Length: 15 Miles
Trail Surface: Gravel
Renowned as one of the most picturesque stretches of railroad in the United States, the Route of the Hiawatha was a part of the Milwaukee Railroad. This 46-mile route crossed the majestic Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana, passing through eleven tunnels and over nine towering trestles. The St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel, is the most famous feature of the Hiawatha, stretching 8,771 feet (1.6 miles) beneath the Bitterroot Mountains at the Idaho-Montana state border.
In May 1998, the first 13 miles of the Idaho section opened to hikers and wilderness bikers. This portion of the trail, between Roland and Pearson, takes visitors through eight tunnels and over seven high trestles while tracing the mountainous Loop Creek drainage. Non-motorized traffic is permitted exclusively between Moss Creek and Pearson. The gentle 1.7% grade from Roland, just below the West Portal of the St. Paul Pass (Taft Tunnel), to Pearson, makes for an easy 13-mile ride along a gravel road. For those who prefer not to ride uphill from Pearson to Roland, a shuttle bus is available to transport riders and their bicycles.
The 1.6-mile Taft Tunnel, off-limits to motorized vehicles, is a popular attraction. To reach the main parking area at the East Portal, travel 2 miles from Taft Exit 5 off I-90 and follow the signs. An interpretive sign midway through the tunnel marks the Idaho-Montana state line and shares which crew first reached the tunnel’s center in 1907. Don’t miss the stunning waterfall at the West Portal of the tunnel. To bypass the Taft Tunnel, drive 5 miles up and over the tunnel via Forest Service Road 506 and Roland Summit, parking at the Roland trailhead. It is roughly 15 miles from the East Portal trailhead to Pearson.
The trail from Lookout Pass to the East Portal follows the old Northern Pacific railroad grade for about 10 miles to the Taft site. En route, the trail crosses the St. Regis River three times, passes through one tunnel, and goes under Interstate 90 twice before reaching Taft. The trail then climbs gently at a 2.1% grade for 2 miles to the East Portal of the Taft Tunnel.
An additional 31-mile stretch, known as the Route of the Olympian, extends from Taft to St. Regis, Montana, and features one more tunnel and two trestles. The section neighboring the Route of the Hiawatha from Taft to Saltese is open only for non-motorized use during summer months.
In Mullan, you can also explore the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, which, alongside the Route of the Hiawatha, was inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame in 2010. The nearly 70-mile rail-trail continues west to Plummer, near the Idaho-Washington state line.