Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hiawatha Bike Trail

The Hiawatha Bike Trail, just off I-90 on the Montana-Idaho border, is one of the most scenic Rail-to-Trails in the US. It follows the “Route of the Hiawatha,” the Milwaukee Railroad’s intercontinental railroad, which was completed in 1909.

The best part is that it’s all downhill! You can pay for a shuttle back to the top, but since there were 10 of us, we did our own shuttle.

First, you have to listen to the ranger lecture.

Then off we went into the St. Paul Pass tunnel - 1.7 miles long! It took 750 men, mostly recent immigrants, 2 ½ years to complete the tunnel. The were paid a whole $1 per day.

There are no lights in the tunnel other than the ones you bring, and even then you can only see a few feet in front of you. You cross the MT-ID border in the middle of the tunnel.

Whew! I made it! There are 10 tunnels along the 15-mile long trail, but none are even close to this one in length.

Along the route there are many interpretive signs that share the colorful history of the railroad, the 1910 fire, and old mining towns.

The trail drops 1000 feet over the 15 miles. Looking down you can see one of the trestles we'll come to later on the trail.

One of the tunnels is closed. The mountainside here is slowly shifting along a fault line, collapsing one side.

A huge fire burned large parts of Idaho and Montana in 1910, one hundred years ago next month. It was one of the most devastating fires in US history.

There are numerous stories of railroad employees who drove engines and box cars filled with people through the flames to the safety of the longer tunnels. Reportedly over 600 lives were saved in this manner.

There are 7 high trestles in addition to the 10 tunnels. The trestles were originally made from wood, but quickly replaced with steel.

Much of the western portion of the route was electrified in 1916, and electric locomotives ran until 1974, when diesel engines replaced the electric ones. The line was abandoned in 1980 after the railroad went bankrupt.

Don’t look down!

I don’t know what this boy was feeding the chipmunk, but the next one grabbed the whole thing!

I often take pictures of spots on flowers, thinking they might be interesting bugs, but I was really surprised at this photo I took on the trail! A spider having lunch! I took this with my little Canon SD940is. It’s easy to get great macro shots with these little Canons.


  1. I loved my time on that trail. None of the tunnels was blocked when I rode it in 2004. I actually rode the "bus route" back to my start point. Definitely a dramatic ride.

  2. I loved this entry! The story was great, and new to me. I don't think I could handle going over the trestles. I have this "height" thing! But the tunnels would be fun.

  3. The flashlights were all gone I when began that ride. The ranger said I should just follow someone. Yeah. Right. Fortunately, there was another person walking through the tunnel with a flashlight. Saved me. It may be the only place where I have been where acrophobia and claustrophobia can be experienced alternately for several miles. Another experience not to be forgotten.

  4. Another great adventure I had not heard about. Will be definitely added to the list.


  5. Thanks! It looks like a great adventure! This is on the list to do! :)

  6. Its a fantastic trip full of adventures. A wonderful ride down though. Doyou call into Miles City? My namesake town?

  7. What a Thrill that must of been!! I would def love to ride that trail!! You look so happy in that shot of you--and that spider Macro is super!! Amazing whats there when you really look closely right?
    Wonderful post!!!

  8. Wow now those are some great photos especially to get the shot of the spidey having lunch, I have the heebie jeebies now lol thanks for the little history lesson and what a fun ride it looks like yall had and those ledges on the side of the mountains look really scary :o)

  9. I have fond memories of doing that trail several years ago. Thanks for bringing it all back!!

  10. How do you get around the closed tunnel? Is that a new problem?

  11. Great photos! I just love living in Idaho.


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