One of our favorite day trip excursions when we are staying in Coeur d’Alene (see my previous blog post) is to take our bikes to the Route of the Hiawatha. The Route of the Hiawatha is probably the most enjoyable bike trails I have ever ridden.
Once part of the Pacific extension of the Milwaukee Railroad, what is now The Route of the Hiawatha was known for being one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. The train tracks have since been removed and replaced with a 15-mile, very well maintained gravel biking and hiking trail.
But before you stop reading — the entire trail averages an extremely easy 1.7% downgrade the entire way! And once you make it to the end of the trail, if you aren’t interested in riding your bike back up the trail, there are shuttle buses that take you and your bike back up to the top of the trail, only a short distance from the parking lot. We have met people biking on this trail ranging from young children with training wheels on their bikes to grandparents in their 80’s, and everything in between.
Over the course of the trail, you will ride through 10 tunnels, and over 7 railroad trestles — each with a breathtaking view of the Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. All but one of the trestles are over 100 feet above the valley floor, and two of them are over 200 feet high. The trail is best known for the 1.7 mile long Taft Tunnel which is located at the very beginning of the trail when you first leave the parking lot.
All along the route are interpretive signs that share the history of the railroad, old mining towns that used to populate the area including stories about the colorful citizens that lived in them, and information about the early Forest Service in the region. These historical tidbits are not only interesting, they also provide a good excuse for a lot of rest breaks and picture-taking opportunities.
To ensure everyone has an opportunity to enjoy this spectacular excursion, if you don’t have bicycles with you, rental bikes, lights and helmets are available at the Lookout Pass Ski Area (this is also where you purchase your trail pass, which are required).
The Route of the Hiawatha is a quick 56 miles East of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and 100 miles West of Missoula, Montana. For more information on the trail, a gallery of photos, ticket prices, and hours operation, visit their website at http://www.skilookout.com/hiawatha/.