The cold, damp air brushes past your face as you pedal quickly into the 1.7 mile-long St. Paul Pass Tunnel.
Along the Hiawatha bike trail you reach for your headlamp to guide you through the pitch black.
The thrill of adventure echoes through the tunnel as rainwater trickles alongside the churning of your wheels, splashing mud onto your back.
Today, you can bike along the Hiawatha bike trail to experience fifteen beautiful miles of scenic vistas, trestles, and mile-long tunnels!
This historic landmark is enjoyed by tiny tots to senior citizens during the spring, summer, and early fall, and the best part is that it’s mostly downhill!
If this adventure sounds like fun, keep on reading to learn more!
In this post, we’re sharing about the iconic Route of the Hiawatha, how to prepare for your trip, rental information, and other interesting facts about this famous bike trail.
Planning a large trip? Check out our 1-week North Idaho road trip itinerary, which includes the Hiawatha trail!
The Complete Guide To Riding the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail
- The Complete Guide To Riding the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail
- What is the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail?
- Route of The Hiawatha History
- Camping Near The Hiawatha Bike Trail
- Where To Stay Near The Hiawatha Bike Trail
- Getting To The Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead
- How To Book Hiawatha Trail Reservations / Costs
- Route of the Hiawatha Shuttle Service
- Preparing For The Route Of the Hiawatha
- What To Expect on the Route of the Hiawatha
- Where To Eat After Riding the Route of the Hiawatha
- FAQs about the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail
- MORE IDAHO ADVENTURES
What is the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail?
The Route of the Hiawatha Trail is one of 35 nationally acclaimed “Hall of Fame” biking trails.
This 15-mile rail-to-trail is noted for its 10 train tunnels, 7 trestles, and Montana/Idaho state line crossing along its gentle 1.6% grade slope.
The Hiawatha bike trail, and the Bitterroot Mountains surrounding it, is managed by Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area. This area is rich in history and beautiful landscapes.
In this post, we’re sharing how to plan your own self-guided Hiawatha bike trip!
Route of The Hiawatha History
Before we get into the biking trail, let’s talk about its origins.
This area of North Idaho and Western Montana is full of rich history!
The Hiawatha Bike Trail actually started as a road project. The Milwaukee Road was a feat of exploration to connect Chicago to the upper midwest and greater Pacific Rim trade.
This expansion westward crossed over 2,000 miles and through the territory of many Tribal nations into a rugged countryside that had not yet been recorded.
In 1910, this area received one of the most devastating fires of the nation (rightfully named “The 1910 Fires” or “The Big Blowup”).
Afterwards, the Milwaukee Road project re-established itself as the first rail line to use electric locomotives, which eliminated the potential of fire from steam locomotives!
After the Milwaukee Road declared bankruptcy multiple times, the route retired after its namesake, the Olympian Hiawatha, passed through in 1961, and the line was abandoned after a freight train passed through the Bitterroot Mountains in 1980.
The Milwaukee Road was transformed into the Route of the Hiawatha in 1998.
Camping Near The Hiawatha Bike Trail
Make a day trip adventure into a longer stay by camping near the Hiawatha bike trail!
The area surrounding the Route of the Hiawatha is abundant in campgrounds and RV parks of varying price ranges, activities, and accommodations.
Looking for free camping near the Hiawatha trail? We use The Dyrt to find and filter all kinds of campsites. Try the Pro version for 30 days here!
- Wallace RV Park: Right next to Nine Mile Creek, Wallace RV Park hosts RVs ($40-45 per night) tents ($30 per night), and cabins ($45 per night). There’s a shower house (yay!), fire pits, and local events happening all summer!
- The Nugget RV Resort: Starting at $55 per night, the Nugget RV Resort is near a wealth of attractions: mountain lakes, river floating, Quinn Hot Springs, Blue Ribbon trout fishing in the Clark Fork and St. Regis Rivers, and The National Bison Range.
- Campground St. Regis: $42 per night, this Western Montana campground is the perfect home base to explore Montana and its surrounding attractions, like ATVing, fishing, and golfing at the Trestle Creek Golf Course!
Where To Stay Near The Hiawatha Bike Trail
Looking for hotels near the Hiawatha Bike Trail instead of a campground? (It’s alright, we like our showers too!)
Here are some places to stay near the Route of the Hiawatha:
Wallace, Idaho (20 minutes from the trail)
- The Brooks Hotel – Wallace: Located in historic Wallace, the Brooks Hotel is nearby downtown restaurants and attractions and includes the Brooks Hotel Restaurant and Lounge. Room rates vary from $91 per night, depending on the dates of stay and room of choice.
Kellogg, Idaho (30 minutes from the trail)
- Silver Mountain Resort: Get the full adventure experience at Silver Mountain Resort where there’s an indoor water park and spa, among other outdoor attractions, such as a scenic gondola into the mountains (and the longest gondola in North America at 3.1 miles!) and the nearby Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes. Room rates vary from $152 per night.
Couer d’Alene, Idaho (1 hour from the trail)
- Coeur de Lion Bed and Breakfast: From $90 per room, this place has a welcoming atmosphere and gorgeous views of the surrounding Coeur d’Alene area. Though only a few minutes from downtown Coeur d’Alene, this charming stay offers numerous amenities and a unique property that feels remote.
Spokane, Washington (1.5 hours from the trail)
- The Historic Davenport, Autograph Collection: Looking to continue your historic vacation? Stay at the elegant Historic Davenport from $178 per night and experience Spokane’s greatest attractions, such as the Peacock Room Lounge, Spokane Falls at Riverfront Park, and Manito Park.
Getting To The Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead
So, how long does it take to get to the Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead? How far should you plan to drive from nearby cities?
Here are some nearby locations and how long it takes to get to the East Portal trailhead from each:
- Wallace, Idaho: 21 miles, 30 minutes
- Coeur D’Alene, Idaho: 68 miles, 1 hour
- Missoula, Montana: 102 miles, 1.5 hours
- Spokane, Washington: 102 miles, 1 hour 45 minutes
- Bozeman, Montana: 303 miles, 4.5 hours
Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead Options
To get the full experience, most people begin at the most popular starting point at the East Portal Trailhead, outside of Taft, Montana. This leads you through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel and onto the Roland Trailhead.
Here is a run through of each trailhead and what to expect:
Traditional Directions (most popular)
To get to the trailhead, take I-90 and Exit 0 to Lookout Pass Lodge & Bike Rental Shop where you can get your passes and bikes.
After pickup, take Exit 5 to Taft, Montana, and follow the Hiawatha signs for two miles up Route 506.
This will bring you to the East Portal Trailhead where there is a parking lot on your left.
Starting At The Bottom (mostly for athletes)
Another alternate route is starting at the Pearson Trailhead to the west and riding up and down the 15 miles, for a total of 30 miles.
This is less popular and less accessible by car due to the narrow, one-lane roads, which can create slow traffic on the weekends.
For those with e-bikes or stronger riders who want more exercise, this might be just the thing for you!
Skip The Long Tunnel (Not recommended but possible)
This becomes a single-lane road, but there is two-way traffic, and the drive can take up to 50 minutes.
Route of the Hiawatha Trail Hours 2022
The Route of the Hiawatha 2022 season opens May 27th and closes September 18th.
The Hiawatha bike trail is open seven days a week from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm (Pacific Daylight Time) and there is no time limit while on the trail.
The best time to ride the Hiawatha Trail is during the official season. However, it has the least traffic when schools are in session, from late May through June and the end of August through mid-September.
During the week, the best time to ride the Hiawatha Trail is midweek–Monday through Thursday. The early bird catches the worm, so start your ride when the trial opens at 8:30 am! Catch the first shuttles without a wait, as lines can get long later into the day.
Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area also hosts special events throughout the season, such as Under the Light of a Full Moon, which offers moonlight rides!
The Route of the Hiawatha trail is closed in winter.
Because the trail crosses the border from Montana to Idaho, the time changes from Mountain Daylight Time to Pacific Daylight Time. If you notice the time on your watch decreasing by one hour, don’t fret–you’ll gain it back!
How To Book Hiawatha Trail Reservations / Costs
For the 2022 season, the Route of Hiawatha trail and shuttle passes vary in cost. However, it’s cheaper upon advanced reservation!
In this section, we’re breaking down the typical costs of riding the Route of the Hiawatha, and what a typical experience would look like for visitors. Keep scrolling!
Adult trail passes (ages 13+) cost $18 or $16 with a reservation Monday-Thursday. Weekend passes, Friday-Sunday, cost $36 or $32 with a reservation and include both a trail pass and a shuttle pass.
Children’s trail passes (ages 5-12) cost $12 or $11 with a reservation Monday-Thursday. Weekend passes, Friday-Sunday, cost $26 or $22 with a reservation and also include both a trail pass and a shuttle pass.
Adult shuttle passes (ages 13+) cost $16 or $14 with a reservation Monday-Thursday. Weekend shuttle pass rates are free with a trail pass!
Children shuttle passes (ages 5-12) cost $12 or $10 with a reservation Monday-Thursday. Weekend shuttle pass rates are free with a trail pass!
There is an add-on oversize, fat-tire rider, or e-bike shuttle fee for $10.
If you don’t want to take the shuttle, you can ride back up for a ride of about 30 miles total!
Hiawatha Bike Reservations
According to Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, reservations are highly encouraged and will secure your bike rentals and give the Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop notice for delivery.
You may make your reservation online, pay with card/cash at Lookout Pass Lodge & Bike Rental Shop, or pay cash only at the East Portal Trailhead.
Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance of your visit date and the Lookout Pass Lodge & Bike Rental Shop’s 8 am opening time, which means you must make a reservation no later than 7:59 am the day before your ride.
While there is often availability for day-of rental bikes, lights, and helmets, they are not guaranteed and not available at the trailhead, so book early!
There is more day-of, walk-up availability of trail and shuttle passes at the Hiawatha Trail, but try to rent bikes and other accessories from the Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop prior to your visit.
Group reservations of 15 members or more will receive a 10% discount when ordered under one reservation!
Hiawatha Bike Trail Rentals and Requirements
Hiawatha trail bike rentals are provided by Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area and can be rented by online reservation or for day-of visits (though with limited availability).
Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop is open from 8 am to 4 pm (PDT) and is located right alongside I-10, Exit 0, Mullan, ID 83846 at the Idaho/Montana state line.
Option 1: Bring Your Own Bike, Helmet, and Lights. (Easiest and cheapest if you have your own gear!)
Option 2: Rent Bikes, Helmets, and Lights from Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area. (More on this below)
Here are the prices of each rental option available:
- Rent a comfort bike for $42 or $40 with a reservation, a standard bike for $37 or $35 with a reservation, a tandem bike for $84 or $80 with a reservation, recumbents for $50, and adult tricycles for $50. Tandems, recumbent, and adult tricycle reservations are only taken by phone.
When renting bikes from Lookout Pass, a helmet and a 300-400 lumen handlebar light are included at no extra charge. If you plan on using your own bike but need to rent lights for the dark tunnels, handlebar lights cost $12 or $10 with a reservation.
- Rent helmets for $12 or $10 with a reservation.
- Burley trailers for the kiddos can be rented for $34 or $30 with a reservation.
Rental bikes can be picked up at Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop and transported to the Hiawatha East Portal Trailhead by self-transport. Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop can supply you with a bike rack and straps as a courtesy service (carries 3-5 bikes).
- If self-transport of rental bikes is not an option for you, they can be delivered to the East Portal Trailhead and returned to Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop for $40 with 48-hour advance notice (covers 1-4 bikes).
Option 3: Bring Your Own E-Bike or Rent E-Bikes.
Day-use electric fat-tire bikes can be rented from Spokehouse E-bike in Wallace, ID for around $130-160 per bike per day (8 am to 5 pm), depending on what bike you select.
They even offer to drop-off and pick-up bikes at Exit 5, which is two miles from the trailhead!
Route of the Hiawatha Shuttle Service
So, what’s the Route of the Hiawatha shuttle service like? What can you expect?
After your ride down the Hiawatha bike trail, you may choose to take the shuttle back up to Roland Pass and bike through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel to the parking lot. This is the easiest and most common way to return to the parking lot.
Alternatively, you can ride back up the 15 miles (it’s easiest with an e-bike).
The shuttle can be up to a 45-minute wait and takes about 30-40 minutes to return to Roland Pass. To minimize fuss when you arrive at the shuttle, make sure to put your shuttle pass in an accessible location!
Daily, the shuttle leaves Pearson Trailhead at 4:15 pm in the early and late season. During the Hiawatha bike trail’s peak season (mid-June through mid-September), the last shuttle leaves Pearson Trailhead around 5:45 pm.
Remember that there is an add-on oversize, fat-tire rider, or e-bike shuttle fee for $10!
So, what’s the total buy-in for a typical Hiawatha bike trail experience?
The total cost for 2 adult tickets + comfort bike rentals (self transport) + shuttle (Monday-Thursday) is $144 before tax, or $72 per person.
The total cost for 2 adult tickets + comfort bike rentals (self transport) + shuttle (weekend rate) is $140 before tax, or $70 per person.
Preparing For The Route Of the Hiawatha
Pre-departure planning is crucial for a visit to the Hiawatha bike trail!
This is because there is much variation in temperatures throughout the season, unique features of the bike route, and accommodations provided by Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area.
It is important to be prepared and know what to bring and expect, so you can have the best experience on the trail!
What To Bring on the Route of the Hiawatha
One of the most important aspects of pre-departure preparation for the Hiawatha bike trail is to wear layers.
The St. Paul Pass tunnel averages a refreshing 47 degrees year-round, so bring a sweatshirt or rain jacket and gloves for a warmer ride during the 10-20 minutes you’ll be in the tunnel.
During the early spring thaw when the road surface is softer and muddier, bike tires can splash mud onto your lower back and bike.
Make sure to wear close-toed shoes, pants, and a shirt that you don’t mind getting a little dirty! Don’t forget to bring a change of clothes, a bag, or towels to store in your car for the ride home!
Lights are required to help guide you through the dark tunnels of the Hiawatha bike trail, so bring a headlamp.
Handlebar lights are recommended and can be rented at the Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop.
Also bring a helmet, which is required for riders under the age of 18, according to Idaho state law. Helmets can be rented at the Lookout Pass Lodge and Bike Rental Shop.
Protection from the sun is key, as most of the Hiawatha bike trail is on open ground with little shade.
Bring sunscreen or a lightweight layer to protect your skin from sunburns and sunglasses for the long stretches between tunnels.
To refuel yourself along the 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha, make sure to bring a bottle of water and some snacks!
You can purchase snacks or a picnic lunch at the Lookout Pass Lodge for $15 (ham, turkey, or vegetarian sandwich with chips and water) or bring your own.
There are plenty of stopping points to rest along the way and take in the environment while enjoying some tasty trail mix or a yummy sandwich.
Make sure to visibly wear your trail pass so trail marshals can see your pass and keep your shuttle pass in an easily accessible location.
Finally, bring a camera to snap a picture or two of the lovely scenery from the top of numerous trestles.
Because of the Hiawatha bike trail’s popularity, there will be many opportunities to get your picture taken as well to commemorate the adventure!
Safety Preparations For the Hiawatha Bike Trail
If it’s your first time (or 100th time!) riding a bike on a trail, trail etiquette is essential. Here are some tips and expectations when riding the Route of the Hiawatha:
- Bicycle helmets must be worn at all times and lights must be used in the tunnels. Helmets are required for riders 18 and under, per Idaho state law.
- Rear reflectors on bicycles are recommended.
- Adult supervision is required for children under 14 years.
- Be courteous to other riders and be aware of not blinding them with your headlamps!
- Don’t forget to take off your sunglasses when entering tunnels.
- Don’t shout in the tunnels! Noises echo easily in the tunnels and can disrupt or surprise other riders.
- Keep right, pass left. Stay to the right of oncoming riders and pass others on the left. Provide an audible warning before passing.
- Don’t stop in the middle of the route or inside the tunnels. If you must stop, pull to the side and don’t block the route.
- No dogs allowed, except for trained service animals. However, no service animals are allowed in the St. Paul Pass Tunnel, per US Forest Service Rules. You can bypass the St. Paul Pass Tunnel by heading over the 506 (Roland Pass) and parking at West Portal. View more information about service animals here.
- When riding an e-bike, slow down when passing others. If you plan on riding back up the trail, pay attention to riders going downhill who might not notice you! Ring your bell on the handlebars to notify oncoming cyclists.
- Leave No Trace! Prepare for the trail by packing out what you pack in and respecting the environment by leaving what you find and sticking to the main trail.
- Restrooms are available at the East Portal Trailhead, Roland Pass, and Pearson Trailhead. Please do not go in the woods!
- You may enjoy wildlife from a distance! Do not feed or attempt to pet wildlife.
What To Expect on the Route of the Hiawatha
Now that you’ve made all your reservations, planned your route to the trailhead, and brushed up on safety precautions, what should you expect?
Here are some things you can anticipate on your ride on the Route of the Hiawatha:
How much time does it take to ride the Route of the Hiawatha?
There is no time limit on the trail and you are encouraged to take as long as you’d like!
On average, it takes cyclists a leisurely 2.5-3.5 hours to ride 14.4 miles downhill from the East Portal Trailhead (top) to Pearson Trailhead (bottom) on the Hiawatha bike trail.
At the bottom, the average wait time for a shuttle at Pearson is around 45 minutes. We suggest starting your ride early when the trail opens to skip the line! The shuttle takes approximately 30-40 minutes to get back up to Roland Pass, where cyclists will bike back through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel, which adds 15-20 minutes to your total ride time and another 1.661 miles!
All things considered, the trail ride and shuttle back to the top end up being about 4.5 hours–a full day adventure!
What features can I expect to see along the Route?
Between the smooth curves through the Bitterroot Mountains, you can ride across seven sky-high trestles that once allowed trains to pass through the country. The trellis bridges can be viewed from across beautiful valleys and are great locations to pause and take a picture!
On hot days, the ten cool tunnels on the Hiawatha bike trail come as a sweet relief. St. Paul Pass Tunnel, also known as the Taft Tunnel, is the first and longest tunnel, stretching across the state line between Montana and Idaho at a striking length of 1.661 miles!
Along the Route of the Hiawatha, you’ll find 47 interpretive signs describing the history and geological features of the land, specifics about the trains that traversed the Milwaukee Road, and other interesting and unique facts about Idaho, about the area, and the Hiawatha bike trail!
Where To Eat After Riding the Route of the Hiawatha
After a long, fun ride, a hearty meal is absolutely welcomed.
Here are a few restaurants near the Route of the Hiawatha in Wallace, Idaho that offer a good bite to eat and splendid environments:
- Cogs Gastropub: Open Wednesdays-Sundays, this restaurant is a woman- and veteran-owned business that is family and pet friendly.
- The Pizza Factory: If you’re looking for a good pizza pie, the Pizza Factory is a solid go-to. The Pizza Factory is open Sundays from 12 pm to 8 pm and Mondays-Saturdays from 11 am to 8 pm.
- Blackboard Café: This quaint Italian restaurant is open Wednesdays-Saturdays from 11 am to 3 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm.
- Muchachos Tacos: This woman-owned Mexican restaurant offers fast and fresh tacos on Fridays-Tuesdays from 12 pm to 7 pm.
- The Fainting Goat Wine Bar and Restaurant: Open on Thursdays-Tuesdays from 11 am to 8 pm, this hot spot has brick oven pizzas, sandwiches, pastas, and more!
FAQs about the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail
Are E-bikes allowed on the Hiawatha Trail?
Yes! Whether you’re planning on riding point to point or down and back up again, electric bikes are in fact allowed on the Hiawatha bike trail. (With some restrictions!)
Just be prepared to pay $10 extra if you plan on taking the shuttle because the bikes are larger than standard comfort bicycles.
How high are the trestles on the Hiawatha Bike Trail?
The Hiawatha bike trail includes seven unique trestles that vary in range and height, most of which are near the top of the trail.
The grandest of the seven is 230 feet high and 850 feet long! All the trestles have guard rails and spaces to stop and take in the view.
How long are the tunnels on the Hiawatha Bike Trail?
The St. Paul Pass Tunnel, or Taft Tunnel, is the longest of the ten along the Hiawatha bike trail and is 1.661 miles long!
The Route of the Hiawatha is most famous for the St. Paul Pass Tunnel, as it crosses the state line from Montana to Idaho and burrows deep underneath the Bitterroot Mountains.
Make sure to pause and look right after you get out of the tunnel to see the waterfall on the right side! It’s easy to miss, but well worth the break.
How hard is the Hiawatha Bike trail?
Avid cyclist or not, the Hiawatha bike trail is for people of all ages, and because of the 1.6% grade down the unpaved gravel road, the gentle ride along the trail to the shuttles is not difficult.
For those wanting more of a challenge, riders can start at the bottom (Pearson Trailhead) and ride back down for 30 miles round trip.
Can you walk the Hiawatha Trail?
No, the Route of the Hiawatha Trail is exclusively for biking use.
However, there are other opportunities to enjoy the area, like a scenic chairlift ride to the top of Lookout Pass where you can hike or take the lift back down to the main lodge.
Have you ever done the Route of the Hiawatha bike trail? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below!