Looking in entrance to Taft Tunnel on the Trail Of The Hiawatha. 

It's amazing how popular this trail is, even though it basically doesn't go anywhere. 

It's fun, but so are other trails.  Hardly anyone lives near the Hiawatha, but they flock to it for miles.  They come from Seattle, Spokane, Missoula, with bikes strapped to their car top carriers. 

Bikes can also be rented at Lookout Mountain Ski Area. 

People pay the $8 fee.  This trail charges money.

I visited in 2005. 

Parking lot, on Montana side of Taft Tunnel, was large.  Almost looked like "parking at the mall."  It was Labor Day Weekend and I heard that close to 600 riders were passing through.


Lots of folks want to say they "rode the Hiawatha."  Other trails offer similar sights, but not as concentrated.  In 15 miles, there are 9 tunnels, 7 high trestles, waterfalls and interpretive signs. 

It's a destination.   Also one can make it an all downhill ride.

Other trails could market themselves more.  One can marvel at the draw of the Hiawatha, so far from urban centers.  Web sites proclaim it's between two major airports, Spokane, WA. and Missoula, MT.

Going into Taft Tunnel
Images taken 2005
Taft Tunnel
I  was drawn to the Hiawatha also, but I got there by bicycle.  It was fun, but was a more "everyday" experience for me. 

After Trail Of The Coeur d'Alenes, I rode through Mullan, ID.  Then took Saint Paul Trail, instead of I-90, over Lookout Pass.  The last 5 miles, from Montana border, was on I-90's shoulder.  Maybe I could have taken trails, but didn't figure that out. 

It was a fun, but just another nice trail for me. 

Met many other cyclists, something I hadn't experienced in my 2005 trip around the Northwest since the Portland Bridge Pedal.

loading bus for trip back
At west end of the Hiawatha, one can take gravel roads to places like Avery, ID.  Or one can ride back to the Montana trail head.  Or, for $9 during the busy summer season, old school buses bring one back to Montana trail head.

Retrofitted with bike storage, the buses are popular.

Friendly rangers at trail heads as well.

I took the bus which ground its way back up a winding mountain road.

That was a fun day, but being a cyclist, I have many days like this.

Idaho trailhead
Reader Comments
About Hiawatha Trail

east portal taft tunnel 1997
East portal of Taft Tunnel 1997, from reader's slide collection.

Hello Robert,

I came across your web site when I happen to do a Google search on the Palouse Country of Washington State.  I passed through that part of the country while on an extensive rail fan trip of Montana, Idaho, and the Pacific Northwest back in the summer of 1997.  Since I also have an interest in farming and farm country, that particular region of Washington was particularly appealing.  I enjoyed your photos of the area and the old barns.  Beautiful country.
While scrounging around your web site, I also found your photos of the St. Paul Pass (Taft Tunnel) area on the Montana/Idaho border - the route of the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension - when it was a viable rail line.  On that same trip in 1997, I discovered that area while following the "ghosts of the Milwaukee Road" from "East Portal" up and over Roland Summit and down into Loop Creek Canyon.  At the time of my exploration, that bike path which you mention, (The Hiawatha Trail) was just undergoing the first stages of construction.  The area was a lonely, isolated, spot of country, virtually devoid of warm bodies except for a few construction crews and the occasional wanderer, like me.  Since I was simply following my nose, I actually drove most of the old roadbed, across many of the large trestles, and through most of the tunnels, which, of course, one can no longer do.  From some of the construction people, I learned of the plan to transform the roadbed into a bike trail.
After I got back home from that trip, I  established contact with the Forest Service personnel at Avery who were over-seeing that whole project and followed the progress of construction for the next several years until it all came to fruition.  In fact, because of my interest in the Milwaukee Road through that area, I was able to help the Forest Service people establish the correct names for a couple of the trestles on the high side of the canyon when their existing diagrams and information were in error. 
The initial phase of trail construction was completed in May of 1998 (the Roland trail head  to the Pearson Trail head) excluding the tunnel which took until the spring of 2001 before it was opened to bikers.  Since that time, I have been trying make it back up there to make the ride but, because I am getting older and Phoenix Arizona is a long way from East Portal, Montana, I haven't done so, as yet - but still hope to do so.  Living as far away as I do, I would not be able to transport my own mountain bike up there so would have to rent one of the machines from the Lookout Pass ski area. 
For a time, there was talk of the possibility of re-establishing grizzly bears back in that area of the Bitterroots and that tended to make me somewhat nervous.  I have never heard any more about that little caper so I don't know what finally transpired.  Since large numbers of warm bodies are, now, making the ride through St. Paul Pass Tunnel, I doubt that they would enjoy having a chance encounter with a grizzly bear in the dark confines of that passage.  Maybe the Forest Service or Fish and Game scrubbed the idea. 
At any rate, your web site is very interesting and I am enjoying your photos.  Back in the 70s I did quite a bit of road-biking here in Arizona but never really did any touring as you do.  Now days I have a Cannondale V1000 mountain bike but only use it on local bike trails.  I've had enough crashes of one sort or another and, at 66 years old, I don't heal up near as fast as when I was younger. 
Alan Jacobson
Phoenix, Arizona

See more description below 2nd photo.

west portal taft tunnel 1997
West portal Taft Tunnel 1997

For the record,  "east portal" and "west portal" are from 2 of my own slides that were shot on July 29th, 1997 during my, so far, one and only visit to the area.  

On the day that I was there, as you can see, the weather was dark, rainy, and extremely damp with the fog obscuring the east portal of the tunnel almost completely.  Quite simply, it was a pretty spooky-looking place at both portals that day - the sort of scenario where one might expect to see Sasquatch make an appearance. 
After photographing the east portal, I drove up and over Roland Summit and down Cliff Creek Road to where I was expecting to have to hike up to the west portal but the road had already been re-aligned and it brought me directly to Roland (right at the west portal) where I encountered 2 guys with a dump truck and a front-end loader.  From them was how I first learned that the old Milwaukee right-of-way, from that point on down though Loop Creek Canyon, was being transformed into a bike trail.  Further on down the mountain, I encountered the construction foreman (whose name was Clarence) who gave me permission to drive the right-of-way so that I could photograph as many of the trestles as possible. 
Comparing my "west portal" shot with the way it looks today (from the photo on your web site), it is easy to see a remarkable difference.  The rickety old wood and tin snow shed is completely gone, exposing the original masonry configuration.
Anyway, you are welcome to use any or all of the attached pics for "historical comparison" on your web site.


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