The most majestic of the three is the Route of the Hiawatha Trail. A couple years ago, a few of us RVers bicycled this immensely popular route, a 15-mile compacted gravel trail between the Pearson trailhead (elev. 3180) in Idaho and the East Portal trailhead (elev. 4147) in Montana.
Although bicyclists can travel round trip, most choose the shorter (3-4 hour) downhill experience and park at the East Portal, located about 2 miles off I-90 at the Taft Exit in Montana (5 miles east of Lookout Pass on the Idaho border) and take a shuttle bus back.
The downhill version begins at the East Portal of the very dark Taft Tunnel. Helmets and proper lighting equipment are required for all bikers.
(I was extremely glad I was wearing a strong helmet because immediately after emerging from the damp, 1.7 mile-long tunnel, my front wheel skidded sideways on a wet patch and down I went. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I suffered a cracked rib when the handle bars slammed into my side. Thinking I only had been bruised, I went on to finish the ride.)
Julianne and Jimmy on Hiawatha.
The trail has a 2% grade and travels through nine tunnels and across seven high steel trestles before reaching the Pearson trailhead.
“Along the trail, numerous interpretive signs provide information about the rich mining and railroad history in this scenic passage way through the spectacular Bitterroot Mountains, famous between 1911 and 1961 as the ‘Route of the Hiawatha’ on the Milwaukee Road between Illinois and Washington.”-– Trail Website
The Hiawatha trail is open May 23-Sept. 27 (2015) from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. During the peak season, June 22 -Sept. 7, the hours are extended to 5:30 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time). Day use pass is $10 ($6 ages 6-13). All children 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
The shuttle operates 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to approximately 4:15 p.m. through Sept. 20. (On weekends from June 22-Sept. 7, a fifth run at the end of the day is added … so the last departure from Pearson would be at 5:45 p.m.) After Sept. 20, 2015, the shuttle only operates on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The season ends on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.
If you go
– You can buy passes online: http://www.ridethehiawatha.com
– Purchase passes at Lookout Pass Ski Area on I-90, Exit 0 at Idaho / Montana Border or from trail marshals.
– Helmets and lights are required.
– You can buy or rent equipment at Lookout Pass.
Photos: From top: Views of the Route of the Hiawatha. (Friends of the Coeur d’Alene Trails). (2) RVer Jimmy Smith bicycling through one of the nine tunnels on the ‘Route of the Hiawatha. (Julianne G. Crane) (3) RVers Julianne G Crane and Jimmy Smith on Trail. (4) View from one of the seven high steel trestles. (Julianne G. Crane)