Ride the Route of the Hiawatha
Montana › Hiawatha Trail, East Portal
Added by Zach Wheeler
This leisurely bike ride is family friendly and offers amazing mountain views and an opportunity to explore this historic trail.
Located on the Idaho Montana border, this highly popular "rails to trails" mountain bike trail was modified from the Milwaukee Railroad route through the Bitterroot Mountains. This trail contains 10 tunnels and 7 trestles throughout 15 miles of beautiful mountain views.
Riders have the option to start at three different locations, depending on what type of experience is desired. Most people begin at the East Portal located off I-90 on the Montana side at Exit 5. Here your ride begins with the St Paul Pass or "Taft Tunnel." This tunnel is over a mile and a half long all in the dark! If you plan to go through this tunnel, be sure to wear warm clothes and/or a rain jacket as inside the tunnel there is a natural spring, so it stays wet and about 35 degrees all year long.
If you do not wish to conquer the Taft Tunnel, drive past the East Portal on forestry road 506 for about 7 miles over Roland Pass. Here you can meet up with fellow riders at the West Portal. Make sure when driving to this location to be very careful as you approach the portal because you are sharing the road with bikers entering and exiting the tunnel.
From the East & West Portals, the ride takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete at a leisurely pace down to the Pearson Trailhead, where bikers can opt to take a shuttle back to the West Portal (bike back through the Taft Tunnel to reach the East Portal). Be sure to take advantage of the many photo-ops on the trestles and read the history placards long the way!
If you are looking for a more challenging day, opt to start at the Pearson Trailhead. This location is accessible from Wallace, Idaho over Moon Pass Road, which takes about 40 minutes, or from the East Portal. Continue on forestry road 506 and take a right on forestry road 326, which will meet up with Moon Pass Road. From the Pearson Trailhead, riders can start their day with climbing the 1.7% Grade to the top, and then have a relaxing ride back down! Depending on your pace and experience level, going both directions could take 3-4.5 hours.
Things to Note:
- The trail is well maintained, packed gravel, wide enough for bike traffic in both directions. The roughest part of the trail (and less scenic) is the 3 miles before Pearson Trailhead. Mountain bikes are the most common on the trail, however a crossover bike could be sufficient.
- Be mindful of young riders, especially in the longer tunnels. It can be hard to see other bikers in front of you inside the tunnels if the bikers do not have lights on their backs.
- There are shuttles for those who choose to ride only one direction, but at a 1.7% Grade this trail is a doable ride in both directions. Shuttle passes are an additional fee per person.
The Hiawatha is operated by Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area usually from Memorial Day Weekend through late September, 8:30am - 5:30 pm daily. They do require every rider to have a helmet and bike lights before starting their trip. The fee to ride the trail at $6-10/person. Check out their website for up to date information.
- Mountain bike
- Bike lights (front & back)
- Rain jacket
- Warm layers
Mountain Biking, Photography
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Great Bike Ride
The Hiawatha trail is a great family activity or a great way to spend a day with some buddies. The trail takes most of the day to complete but is easy to complete. From the top down is an easy ride down. The only tricky part is organizing how you will plan to get back to your car while using the shuttle. Make sure you plan ahead. Good luck!
Long, but worth it.
If you have a Saturday to use, definitely use it on this. The views are amazing, just make sure you have a comfortable seat. It can seem very long at times, but remember to take in the surroundings.
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