Of all the spectacular tourist hot spots in the United States, the Hiawatha Bike Trail Idaho is one that you do not want to miss. But we learned a few things while experiencing this breathtaking trail that I wish I’d known before. So, I’m passing it along to you. Check it out!
With four kids in tow, we decided to attempt riding this trail with another family. Although it might seem like a daunting task, it was actually one of the most memorable experiences and one we won’t soon forget. Here’s some tips to make this trip just as memorable for your family as well.
At a glance: Hiawatha Bike Trail Idaho
- Ages: All ages welcome
- Cost: Trail pass $18 (adults ages 13 and older) and $12 (ages 5-12), Shuttle pass $16 (adults) and $11 (kids). Online reservations must be made two days before scheduled ride date or you can purchase tickets at trailhead the day of your ride.
- Duration: 3-5 hours
- Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Location: Taft Exit 5, off I-90. It is midway between Spokane, WA and Missoula, MT, just 5 miles east of Lookout Pass at the East Portal trailhead.
- Contact information: Phone: (208) 744-1301
- Website: https://www.ridethehiawatha.com/
- Nearby attractions: Silver Streak Zipline Tours, Sierra Silver Mine Tour, Elmer’s Fountain
What is the Hiawatha trail?
It is a 15-mile scenic downhill mountain biking trail that follows the majestic crest of the Bitterroot Mountains along Idaho’s mid-western border. Aside from the breathtaking Rocky Mountain landscapes, this converted rail line stretches across seven sky-high trestles and 10 long tunnels. It is truly a destination that must be experienced in person to appreciate it’s amazing grandeur and beauty. But the best part is that people of all ages can participate.
Tip #1: Ride the trail for free after 5 p.m.
Yep, you heard me. Our family of six saved $100 by simply waiting until the trail closed at 5 p.m. We received this tip from a local before arriving and decided to try it out. Although there were still workers waiting for bikers from the last shuttle of the day, they told us that they technically couldn’t charge us since it was officially closed. However, if you do attempt to ride the trail when it is closed, you are on your own if you get injured or lost. We finished the trail with plenty of daylight.
Tip #2: Shuttle yourself back to your car
You have four options when you get to the end of the trail:
- Take the shuttle – This would have cost our family an additional $81 and since it was technically closed when we rode the trail, this wasn’t an option for us.
- Ride back up the trail – This can be a good option for adults or teenagers, but if you have kids, riding back up the 15-mile trail can be very difficult.
- Shuttle yourself – We opted for this third option. Basically, my husband rode our pedal-assisted E-bike back up 15 miles to the parking lot at the East Portal Trailhead and then drove our truck back down and picked us up. This is a lengthy process. We waited two hours for him to get back. However, since we already planned on it and kept ourselves busy while waiting, it really wasn’t that bad. But do keep in mind that it will be dark by the time you are done and headed home.
- Non-participating pickup driver – This probably the best option but not always practical. You can bring along a friend who is not planning on riding the trail with you and he can be ready to pick you up at the end of the trail when you arrive.
Here’s a picture of the map that they give you at the beginning of the trail, to give you a better idea.
Tip #3: Bring plenty of food and a jacket
This entire experience can take about 3-5 hours. You’ll want to pack a lunch and lots of water. There are a couple of 5-gallon water containers dispersed throughout the trail for people to use, but it is best to be prepared. You may also end up waiting for a long time in line for the shuttle or for someone to come pick you up. We only had a few snacks and our kids were pretty hungry by the end.
Also, even on a warm summer day, the 1.7-mile Taft Tunnel that you ride through at the beginning is muddy and cold. It’s super nice to have a jacket just for that portion of the ride. Also, if you’re riding after 5 p.m., it’s going to get cold while you are waiting for someone to pick you up.
Tip #4: Be aware of the rules before you arrive
There are a few rules that you must abide by or they will not let you ride on the Hiawatha Bike Trail Idaho:
- Helmets – Every participants age 18 and under must have a helmet
- Headlamps – Headlamps are also required. Basically, you legit can’t see where you are going if you don’t have one. Then, you’ll be depending on other’s people’s lights. If you rent a bike at the trailhead, they will automatically provide the helmet and light.
- E-bikes – If you have an E-bike with a throttle, they will inspect your bike, to make sure that you disconnect the throttle while you ride. We had pedal-assisted E-bikes that those worked just fine.
Tip #5: Ride the trail mid-week in the afternoon
Crowds are at its peak on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve heard that it’s not uncommon to wait more than an hour for the return shuttle. Plus, if you’re bringing kids, it’s nice to not worry about them swerving in front of another bike rider. As I mentioned earlier, we rode the trail on a Thursday after 5 p.m. and there was literally no one on the trail when we rode it and it was so pleasant. We basically had it all to ourselves.
Here’s a short video that I made, documenting our memorable ride along the Hiawatha Bike Trail Idaho.
I hope these tips help you as you are planning your next trip to ride the Hiawatha Trail. I can guarantee, you won’t be dissappointed.
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