Saturday, September 08, 2012

Route of the Olympian Hiawatha

A long time ago there was a train named the Olympian Hiawatha which went from Chicago to Seattle.  Today part of the route is owned by the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.  Like most of the services that used to be free or very inexpensive in the National Forest System, biking the Haiwatha Bike Trail is a commercially operated venture that is licensed by the Forest Service with a small percentage going to the USFS and the rest for the concessionaire which operates the for-profit service.
Just look at this bike route!  Tunnels and bridges galore...enough for any bike ride.  And to make it even can start at the top and travel all fifteen miles downhill.

We decided to camp at St. Regis, Montana at a private campground named Campground St. Regis.  We had a site close to I90 that was noisy but the bathrooms were very clean so we decided this would be our base camp.  Lew packed our bike packs with lunch and lots of water the night before so that bright and early on Saturday we would be ready to go!

To start the adventure we drove from St. Regis, Montana to Lookout Pass at Exit 0, 33 miles West.  There we purchased our trail passes (9 dollars each) and our shuttle passes (10 dollars each) and rented an extra [required by teh rulz] light for a bike (5 dollars).

After leaving Lookout Pass we descended 5 miles east and got off at Exit 5 for the trailhead.  At the exit follow Rainy Trail Road about two miles. Most people stop at the East Portal Trailhead and bike through the first tunnel which is 1.7 miles long.  We decided that wasn't something we would like to ride so we continued on 506  up over the mountain pass to the  West Portal trailhead thus avoiding the tunnel.

Here we are in front of the St Paul Pass (Taft) Tunnel entrance.  There are 8 tunnels on the trail after this big one we skipped.

Near the top you have a great panaroma of the canyons that the train traveled through.

Do you see the two trestles?  If you want to enlarge the photo, double click on it.  You can see the mountains and the smoke.  The smoke was light for breathing.  We did bike across those trestles.  There were a total of seven trestles ranging in length from 850 feet to 281 feet with a height of 230 feet to 96 feet.
I got a kick out of this sign.  Can you imagine biking on the boardwalk?  Wow!  The overhead posts are from when the line was electrified.

I loved the cable sides on the trestles since that meant I could really peer down those canyons.

After riding for over three hours down the VERY BUMPY trail we ended our adventure with a trip back to our car on a shuttle bus.  It was great fun and we would do it again even though it is the bumpiest rails-to-trails we have ever been on.

For future reference we would stay at Wallace, Idaho after paying for our tickets at Lookout Pass. We did not like the noise at our pay campground.


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