Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area in Idaho is opening the Route of the Hiawatha scenic bike trail Friday, May 28. It will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Sept. 19.
Considered the crown jewel of the nation’s rails-to-trails initiative, the Route of the Hiawatha winds through the rugged Bitterroot Mountains in the St. Joe Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest along an abandoned section of the Milwaukee Railroad. Its gentle 1.6-percent to 2-percent, all-downhill trail straddles the Idaho-Montana state line for 15 miles, delving 10 dark tunnels and crossing seven sky-high steel train trestles.
The popular destination also sports a shuttle bus service so guests don’t have to ride back up — although some enjoy that experience — and 50 interpretive trailside signs that enhance the family-friendly experience, telling the story of the railroad, the people who worked here, the forest, and the area’s rich history.
“In its time the Route of the Hiawatha was considered one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. It’s also by far the most popular ski area bike trail in the country, attracting more than 70,000 riders last summer.”
– Lookout Pass marketing director Matt Sawyer
Lookout Pass will open for the summer just two weeks later — June 12 — and offer lift-served downhill mountain biking, scenic chairlift rides up and down the mountain, lift-served hiking trails, a mountain summit nine-hole frisbee golf course, a bungee jump, and huckleberry picking later in the season. The resort will be open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through Sept. 19 with the exception of July 9-11, when only scenic lift rides and bungee jumping will be offered as the mountain hosts the three-day Mountain Archery Festival, 3-D archery shoot.
Lookout Pass has already developed five top-to-bottom downhill mountain bike trails with more on the way. There are no jumps or wooden features on its family-friendly trails, which vary from singletrack that winds through the woods and across ski trails to wider mountain-access roads. Sawyer said all of the trails offer fun rides with some offering impressive views of the St. Regis Basin.
The Route of the Hiawatha scenic bike trail is strongly encouraging guests make reservations this year for the day they want to ride, especially when renting equipment.
“We want to make sure we have the right size bikes, lights, burley trailers, and other gear available for your ride.”
– Matt Sawyer
Lookout Pass offers a variety of rental bikes for adults and kids riding the Route of the Hiawatha, as well as Burley bike trailers for youngsters and trikes and recumbent bikes for seniors who haven’t been on a bike in years and would welcome a bit more stability on their ride. For the hopeless romantic, the area offers up a few tandem bikes (aka bicycles built for two). It also rents powerful 300-400 lumen handlebar-mounted bike lights, as lights are necessary for riding through the Route of the Hiawatha’s 10 dark tunnels, the longest of which burrowing for 1.6 miles.
Guests can arrange for their rental bikes to be delivered to the Route of the Hiawatha trailhead for a small fee, or they can self-shuttle rental bikes from the base of operations at Lookout Pass Ski Area, which is seven miles from the trailhead. The resort provides hitch-mounted bike racks or strap-on racks at no additional charge to those who rent bikes.
Special events this summer include three full-moon night rides on the Route of the Hiawatha on June 24, July 24, and Aug. 22. And the Hiawatha Back to Nature Trail Run, a half marathon at around 25K, with a 15K and 4-mile trail run all slated for the morning of June 13.
The Mountain Archery Festival July 9-11 at Lookout Pass is a family-focused event that allows archers of all abilities to shoot fun and challenging targets on five different courses. Shooters will ride the lift to the summit and walk down the course they want to shoot. They can come out for a single day, two of three, or shoot on all three days of this event.
Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area is an easy 55-minute drive east from Coeur d’Alene on I-90 at Exit 0 on the Idaho-Montana state line. The ski area and its summer operations are only 200 yards off the highway, and the Route of the Hiawatha trailhead is a short 5-mile ride down I-90 to exit 5 and then two miles up a dirt road to the East Portal trailhead.