Ride the Hiawatha Today

Bike back in time

Published online: Jul 09, 2020 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors
Viewed 2435 time(s)

The first thing you see when you pedal into the light is pine needles. Billions of pine needles poking from the limbs of millions of evergreens stretching for hundreds of miles. It’s so visually overwhelming, you have to stop pedaling to absorb the sight.

As you slow to settle into the scenery, your ears open. The first thing you hear is rushing water. You’ve just emerged from a tunnel running more than a mile under a mountain. You’ve heard drips, drops and trickles, but this audio, the one blasting your ears while daylight dots your eyes, is new. It’s above ground and it’s clean hydration rather than the sloppy mud you collected on your legs while pedaling through a black hole by headlamp. The new sound is a waterfall next to the tunnel. The combination of tunnel, trees and falls is the Route of the Hiawatha’s triple-whammy welcome.

You’re deep in wilderness developers tried to tame with train tracks more than a century ago. These are mountains Mother Nature swallowed in flame shortly after the railroad arrived. The Big Burn of 1910 wiped out a chunk of the West the size of several eastern states so the trees you’re passing on the spine of the Idaho-Montana border are new growth. They sprouted after the Big Burn and they’re only 110 years old, babies within our planet’s history. 

Remnants of mining also linger on the line. So do the tracks, sort of. That’s what you’re biking for 15 miles through 10 train tunnels and seven towering trestles. It’s an amazing ride, the Hiawatha. It’s one of the nation’s best and most beautiful rail lines turned trail system.

The railroad ties are gone today, just gravel grade for great mountain bike riding, but other ties exist. You can feel those ties as you ride. The tie is humanity grappling with wild places, places that through fire, flood, drought and disaster never really let us have the upper hand even when we think we have it. 


Hiawatha Must-Haves

Pack this for your playtime on pedals


LEM Boulevard Helmet: $40

Helmets are required on the Hiawatha. Choose one with an adjustable chin strap so it expands over a beanie while you’re in the cold train tunnels. 

Coast HP7 Light: $35

Light is also required on the Hiawatha. Headlamps work, but are a tricky fit over a bike helmet. A flashlight zip tied to your handlebars offers a steady beam underground.


PEARL iZUMIi Women’s PRO Shorts $175

Bumpy gravel replaces train tracks on the Hiawatha. A base layer of padded bike shorts is a seat-cushioning plus. 


Wiley X Captivate Lens Kingpin Sunglasses $180

You don’t need sunglasses for tunnels, but you want them for trestles. There’s no shade above the treetops. And Wiley X makes safety certified eye protection so flipping gravel won’t hit your eyes. 


Uncharted Supply Co. Triage Kit $49.99

You’re a long way from emergency help out here. Help yourself and others in your party by packing along a first aid kit. Beyond bandages, this one holds matches and duct tape too. 


Click here to read more of our April issue.


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