Route of the Hiawatha rail trail to open Saturday

Boosted by publicity and interest in the 100th anniversary of the 1910 forest fire blow up, the Route of the Hiawatha rail trail set a visitation record of 34,249 this summer. (File)
Boosted by publicity and interest in the 100th anniversary of the 1910 forest fire blow up, the Route of the Hiawatha rail trail set a visitation record of 34,249 this summer. (File)

BICYCLING – The Route of the Hiawatha near Lookout Pass will open Saturday for its 14th season, officials confirmed today.

 Lookout Pass Ski Area coordinates bus shuttles and bicycle rentals for the popular 15-mile rail trail that straddles the Montana-Idaho border.

The trail opened three weeks earlier last year when the mountains were not so loaded with snow.

The trail, which includes 10 tunnels and seven trestles as high as 230 feet, attracts visitors from around the world.

Crews have been working to clear snow from the trailhead at the east portal of the Taft Tunnel, which is the highest point of Route of the Hiawatha at 4,147 feet.

For details and bike rentals, call (208) 744-1301 or visit www.skilookout.com.

Read on for more details.

Referred to as the “crown jewel” of U.S. rail-to-trail mountain bicycle trails, Route of the Hiawatha follows the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad grade between the old town site of Taft, Mont., and the North Fork of the St. Joe River near Avery, Idaho.

The trail has received worldwide acclaim as one of the most breathtaking scenic stretches of railroad in the U.S.  In October, Route of the Hiawatha was inducted into the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame. USA Today named Hiawatha one of the top 10 rail-to-trail adventures in the country.

Winding through 10 tunnels—including the 1.7 mile long St. Paul Pass Tunnel—and seven trestles up to 230 feet high, the 15-mile route crosses the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. The gentle 1.6 percent grade drops 1,000 feet in elevation along the way, making Route of the Hiawatha an ideal experience for families and riders of a wide range of ages and abilities.

The three-to-four hour trip is highlighted by spectacular mountain views, wildlife and interpretive historic signage. Shuttle buses stand by at the end of the trail to transport visitors and their bikes back to the top.

Route of the Hiawatha is open 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. seven days a week.

Tickets, bike, rentals, shuttle passes food, beverages and picnic lunches are available 8 a.m. -6 p.m. at Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, located 12 miles east of Wallace off Exit 0 on Interstate 90 at the Idaho/Montana border.

The St. Paul Pass Tunnel trailhead is about 7 miles from the ski area.

Helmets and lights are required and available for rent.

Equipment reservations are recommended. For more information about Route of the Hiawatha, call 208-744-1301 or visit www.ridethehiawatha.com.

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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