has an end time for operation and if you miss the last bus, well, what can I say, it is going to be a long trek back up the mountain. Check the last shuttle time before you head down the hill and time it so you can be sure you can make it (or not).
The rest of the tunnels are very easy to get through and are much shorter. The trestles are fabulous to ride over and are very high up and just terrific to sail over.
There are a few outhouses at the start, along the way, and one at the bottom. We have also seen big containers of water at various places, just in case, but be sure to bring your own too.
At the bottom is the much awaited shuttle bus which takes you back up the mountain to this side of Taft Tunnel where you can back on your bike an ride through the tunnel and back to the parking lot. A terrific ride with terrific scenery.