Woman stands by her bike on a train trestle looking over the green mountains with her son.

Idaho’s Ultimate Ride: An Insider’s Guide to the Hiawatha Bike Trail

Post Summary: How to plan for Idaho’s Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail with this complete guide that covers where to rent bikes, insider tips, and riding the trail with kids.

The Route of the Hiawatha Bike trail is a remarkable rails-to-trails path that needs to be on everyone’s Idaho bucket list. Heralded as a “Hall of Fame” trail by the Rail to Trail Conservancy, the acclaimed route offers a one-of-a-kind experience with nine immersive train tunnels and seven towering trestles.

While 15 miles can seem like a long stretch, the path is downhill the entire way at a gentle 2% slope, so people of all skill levels can enjoy the Hiawatha Bike Trail.

On a recent visit to Wallace, Idaho, we worked with Moon Guides to make a video of this popular bike path. You can check out the video here on our Instagram. With our five-year-old son in tow, we were a little worried that it wouldn’t be enjoyable for him, but the day was a complete success, and we absolutely loved it!

While we consider the Route of the Hiawatha trail a MUST DO, we also think it’s an experience that is best enjoyed with a little bit of prep and some insider tips to help you enjoy your time. While you could try to wing it and just show up, you’ll be much happier if you don’t!

In this post, we’ll cover various aspects of the Route of the Hiawatha Bike experience, including ticket and price options, trailheads and shuttles, equipment and rentals, and trail etiquette and rules.

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History of the Route of the Hiawatha Trail

The Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail’s history is intertwined with the construction and operation of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad, commonly known as the Milwaukee Road. In 1907, construction began on the railroad, and despite tough weather and rugged mountainous terrain, the railway opened on July 4, 1909. It’s estimated that the project cost over $234 million dollars.

Ultimately, the railway line would succumb to multiple hardships over the years, including the great fire of 1910 and changing technologies that would bring the company into bankruptcy twice. The last train to pass through was in 1980. You’ll learn all about the history of the railway on the bike trail, but you can also read a more in-depth history of the trail here.

In 1998, the first portion of the Route of the Hiawatha was opened to the public, and it remains one of the most visited attractions in North Idaho.


Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail Overview

The Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail is located on the Idaho/Montana state line in the Bitterroot Mountains. The most popular starting point is at the East Portal Trailhead in Montana and ends at the Pearson Trailhead in Idaho.

The trail is just under 15 miles long one way. Most people choose to take the trail one way and pay for the shuttle that takes you and your bike back to the top.

The trail includes ten train tunnels (you only bike through nine), including the most famous one, the Taft Tunnel, also known as St. Paul Pass Tunnel. The tunnel is located at the start of the trail at the East Portal Trailhead and is 1.66 miles long and pitch dark. It’s a thrilling way to start the ride!


Hiawatha Bike Trail Map


Hiawatha Bike Trail Routes + Shuttle Information

Here are the different Hiawatha bike trail routes you can take:

  1. Downhill oneway from East Portal Trailhead to Pearson Trailhead (14.4 miles): **The most popular route and the one we recommend.**
  2. Downhill oneway from Roland Trailhead to Pearson Trailhead (12.6 miles): This route is for anyone who wants to avoid the pitch-dark Taft Tunnel. To access the Roland Trailhead, you’ll drive past the East Portal parking area turn off, and drive for five miles to the Roland Trailhead following the FS RT 506 signs. It’s a bumpy steep road, and portions of it turn into one lane, so care and caution are necessary. The road does have two-way traffic.
  3. Uphill oneway from Pearson to East Portal: This route is for anyone who wants more of a challenging path and likes that uphill burn.
  4. Uphill oneway from Pearson to Roland: This route is for anyone who wants more of a challenging path but also wants to avoid the Taft Tunnel.

The above are one-way routes, but many decide to make it round trip and cut out the shuttle. At a 1.6 to 2 percent uphill grade, it’s doable for anyone in good health and up for the challenge. Many people who do the trail both ways choose to use e-bikes so they can cruise their way back up to the top.

The shuttles take you (and your bike) from Pearson to Roland Trailhead. Upon drop off, you’ll have to bike once more through the Taft Tunnel to get back to the trailhead.

The shuttle will also take you DOWN to the Pearson Trailhead if you want to start at the bottom and go up. The shuttle service going down to Pearson doesn’t start operating until 11 am.

The shuttle service going up to Roland starts at 11:45 am PST and runs till 4:15 pm PST in off-peak times and 5:45 pm PST in peak times. Exact dates are subject to change, so check the website for accurate times.


Bike the Hiawatha: The Experience

Mother and son look back at camera while sitting on their bikes. They stand in front of a dark tunnel that they are about to bike through.
Just about to start the trail at the Taft Tunnel.

We had been waiting years to try out riding the Hiawatha, and it exceeded our expectations!

While we had grand plans to start at 8:30 a.m., we didn’t get started on the trail until 10 a.m. Luckily it was mid-June and a weekday, so while there were a decent amount of people, it was by no means crowded. Parking was easy, and since we had our own bikes, we just needed to pay for our tickets and rent flashlights.

Personally, I wouldn’t push it any later than that, especially if you’re visiting in July or August.

The trail begins with the longest tunnel on the path, the Taft Tunnel. It’s 47 degrees in the tunnel and 1.66 miles long, so you’ll be in there for 15-20 minutes. When we say bring warm clothing, we mean it! It was a blast and a great way to start the adventure. You’ll just want to be sure you have your headlights on before you enter the tunnel since it’s pitch dark, and you really can’t see anything.

Since we started relatively early, we didn’t experience much two-way traffic the entire route, but if you are starting later, you might have to be aware of two-way traffic in the tunnel.

Once you get through the tunnel, you’ll be greeted by a gushing waterfall on the right and the first set of informative signs that teach you about the history of the trail. We didn’t read every single sign (there are 47 of them along the way!), but if you’re like us and don’t want to stop a bunch of times, you can read the interpretive signs here.

While the long tunnel gets all the glory, it was just as fun to ride through the shorter train tunnels and be able to look up at the rough edges and marvel at how they created these tunnels high in the mountains.

The train trestles range from 75-175 feet high so you get pretty extraordinary views of the Bitterroot Mountains. I’m not a lover of heights and do experience vertigo, but it wasn’t too bad on the trestles as long as I didn’t get too close or stand on the walkways. The edges have guardrails, but the one-inch gaps in between the planks can definitely make your stomach turn if you look down.

We saw plenty of deer and watched as one scurried across the trestle, trying to get away from the bikes. There are also hundreds of chipmunks that come out and will come right up to you since they’re obviously used to being fed by people who visit the trail.

We stopped midway to have our lunch on one of the many benches on the trail. While there are multiple places to pull over and sit, there are no picnic benches along the way. There are picnic benches at Pearson, Roland, and East Portal.

We did it! Proud selfie time on the yellow school bus shuttle.

At the end of the trail, if you’re planning to take the shuttle back up, you can bike directly into the shuttle line, where you can put your bike in as a placeholder. The shuttle bus takes you back to Roland, where you’ll bike through the Taft Tunnel one more time to get back to the main parking lot. There were a lot of us making our way back, so we had to bike in a single file line so faster bikers could easily pass us.

It was an amazing adventure, and we would absolutely do it again! If I did it again, I would want to try out the ride on e-bikes so I could bypass the shuttle.



READ NEXT: Fat Tire E-Bike Review: Is the RadRover the ultimate adventure e-bike?


Best Time To Ride The Hiawatha Trail

Mother and young son look out at view on a trestle in the mountains.
Even though we visited the Route of the Hiawatha in mid-June, it was a cooler day, and we needed jackets to protect us from the wind.

The Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail opens Memorial Day weekend and closes in mid-September. High season is from mid-June to Labor Day weekend, with July bringing the most people to the trail. The trail is very popular, so if you’re hoping for a quiet ride to yourself, you’ll need to adjust your expectations.

If you are hoping to avoid excessive crowds, your best bet is to visit the trail in early June, on weekdays, and/or start the ride early in the morning.

The trail opens at 8:30 am PST. It’s important to note that the trail crosses two time zones. You’ll start in Mountain Time and end in Pacific Time.

If you’re visiting on the weekend in July or August, I highly recommend getting there when it opens at 8:30 am PST. We visited in June on a weekday and started at 10 am, and while there were definitely a lot of people, it never felt too crowded.


Hiawatha Trail Prices

The Hiawatha Bike Trail is in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and is managed by Lookout Pass Ski Area.

It is highly recommended you reserve tickets if you also plan to rent bikes. You can not purchase tickets online two days before your scheduled ride. If it’s less than two days, you will have to buy them the day of at Lookout Pass or at the East Portal Trailhead.

Children 4 and under are free.

FYI: There is a lot of outdated information out there that says you can not purchase trail passes at the East Portal Trailhead. It’s not true. You can purchase tickets at the trailhead with cash or credit card. The only thing you CAN NOT do at the trailhead is rent bikes. You can read more about that in the bike rental section below.

HIAWATHA TRAIL PRICES
Adults ages 13 & up

Mon. thru Thur. $20 or $18 if you make a reservation.
Fri-Sat-Sun $40 or $36 if you make a reservation.
Fri-Sat-Sun rates include both a trail & shuttle pass.   

Children ages 5-12 years

Mon. thru Thur. $13 or $12 if you make a reservation.
Fri-Sat-Sun $28 or $24 if you make a reservation.
Fri-Sat-Sun rates include both a trail & shuttle pass. 

SHUTTLE TICKETS 
Adults ages 13 & up

Mon. thru Thur. $18 or $16 if you make a reservation.
Fri-Sat-Sun ticket rates include a free shuttle pass.   

Children ages 5-12 years

Mon. thru Thur. $13 or $11 if you make a reservation.
Fri-Sat-Sun Ticket rates include a free shuttle pass.

YOU CAN PURCHASE TICKETS HERE.

Note: Shuttle prices will cost an additional $15 if you are shuttling an e-bike, trike, recumbent bike, or any heavier bike. When buying your ticket, you’ll have to pick the “Specialty/Oversize Shuttle Ride” option.


Hiawatha Trail Bike Rentals

We brought our own bikes, and I managed with a no-gear beach cruiser!

If you will not be bringing your own bike, you can rent bikes from Lookout Pass. You will get a small discount if you reserve your bike ahead of time. It’s highly recommended you reserve your bikes beforehand to ensure availability. There’s no guarantee there will be bikes available if you show up the same day you want to ride the trail.

All rental bikes must be picked up at Lookout Pass. You’ll have to use a hitch (Lookout Pass provides this for free) and drive from Lookout Pass to the East Portal Trailhead. There is also an option to have the bikes delivered for you to East Portal Trailhead for a fee.

Lookout Pass rents out adult standard bikes for $41 and adult comfort bikes for $46. Kids’ standard bikes are $34. You can also rent specialty items like a Burley Trailer, a child tag a long bike, recumbents, adult tricycles, and bicycles built for two.

A helmet and light are included in all bike rentals. If you already have a bike, you can rent lights and helmets for $12 each at the East Pearson Trailhead.

If you want to use e-bikes, you can rent them through The Spokehouse in Wallace, Idaho. They provide drop off and pick up for a fee.

FYI: E-bikes are allowed on the trail, but they must be a Class 1 e-bike. Class 2 e-bikes are allowed, but the throttle must be disabled. Class 3 e-bikes are prohibited from the trail.


What To Bring on the Hiawatha Bike Trail

Bringing the right gear for the Hiawatha Bike Trail will make a big difference in your enjoyment of the ride. Here are a few key things to bring with you on the Route of the Hiawatha.

Flashlight

First and foremost, you’ll need a bike light that’s at least 300 lumens for those pitch-dark tunnels. In fact, it’s required that you have a light for the Hiawatha Trail. You can rent them from Lookout Pass, or you can bring your own. We rented them, and in retrospect, we wish we had shelled out a bit more money to buy a bike light like this beforehand since it’s something we could easily use again on our bikes.

Warm Clothing

The tunnels are cold! No matter what time of year you’re visiting, the tunnels are always 47 degrees. We visited in mid-June, and the area was having a cold spell, so we ended up needing jackets the entire trip down. Your best choice is a fleece sweater and/or a packable jacket like this windbreaker from Cotopaxi that you can take on and off as needed. I wore a denim jacket, and my husband had a windbreaker, and he was so much warmer than me!

Clothes + Shoes You Can Get Dirty

The tunnels are muddy year-round, and depending on the weather, the trail can be as well. You’ll want to wear clothing you don’t mind getting muddy. We had mudguards on our bikes, and we didn’t bike through the tunnels at top speed, so we didn’t get too muddy. However, we did see several people who had mud all the way up to their shoulders.

Mud Guards

If your bike doesn’t have mudguards, you can always buy mudguards separately and put them on yourself. It’s a good thing to have on a bike!

Reusable Water Bottles

We didn’t see any water refill stations on the trail, so bring an already filled-up reusable water bottle like an Iron Flask.

Sunscreen and Sunglasses

For the most part, the ride has full exposure to the sun, so you’ll want sunglasses and sunblock for the day.

Lunch and Snacks

They do sell sandwiches, chips, and drinks at East Portal and Pearson, but we think it’s better to bring your own snacks and food.

Daypack

A lightweight day pack to hold your gear is ideal for anyone who doesn’t have a basket on their bike. We love the Flash 18 Pack from REI since it’s small and can be crushed down, making it a great travel bag.


Route of the Hiawatha With Kids

The route of the Hiawatha is a great activity with kids! Stopping for snacks at one of the many viewpoints on the trail is a must-do with kids.

We did the Route of the Hiawatha with a five-year-old, and we were definitely concerned about whether he was going to be able to do it himself. He had only ever biked on paved roads, so we weren’t sure if the length of the route, the dark tunnels, and the gravel road would pose too much of a challenge. He did amazing and had a great time!

At first, he was hesitant about the cold dark tunnel, but we moved through it slowly, and we told him we could always walk the tunnel if it made him feel better. I think taking the pressure off of him helped, and he was able to move at his own pace. After the first tunnel, he got the hang of it and enjoyed going through the rest of the tunnels.

Even though he was technically five, I’d consider him a six-year-old since he was a week away from turning 6. He was the youngest person I saw on the trail doing it on their own. I think the five to six age range is the youngest age that can tolerate independently biking the trail. Even then, it would need to be a six-year-old that has a lot of experience with biking. In truth, I saw many older kids (6-8) who were on tag-long bikes with their parents.

Overall, it’s really about their proficiency on a bike, their physical strength, their tolerance for an all-day event, and their ability to listen to directions since they’ll have to move to the right whenever someone’s coming from the opposite direction or when a faster group wants to pass.

Also, I would add that along the trail; there are drop-offs that are steep. Sometimes my overactive mom brain would go a little nuts thinking about the possibility of him falling. If that’s something that would get to you, you might want to opt to bring or rent a tag a long bike or Burley trailer rather than have them bike the trail. Both of those are available from Lookout Pass.

This is a really family-friendly event, and you will see tons of families!


FAQs for the Route of the Hiawatha

How hard is the Hiawatha Bike Trail?

The trail is pretty easy since it’s downhill the entire way at a gentle 1.6 to 2% grade. Our five-year-old did the entire thing on his own!

Can you ride the Hiawatha Trail for free?

No. You have to buy tickets to access the trail. If you want to cut down on costs, the cheapest way to do the Route of the Hiawatha is to use your own bike and cut out the shuttle by biking back up to the top.

How long does it take to bike ride the Hiawatha Trail?

On average, the ride from East Portal to Pearson is a roughly 2.5-3.5 hour ride. However, the shuttle takes 30-40 minutes, and in high peak times, you could be waiting well over an hour for a shuttle. Once the 40-minute shuttle ride takes you back up, you also have to account for the 20 minutes it takes to bike ride through the Taft Tunnel to get to the parking area.

For us, the entire day took about 5.5 hours. We moved at a leisurely pace, stopped to eat lunch, and waited about 20 minutes for the shuttle. While some people can do it faster (many do!), it’s best to plan for it to be an all-day event. Especially if you’ll be doing the trail with kids.

How long is the shuttle ride at the Hiawatha Trail?

The shuttle ride typically takes 30-40 minutes.

Are helmets required on the Hiawatha Trail?

Helmets are not required for anyone over the age of 18. Helmets are required for anyone under the age of 18.

Are there bathrooms on the Hiawatha trail?

There are outhouses at East Portal, Pearson, Roland, and just past mile marker 25.

Is food available at the Route of the Hiawatha?

You can reserve a picnic lunch from Lookout Pass or buy food and drinks at the beginning and end of the trail. We opted to get deli sandwiches beforehand from Blackboard Cafe in Wallace, Idaho, and ate them on the trail.

What kind of bikes do you need for the Route of the Hiawatha?

In general, they recommend mountain bikes since the trail changes from packed dirt and gravel to small cobble. That being said, I rode the entire trail in my Huffy Cruiser Bike, which has no gears and uses backpedal brakes! While not ideal, I managed just fine, and I was more than happy to save money and not rent a bike.

If you are riding a standard bike that doesn’t have great mountain bike tires, you’ll want to use care for the few sections that go downhill and turn, as I could feel my tires would have skidded out if I went too fast.

If you want to ride the trail down AND up, e-bikes are the way to go!

The only bikes I wouldn’t recommend are road bikes since the tires are too narrow, and you won’t have great control.


Nearby Attractions + Where To Stay

A quant small town with mountains in the distance.

Once you’ve conquered the Route of the Hiawatha bike trail, you’ll want to spend time exploring the rest of the Silver Valley and all its riches. Wallace might be one of my favorite small towns in Idaho! Kellogg also offers fantastic recreation and phenomenal mountain biking.

For a full guide, check out our post on the best things to do around Wallace, Idaho.

Hotels Near Hiawatha Trail

We suggest staying in the nearby towns of Wallace or Kellogg. Wallace is a 30-minute drive from the East Portal Trailhead, and Kellogg is a 40-minute drive.

Here are a few recommendations for home rentals and hotels near the Hiawatha Trail.

The Stardust Motel: A cute motel located right in the center of town. It was recently renovated, and it has a fun throwback vibe that’s fitting to the area. We stayed there for a few days and enjoyed it. We loved how easy it was to walk to attractions in Wallace. A good affordable option.

The Wallace Inn: This hotel is located just outside of the downtown area, so it’s a 10-minute walk to downtown Wallace. It’s a great choice if you have kids since they have an indoor pool.

Silver Mountain Resort: Silver Mountain is located in Kellogg and is a premier ski hill in Idaho. The advantage of staying at Silver Mountain is your room gets you access to their indoor water park. Fantastic for kids! Only resort guests get to use the park. We stayed at the resort and absolutely loved it.

Church House: This converted chapel from 1910 has two bedrooms and sleeps 6. Walking distance from everything in Wallace.

Linden Lofts: Hip, red brick lofts in the center of downtown. All of them are one bedroom and one bath making it perfect for a single traveler or couple.

Great Catsby Home: A historic Queen Anne home that is bursting with character and walking distance from everything. A four-bedroom home that sleeps 8 makes it a great choice for families.


We hope you enjoy riding the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail as much as we did! Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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