Monday, September 9, 2013

The Hiawatha Trail–Ten Tunnels, Seven Trestles, One Amazing Ride

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 – Fred’s Birthday! – The Hiawatha trail is one of the most spectacular section of rails- to- trails bike paths. It stretches 15 miles from the Montana/Idaho border at Taft Montana across the Bitterroot mountains to Pearson, Idaho. It is constructed on the old Milwaukee Road Railroad line that was constructed from 1906-1911. This bike trail has a nice gravel surface and drops a comfortable 2 percent grade along the 15 miles.

We had read about this trail when we were looking at things to do in Idaho.Though it had been years since either Fred or I had been on a bike, we decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed.

We rented bikes, helmets, and a bike flashlight from the Lookout Mountain Ski area, then drove about 5 miles to the trail head at Taft. We would ride the 15 miles of the Hiawatha trail to the Pearson trail head, taking our time and stopping at all the informational signs and overlooks. There is a well coordinated shuttle bus system that would pick us up and take us back to the beginning of the trail - actually, we would arrive back at Roland trailhead, and have to ride back through the Taft tunnel. The shuttle was scheduled to  leave Pearson at 1:15pm. That would give us about 3.5 hours…..plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely bike ride.


I will have to say that I was a bit nervous about this bike ride. It had been many years since I had been on a bike, and I was not sure how I would do. But….as they say, it is ‘like riding a bike’…..Well, almost that easy.

I first took a couple of turns around the trailhead parking lot to get my balance. I didn’t remember feeling this shaky…… as a kid, I lived on a bike.

The ‘interesting’ thing about the Hiawatha trail is the first 1.7 miles ……..through a tunnel!


The Taft tunnel runs 1.7 miles through the side of the mountain. Pitch black! Like in a cave…..and wet from water seeping through the sides and roof. And COLD! The temperature in the tunnel was 45 degrees!


Slowly…..wobbly…..we peddled into the tunnel. Handlebar headlights turned on…….once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the lights seemed quite adequate. We could see the road in front of us and far enough ahead for comfort…..sort of.


I rode behind Fred….. we must have been going very slowly…..zigzagging a bit and trying to remember what it felt like to ride a bike. The tunnel was wide enough for bikes to easily pass each other, but the sides of the road were sloped to a drainage ditch channeling water runoff on each side. We tried to keep to the center of the road. I was scared……….anxious, really. But I kept focused straight ahead and kept peddling.


I should say, here, that Fred is amazing……he has much more athletic ability and confidence than I do. He was a bit nervous, and a bit wobbly at first, but really takes to these challenges and enjoys them. Note- Fred kept up with the camera for this ride, and took most of the pictures, so there are many more pics of me than him!

Finally (maybe 20 minutes?) we were through the tunnel and ready to start this adventure…..


The trail was beautiful……We stopped often to read the signs


Or just enjoy the scenery


After a bit, the riding got easier and I began to remember what it felt like when I was a kid. Riding along….faster, sometimes, just for the fun of it. The trail was well traveled, but we did not feel crowded. We passed, and were passed by several people, but were able to ride at our own pace.


There were more tunnels along the way……a total of ten…..most short, maybe 200 feet or so. All dark…..


The bike lights worked great and we got comfortable enough to actually enjoy the tunnels.


Oh – there were also trestles to ride over. Seven in all. I had thought that they might be scary….



But they were actually quite safe feeling. The roadway was wide….


With a raised boardwalk on each side and a wire railing to provide a sense of comfort.


The views from the trestles were awesome!


Looking down……


Fred took this one looking straight down!


And alongside of the trestle. They were really a work of architecture….


There were a number of informational signs along the way that added to the experience and our understanding of the building of the railroad through this area.  This one tells of a great fire in 1910.


Along the way, we kept our eyes open for wildlife. This deer seemed almost tame, as she just stood on the side of the road while we were eating our sandwiches for lunch. Maybe she was hungry?


This little guy posed for a picture. He was definitely used to being fed by the bike riders on this trail.


We got to the end of our ride….Pearson trail head….about 12:45pm. Time enough to relax a bit before loading  up, bikes and all, on the bus. A 30 minute bus ride back to the Roland trail head, where we would have to ride back through the 1.7 mile Taft tunnel to where our truck was parked. This time, the tunnel did not seem so intimidating. We rode much faster and smoother……and, before we knew it, our bike riding adventure was over.

This day was fun! Definitely something that we will have to do again. I see new bikes somewhere in our future.   : )


  1. Sue your pictures are beautiful! Thank you for sharing your adventures! I am thoroghly
    enjoying 'travelling along' with you! Mom

  2. Came across your experience while looking for info. on this trail. Thank you for the lovely write-up and particularly for sharing your feelings going in.
    I plan to do this as part of a road-trip with my teenage son next summer and I haven't been on a bike for so many years. Your post gives me courage though I still think we might skip the tunnel and just drive to Roland trailhead and start from there :-)