North Idaho is not an easy place to get to from Boise (unless you fly to Spokane and drive an hour), so we really packed in a lot of activities. Beyond Silver Mountain Resort, in Kellogg, Idaho, there such a unique activity that can be enjoyed by the entire family, something that should be on everyone’s bucket list of travel or biking: the Route of the Hiawatha.
Similar to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, this is another Rails to Trails project from the Federal Government. Essentially, they stripped away the railroad tracks and smoothed out the path for bikes. The best tires for this path would be mountain bike tires. Road bike tires are not recommended.
As beautiful as the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes was, this ride was magic. It’s a 15-mile ride at a 2% downhill decline so that you barely have to pedal. This means that little children, grandparents and even the non-outdoorsy types can enjoy the ride. Hitching a trailer or tag-along to your bike is encouraged and commonplace. This is a gentle ride on wide paths.
We rented bikes from Lookout Mountain and started the ride at the top where the beginning of the trail is a 1.7 mile long tunnel that stays at 34 degrees, winter or summer, and has no light. It’s pitch black and you can’t see the other end of the tunnel. (stay with me, here.) Since the bikes you rent or bring have spot lights attached to the handle bars, (and some people augment this with a head lamp), there is plenty of light to get through safely, even when people ride toward you. We rode three abreast inside the tunnel – although when a light came toward us, we retreated to single file.
The middle of the tunnel is the Idaho/Montana border. This railroad was called the Milwaukee line and the mile markers measure how far away from Chicago you are. They started digging toward the middle (100 years ago) and when they met, they were only one inch off from each other – a feat of American engineering.
If you want to go on the route but are totally turned off by the tunnel, there is an entry point, just beyond the tunnel. I encourage you to take the tunnel, unless you are seriously afraid of the dark. Lesser mortals than you have done it – you can, too!
What you’ll need to bring (or rent from Lookout Mountain):
- Flashlight strapped to your handlebars
- Water Bottle
- Picnic Lunch
- Camera (Helmet Camera, if possible)
Lookout Mountain even has bike racks for your car so you can get yourself there – the route is about 7 miles away from Lookout Mountain. You can buy trail passes when you rent the bikes or at the start of the trail. Lookout also provides the shuttle back up the hill should you not want to ride back up. The shuttle drops you at the 1.7 mile tunnel so you need to ride it in the opposite direction this time. When we did this last stretch, we rode quickly for the first time all day. The coldness of the tunnel keeps you moving and searching for the light. Accomplishment and satisfaction were felt in my gut when I saw this sign:
We meandered down the path and it took us a good 3 ½ hours, just to go down. We stopped at most of the historical markers. If you’re with children, it will be difficult to maintain such a deliberate pace; kids love to race. But since the weather was so beautiful and we had such an enthusiastic tour guide (many thanks to Christopher Barrett at Lookout Mountain), we took our own sweet time. Too bad we didn’t pack a picnic.
Crossing the trestles and the multiple tunnels (none as long as the premier) was a constant delight. We were consistently gasping at the beauty of the trail. The engineering of a railroad through this seemingly impassable terrain is also a marvel. We felt as if we were riding through an important piece of American history. This is serious bucket list travel. Don’t miss it!
At the bottom, you can decide to ride back up or take the shuttle. The shuttle takes about 20 minutes.
After our exhilarating ride, we went for a quick lunch in Wallace at the City Limits Pub – a brand new place that Karey from Silver Mountain Resort recommended.
We had a delicious burger, slaw and micro-brews. Hit the spot! And the setting of this historical building lounging next to the river made it even better.
Please note: Trail passes and bike rentals were provided by Lookout Mountain. All opinions are my own.