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Route Of The Hiawatha Trail: Biking Idaho’s Best Rail-Trail


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Carolyn Schmitt



Welcome to the Route of the Hiawatha Trail, a breathtaking journey through some of the most stunning natural landscapes Idaho has to offer. This scenic rail-trail offers a unique and exhilarating experience for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. Whether you’re an avid cyclist, a nature lover, or simply looking for a new and exciting way to explore the beauty of Idaho, the Hiawatha Trail is a must-visit destination.


Originally a part of the Milwaukee Road railroad, the Hiawatha Trail was once a vital transportation route that connected the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest. Today, it has been transformed into a premier bicycle trail that spans 15 miles of picturesque terrain. Starting at the East Portal near the Montana border, the trail winds its way through the Bitterroot Mountains and ends at the Pearson trailhead in Idaho. As you pedal along, you’ll be immersed in a breathtaking and ever-changing landscape, featuring towering mountains, lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and majestic trestles.


One of the most notable features of the Hiawatha Trail is the iconic Taft Tunnel, an engineering marvel that stretches for 1.7 miles. As you enter the darkness of the tunnel, be prepared to experience a sense of awe and wonder as the cool, dimly lit surroundings envelop you. The tunnel is punctuated by eerie echoes and the occasional glimpse of natural light filtering through the ventilation shafts, creating a truly memorable and otherworldly experience.


Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a beginner, the Hiawatha Trail offers a ride suitable for all skill levels. The trail is well-maintained and relatively flat, making it accessible to riders of all ages and abilities. Along the way, you’ll encounter several lookout points that provide stunning panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness. Take a moment to soak in the beauty of the landscape, listen to the sound of rushing water, and breathe in the fresh mountain air.


In addition to its natural beauty, the Hiawatha Trail also offers a glimpse into the rich history of the area. Interpretive signage along the trail provides insights into the railroad’s construction, the challenges faced by the workers, and the impact the railroad had on the region’s development. It’s an opportunity to learn about the past while enjoying the present-day beauty of Idaho.


So, whether you’re seeking a thrilling outdoor adventure, a family-friendly outing, or a serene and picturesque escape, the Route of the Hiawatha Trail promises to deliver. Strap on your helmet, grab your bike, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through Idaho’s rugged and breathtaking landscapes.


History of the Hiawatha Trail

The history of the Hiawatha Trail is deeply intertwined with the once-thriving Milwaukee Road railway. Originally constructed in the early 1900s, the rail line was a crucial transportation route connecting the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. The segment that is now known as the Hiawatha Trail was a vital part of this larger railway network.


The Milwaukee Road railway was an engineering marvel of its time. It spanned over 4,700 miles and featured numerous tunnels, trestles, and breathtaking landscapes. The construction of the railway in the remote and challenging terrain of the Bitterroot Mountains required immense effort and ingenuity.


The Hiawatha Trail, specifically, was completed in 1909 and served as a crucial link for transporting goods and passengers between Montana and Idaho. The rail line took its name from the famous “Hiawatha” passenger train that operated on this route. The train was a symbol of luxury and comfort, offering a scenic and enjoyable journey for travelers.


However, as the 20th century progressed, changes in transportation preferences and economic challenges led to the decline of the rail industry. The Milwaukee Road railway faced financial difficulties and eventually ceased operations in 1980. The rail line lay abandoned for several years, with nature slowly reclaiming the tracks and infrastructure.


In the mid-1990s, a visionary group of individuals recognized the potential of the disused rail line and took action to preserve its history and transform it into a recreational trail. The Route of the Hiawatha Trail was born out of this collective effort to preserve the railway’s legacy and make it accessible to the public.


The conversion of the rail line into a trail was no small feat. Tunnels had to be cleared, trestles had to be reinforced, and infrastructure had to be adapted for recreational use. The result is a remarkable example of adaptive reuse, with the trail still retaining much of the charm and character of its railroad past.


Today, the Hiawatha Trail stands as a testament to both the engineering marvels of the past and the resilience of nature. It is a testament to the vision and determination of those who worked tirelessly to transform the disused rail line into a world-renowned recreational trail.


As you embark on your journey along the Hiawatha Trail, take a moment to appreciate the history that unfolded on these tracks. Imagine the steam locomotives that once thundered through the tunnels and the passengers who marveled at the breathtaking scenery. The trail offers a unique opportunity to connect with the past while immersing yourself in the natural beauty of Idaho’s wilderness.


Planning Your Trip

Planning your trip to the Hiawatha Trail is an exciting part of the adventure. Here are some essential tips to help you make the most of your experience:

  • Choose the Right Time: The Hiawatha Trail is open from late May to early October. The summer months offer pleasant weather and longer daylight hours, making it an ideal time to visit. Keep in mind that weekends tend to be busier, so if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting on weekdays.
  • Secure Permits and Passes: Before hitting the trail, you’ll need to obtain a trail pass. Passes can be purchased online or at the East Portal or Pearson trailheads. It’s important to have your pass visible while riding on the trail.
  • Plan for Transportation: The Hiawatha Trail is a one-way ride, so you’ll need to arrange transportation at the end of your journey. Several shuttle services are available to transport you and your bike from Pearson to the East Portal trailhead. It’s recommended to book your shuttle in advance to ensure availability.
  • Check Trail Conditions: Before your trip, it’s essential to check the trail conditions. Weather can impact the trail, and there may be temporary closures or restrictions due to maintenance or construction. The official website or local visitor centers can provide up-to-date information.
  • Bike Rentals and Gear: If you don’t have your own bike or prefer to travel light, bike rentals are available at both the East Portal and Pearson trailheads. Additionally, consider bringing a helmet, water bottle, snacks, and appropriate clothing layers as the weather in the mountains can vary.
  • Bring the Right Equipment: It’s important to have a bike that is suitable for trail riding. The Hiawatha Trail is packed gravel, so a mountain bike or hybrid bike with wider tires is recommended. Make sure your bike is in good working condition and consider carrying a spare tube and basic tools for any potential repairs.
  • Plan for Rest and Hydration: Along the trail, there are several rest areas with restrooms and water stations. However, it’s still a good idea to bring your own water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout the ride.
  • Consider Your Fitness Level: While the Hiawatha Trail is suitable for riders of all skill levels, it’s important to assess your fitness level and choose the appropriate ride length. The full 15-mile ride from the East Portal to Pearson can be challenging for some, so consider opting for a shorter ride if needed.

By following these planning tips, you’ll be well-prepared for your Hiawatha Trail adventure. Remember to take your time, savor the breathtaking scenery, and create lasting memories as you pedal through Idaho’s remarkable natural landscapes.


Trail Highlights

The Hiawatha Trail is packed with stunning highlights that will leave you in awe of the natural beauty of Idaho. Here are some of the trail’s most memorable highlights that you won’t want to miss:

  • Taft Tunnel: The iconic Taft Tunnel is undoubtedly one of the trail’s most captivating features. Stretching for 1.7 miles, this former railway tunnel takes you on a thrilling journey through darkness. Be prepared to feel a sense of wonder as you pedal through the dimly lit tunnel, surrounded by the echoes of your own footsteps.
  • Stunning Trestles: The Hiawatha Trail boasts a series of remarkable trestles that provide breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. The highlight is undoubtedly the 230-foot high St. Paul Pass Trestle, where you can marvel at the sheer drop below while taking in panoramic vistas of the mountains.
  • Waterfall Wonderland: As you ride along the trail, you’ll be treated to numerous cascading waterfalls that add an enchanting touch to the already magnificent scenery. Listen to the soothing sound of rushing water as you pass by magnificent falls, such as the dazzling Snowshed Falls and the picturesque Tunnel Creek Falls.
  • Natural Observation Points: Throughout the trail, you’ll encounter several scenic viewpoints that offer sweeping panoramas of the surrounding wilderness. Take a moment to pause and soak in the beauty of the Bitterroot Mountains, the lush forests, and the meandering rivers below.
  • Historical Significance: The Hiawatha Trail not only offers natural beauty but also provides insights into the history of the area. Interpretive signage along the trail highlights the challenges faced during the railway’s construction and gives a glimpse into the impact the railroad had on the region.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Keep your eyes peeled as you ride, as the Hiawatha Trail is teeming with wildlife. From graceful deer to curious squirrels, you may have the opportunity to spot a variety of animals going about their daily routines in their natural habitat.
  • Peaceful Serenity: One of the truly remarkable aspects of the Hiawatha Trail is the sense of tranquility it offers. Surrounded by the beauty of nature, you’ll find moments of peace and serenity as you pedal through the lush forests and take in the fresh mountain air.

These trail highlights are just a taste of what awaits you on the Hiawatha Trail. Each twist and turn along the 15-mile journey offers a new and captivating experience, making it a must-visit destination for any outdoor enthusiast or nature lover.


Biking Equipment and Safety

When embarking on a biking adventure along the Hiawatha Trail, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and ensure you have the right equipment. Here are some essential biking equipment and safety tips to consider:

  • Helmet: Wearing a properly fitted helmet is a must when biking on the Hiawatha Trail or any other trail. It protects your head in case of accidents or falls, providing essential protection and reducing the risk of head injuries.
  • Bike Selection: Choose a bike that is suitable for trail riding. The Hiawatha Trail is packed gravel, so a mountain bike or hybrid bike with wider tires is recommended. Ensure that your bike is in good working order, especially the brakes and gears, before setting out.
  • Bike Maintenance and Repair: It’s a good idea to carry basic bike maintenance and repair tools, such as a spare tube, tire levers, a multi-tool, and a bike pump. These tools can come in handy if you encounter any issues on the trail, such as a flat tire or a loose bolt.
  • Appropriate Clothing and Layers: Dress comfortably and wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions. Be prepared for changing temperatures by wearing layers that can be easily added or removed. Bring a rain jacket or windbreaker in case of unexpected weather changes.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Staying hydrated and fueled is essential during your biking adventure. Carry a water bottle and refill it at the water stations along the trail. Pack energy-rich snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the ride.
  • Trail Etiquette: Practice good trail etiquette by being respectful to other riders and hikers. Yield to faster riders, communicate when passing, and follow posted signs and instructions. Help maintain the trail’s natural beauty by leaving no trace behind.
  • Be Aware of Wildlife: Idaho is known for its diverse wildlife, and encountering animals on the trail is a possibility. Maintain a safe distance, do not approach or feed them, and ensure that your actions do not disturb their natural behavior.
  • Plan for Emergencies: It’s always important to be prepared for emergencies. Carry a first aid kit with essential supplies and be aware of emergency contact numbers. Familiarize yourself with the trail’s access points in case assistance is needed.
  • Know Your Limits: While the Hiawatha Trail is suitable for riders of all skill levels, it’s crucial to know your own limits and ride at a pace that is comfortable for you. Take breaks, listen to your body, and don’t push yourself beyond what you are capable of.

By ensuring you have the necessary biking equipment and keeping safety in mind, you can enjoy a smooth and worry-free experience on the Hiawatha Trail. Remember to always stay alert, be aware of your surroundings, and have fun exploring the wonders of Idaho’s breathtaking landscapes.


Camping and Accommodations

For those looking to fully immerse themselves in the Hiawatha Trail experience, camping or finding suitable accommodations nearby is a great option. Here are some camping and accommodation options to consider:

  • Campgrounds: There are several campgrounds in close proximity to the Hiawatha Trail, offering a chance to sleep under the stars and wake up to the beauty of the Idaho wilderness. Look for campgrounds such as the Big Hank Campground, Lookout Pass Ski Area Campground, or Moon Pass Campground for a rustic outdoor experience.
  • RV Parks: If you’re traveling with an RV or prefer more amenities, consider staying at one of the RV parks in the area. These parks typically offer full hookups, restroom facilities, and sometimes even recreational amenities. Lookout Pass Ski Area RV Park and Wilderness Gateway Campground are popular choices for RVers.
  • Lodges and Cabins: If you prefer a more comfortable stay, there are lodges and cabins available near the Hiawatha Trail. These accommodations often provide cozy lodging options and additional amenities. Lookout Pass Ski Area Lodge and Wallace Inn are two options to consider.
  • Hotels and Motels: For those who prefer a traditional hotel experience, there are various hotels and motels in nearby towns. The towns of Wallace, Kellogg, and Mullan offer a range of accommodations to suit different budgets and preferences.
  • Booking in Advance: As the Hiawatha Trail is a popular destination, especially during peak season, it’s recommended to book your camping or accommodation in advance. This ensures that you secure your preferred dates and have a place to stay during your visit.
  • Other Amenities: In addition to camping and lodging, some locations offer additional amenities such as laundry facilities, Wi-Fi, swimming pools, and dining options. Consider your desired level of comfort and the amenities you prioritize when choosing your accommodation.
  • Proximity to the Trail: When selecting your camping or accommodation, consider its proximity to the Hiawatha Trail. Choose a location that offers convenient access to the trail, minimizing travel time and maximizing your time spent biking and exploring.

Whether you choose to pitch a tent, park your RV, or stay in a cozy lodge, there are accommodations near the Hiawatha Trail to suit different preferences and budgets. By planning ahead and securing your camping or accommodation, you can relax and focus on enjoying the biking adventure and the natural beauty of Idaho’s remarkable landscapes.


Dining and Refreshments

After a day of biking along the Hiawatha Trail, you’ll likely work up an appetite. Luckily, there are dining options and places to grab refreshments conveniently located near the trail. Here are some suggestions for dining and refreshments:

  • Trailside Cafés and Snack Bars: Along the Hiawatha Trail, you’ll find convenient trailside cafés and snack bars. These establishments offer a quick and easy way to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a refreshing beverage. Look for places such as The Hiawatha Hideaway or the Lookout Pass Ski Area Cafeteria.
  • Picnic Areas: If you prefer to bring your own food, there are designated picnic areas along the trail where you can stop, rest, and enjoy a packed lunch. These areas often provide picnic tables and beautiful scenic views, allowing you to refuel and recharge before continuing your ride.
  • Nearby Restaurants and Cafés: If you’re looking for a more substantial meal or a variety of dining options, there are restaurants and cafés located in nearby towns. Wallace, Kellogg, and Mullan offer a range of dining choices, from casual eateries to fine dining establishments. You can satisfy your cravings for pizza, burgers, sushi, or even gourmet cuisine.
  • Local Breweries and Wineries: For those who enjoy a refreshing beverage, consider visiting local breweries or wineries in the area. Treat yourself to a craft beer or regional wine, and savor the flavors of Idaho. Some establishments may offer tours, tastings, and outdoor seating options, providing a unique experience after your biking adventure.
  • Provisions and Supplies: If you need to stock up on supplies for your biking trip, there are general stores and grocery stores near the trail where you can find snacks, drinks, and other essentials. Consider picking up trail mix, energy bars, or fresh fruits to keep you fueled throughout your ride.
  • Dining Tips: Keep in mind that some dining establishments may have limited operating hours or seasonal closures, so it’s a good idea to check their availability in advance. Additionally, be mindful of any COVID-19 protocols or restrictions that may be in place and follow local guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable dining experience.

Whether you prefer a quick snack on the trail, a leisurely picnic, or a full meal at a local restaurant, there are dining and refreshment options to suit every preference near the Hiawatha Trail. Take the time to refuel, recharge, and savor the flavors of Idaho as you create lasting memories of your biking adventure.


The Hiawatha Trail Experience

The Hiawatha Trail offers a truly unforgettable experience, combining breathtaking natural beauty, rich history, and thrilling biking adventure. As you embark on this journey, prepare to be immersed in the wonder and awe of Idaho’s remarkable landscapes. Here’s what you can expect from the Hiawatha Trail experience:


From the moment you set foot or wheel on the trail, you’ll be captivated by the surrounding wilderness. The trail winds its way through towering mountains, dense forests, and picturesque valleys, offering panoramic vistas and ever-changing scenery at every turn. The beauty of the Bitterroot Mountains will leave you in awe, with stunning waterfalls, vibrant wildflowers, and the peaceful serenity of nature.


As you venture further along the trail, you’ll encounter the remarkable engineering feats of the Milwaukee Road railway. The Taft Tunnel, stretching for 1.7 miles, provides a truly unique experience as you pedal through its dimly lit interior. With each turn, the tunnel reveals a world of echoes, mystery, and a profound connection to the past.


The trail’s trestles are equally impressive, offering breathtaking views and an exhilarating sense of height. The 230-foot high St. Paul Pass Trestle commands attention, allowing you to appreciate the sheer grandeur of the landscape as you glide across it on your bike.


The Hiawatha Trail also offers opportunities for wildlife sightings. Keep your eyes peeled as you ride, and you may spot deer, squirrels, birds, and other animals that call this region home. The experience of sharing their natural habitat adds an extra layer of connection to the stunning surroundings.


Throughout your journey, you’ll find rest areas equipped with water stations and restroom facilities. Take a moment to refuel and recharge, listening to the soothing sounds of nature and appreciating the beauty surrounding you.


With its accessibility and well-maintained trail conditions, the Hiawatha Trail is suitable for riders of all ages and skill levels. Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or a first-time rider, the trail offers a safe and enjoyable experience. Families can bond over shared adventures, and individuals can push their limits and reconnect with nature.


The Hiawatha Trail experience is not just limited to biking. It is an opportunity to learn about the history of the area, appreciate the resilience of the once-thriving railroad, and understand the impact it had on the region. Interactive signage along the trail provides insights into the challenges faced during the railway’s construction.


As the sun sets on your Hiawatha Trail adventure, you’ll carry with you memories of the stunning landscapes, the exhilaration of biking through tunnels and across trestles, and the peaceful moments of tranquility in the heart of nature. The Hiawatha Trail experience is a testament to the beauty of Idaho and the power of outdoor exploration.


So, grab your bike, prepare for an unforgettable adventure, and let the Hiawatha Trail transport you to a world of natural wonder, historical significance, and the joy of embracing the great outdoors.



Embarking on a biking adventure along the Hiawatha Trail is an experience that will leave you with lasting memories of Idaho’s natural beauty and rich history. From the towering mountains to the captivating tunnels and trestles, this trail offers a unique and exhilarating journey through some of the state’s most picturesque landscapes.


As you pedal along the 15-mile route, you’ll be immersed in the tranquility and serenity of nature. The remarkable engineering of the Milwaukee Road railway, with its historic tunnels and trestles, adds a touch of intrigue and a reminder of the trail’s rich past.


The Hiawatha Trail caters to all skill levels and provides an opportunity for families, friends, and solo adventurers to connect with the outdoors. The sense of accomplishment and awe as you traverse the trail’s features, such as the Taft Tunnel and St. Paul Pass Trestle, is truly unmatched.


Along the way, you’ll have the chance to appreciate the wildlife, enjoy majestic waterfalls, and soak in the panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness. The trail not only offers natural beauty but also serves as a pathway into history, with informative signage bringing the past to life.


When planning your journey, consider your options for camping, lodging, dining, and refreshments. From rustic campgrounds to cozy lodges, there are accommodations to suit every preference. Local eateries, picnic spots, and trailside cafés provide a variety of dining choices to refuel and rejuvenate during your adventure.


Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a first-time rider, the Hiawatha Trail promises an unforgettable experience. It’s a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with nature, history, and the joy of outdoor exploration.


So, gather your biking gear, plan your trip, and prepare to be amazed by the breathtaking beauty, remarkable history, and thrilling adventure that awaits you on the Hiawatha Trail. Get ready to create memories and discover the best of Idaho’s rail-trail experience.