I did the most amazing thing today- I rode my bike down the Hiawatha Trail in Idaho and Montana! If I’m totally truthful, I have to give all the credit to my mama and my Aunt Ree for the idea. My auntie has ridden the trail a number of times and planted the seed in my mom’s head that this was a ‘Must Do Event’ when in the Idaho panhandle area. I was like, “Ok. That sounds fine.” I was willing to go but I wasn’t turning cartwheels or anything. I was so absent-minded about it, in combo with the school year ending, that I didn’t even remember to bring our helmets or headlamps, but my dear mom was undeterred! She rented bikes, helmets, lamps, transportation and pretty much anything else we needed! It was like Christmas in July, let me tell you, because it was breathtaking!!! (I know it’s June, picky picky😋)
The trail starts out just five miles past the Idaho/Montana border on I-90 east. After winding through some dusty, gravely roads, you reach the trailhead and park. Prior to this, hopefully you stopped at the pass, like we did, to pay for the trail pass and shuttle, because what you get to do is ride your bike on an old railroad down a mountainside for 15 miles! The entire trail was downhill and a shuttle picks you up at the bottom to take you and your gear back up to the trailhead. You can ride your bike back up the mountain, but in the 95 degree weather, to me, that sounds unsavory.
We stood around getting our gear ready until we were nice and sweaty, then took off and were immediately plunged into a freezing cold, underground tunnel that was 1.68 miles long! We were prepared with headlamps, but sadly, I was not prepared with batteries and they forgot to give Jude, on the tag along, a headlamp. No light, in combination with the rapid shift from blazing sun and pitch dark, made for an unnerving transition. Well, unnerving is putting it lightly. We were freaked out. I had a wobbly eight year old and no light. Water was dripping. The walls were creepy. People were heading towards us in the opposite direction, blinding us… It was intense. I was glad to reach the end of that and so happy to emerge into the beautiful sunshine and sweeping views. There were several more tunnels after that one but they were all short and didn’t require as much reliance on the headlamps. I marveled, the whole time, at what I was able to partake in. The bridges were high, historical and incredible, riding alongside the sheer cliffs was terrifying in a deeply satisfying way and chatting and singing along with my boy as we rode was magical. Our shuttle driver entertained us on the way back up with historical stories along the way of the railroad, the great fire of 1910 that, incidentally, burned through a Rhode Island swath of forest in 48 hours, and learned about the local wildlife.
I seriously had the best time, and I was extra proud because I was the adult in charge who lead the expedition with confidence. It was great. I can’t wait to take Bradley next year and strongly suggest it to anyone who happens to be crossing through the panhandle. It took us a total of about three hours of riding and being shuttled back up to the top, total. Thanks Mom. Today we created something that will last a lifetime and it was way better than anything I could ever find under a Christmas tree during any month of the year.
I give five stars to the trail- beautiful & well maintained!
2 stars to the customer service because they were snarky, forgot to give us the headlamps we paid for, were rude and allowed a family with the same sized party to cut us in front of us on the shuttle despite my loud protests, and we ended up having to wait 90 minutes for the next shuttle. But hey- at least we didn’t have to ride back up the hill!
4 stars to the shuttle driver who distracted us from the sheer cliffs with potential moose sightings and yelled over the top of ye olde school bus engine to teach us the local history. 🙂
If you go, bring a water bottle to refill at the water stations along the way, sunscreen, a sweatshirt for the freezing-cold tunnels, a headlamp/flashlight, a small snack for the bottom of the hill, sunglasses, some riding gloves and your camera. Your back will get a rooster tail of mud but you won’t care, your butt will fall asleep from the vibration of the gravel under your tires and your hands may get sore for the same reason, but you won’t care. It’s an awesome experience!