Riding the Route of the Hiawatha

We continued driving east to St Regis, MT, where we stayed at theĀ Campground St Regis for two nights so we could ride our bikes on the Hiawatha Rail-Trail Mountain Bike Trail. Today we left early and drove back to the Lookout Pass Ski Area located just off I-90 on the Idaho-Montana border to pick up our tickets for the trail and the shuttle bus ride back. The first 13 miles of the route were opened in May 1998, and enhanced in 2001 with the long dark St Paul Pass or “Taft” Tunnel which burrows for 1.7 miles under the state line. It has been called one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. The incredible history of the construction of this line, built from 1906 to 1911, it took thousands of workers at a record cost of $260 million and was followed by electrification of several stretches of the main line, forming the longest electrified mainline railroad in the world. Some of the wooden poles for the power lines were still along the trail. The Route of the Hiawatha Rail-Trail takes you through 9 cavernous tunnels, and over 7 high steel trestles, past waterfalls, ridge top vistas and numerous interpretive signs providing information about the rich mining and railroading history. The 17 mile route crosses the spectacular, rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. We started at the East Portal Trailhead and headed out with our petzl headlamps on our helmets in order to see riding through the 1.7 mile long tunnel, luckily we had two lights because mine died as soon as we entered the tunnel.

The rest of the trail was a gentle downhill ride through all the tunnels and over all the trestles with magnificent views of the forested Bitterroots. When we reached the end we hopped on the shuttle bus to ride back up the 1000 feet of elevation loss we rode down. This by far was one of the most scenic rail-to-trail rides we have ever experienced!