TRAILS -- The Route of the Hiawatha rail trail across the Montana-Idaho border will open for hiking and mountain biking on May 27, says Phil Edholm of Lookout Pass Ski Area.
The 15-mile trail along the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad grade through the Bitterroot Mountains includes 10 tunnels and seven trestles as high as 230 feet between the old town site of Taft (MT) and the North Fork of the St. Joe River.
The St. Paul Pass Tunnel runs a dark, dank 1.66 miles across the stateline, with bright headlights and a sweater required even on hot summer days. It's a highlight of a trail that has been described as “one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country.”
Asked about the snowfall that covered the region's ski areas this week, Edholm said, "The (Hiawatha) Trail elevations are 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Lower than our base area at Lookout Pass. We did plow the road leading to the East Portal last week. The trail is snow free.
"The forecasted warm up next week will make for a comfortable opening."
"The trail is considered the Crown Jewel of all rail-to-trail projects in the country and delivers a one-of–a-kind adventure for riders from around the world," Edholm said. "The best part: It’s all downhill with a gentle 1.6 percent average grade that drops 1,000 feet over the 15-mile length with shuttle buses available to transport you and your bike back to the top."
Some people get extra mileage and an extra workout by pedaling the route both ways.
Numerous historical and interpretive signs on the area's railroad history are posted along the way. Wildlife sightings of moose, elk and deer are a common treat.
Trail passes, shuttle tickets, mountain bike rentals, souvenirs, and picnic lunches are available at Lookout Pass Ski Area just off Interstate 90 Exit 0 at the Idaho/Montana state line 12 miles east of Wallace, Idaho.
Equipment reservations are recommended.
The Hiawatha Trail will be open daily from May 27-Sept. 24
from 8:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m PDT.
Info: (208) 744-1301, ridethehiawatha.com.