Route of the Hiawatha

By Brooke Marshall

The self-proclaimed crown jewel of rail-to-trail adventures, Route of the Hiawatha is a 15-mile packed dirt bike path through the Bitterroot Mountains, including 10 train tunnels, seven railroad trestles and crossing the Montana-Idaho state line. 

The adventure kicks off with a chilly 1.66 miles through St. Paul Pass Tunnel – nicknamed Taft Tunnel after the boom town of Taft, Montana, which itself was dubbed “the wickedest city in America” by a visiting reporter in 1909. According to the interpretive sign at the entrance of the tunnel, Taft was a “den of iniquity” with 27 saloons, 44 unsolved murders and a 250-pound prostitute named Pee Wee Jack with a parrot she’d trained to ask, “Do you want to go to bed?”

Photo by Doug Black

Once you emerge into the daylight, the trail winds gently downhill through stands of stately evergreens, where mule deer, elk and even mountain lions make their homes. It’s hard not to be impressed, as you cross a towering trestle through remote wilderness, that this infrastructure was built by the hard-drinking denizens of Taft nearly 120 years ago.

The 1.7% grade makes for a gentle ride back to the top, but if you prefer not to re-experience the trail in reverse, a fleet of shuttle buses wait at the bottom to take you back to Lookout Pass.