The Route of the Hiawatha – The Trailhead and Trestles

The Route of the Hiawatha is the “Crown Jewel” of the Rails to Trails System.

With that said, the Hiawatha lived up to its reputation as a spectacular bike ride through the rugged Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana.

After a pleasant stay in historic Wallace, Idaho, we drove out of town 20 miles on a backwoods dirt road. Winding through the mountains, the road narrowed into a single lane making me wonder how we would pass if we encountered another vehicle.

The Trailhead


The Pearson Trailhead in Idaho.It was early and the Pearson parking lot was empty when we arrived. A cold July morning – Mallory and Eileen ran to get warm as we prepared for our ride.

As usual, when gearing up, we were slowpokes at getting ready. A fifteen or twenty-minute preparation time turned into almost an hour as we checked the air in our bike tires, fitted our handlebars with lights, and packed our backpacks with the basics.

Because we were biking 30 miles round trip on The Hiawatha, it would be a day-long adventure – jackets, snacks, and water were essential.

Finally, all were ready and we rode off.

Going Uphill


David and E at the start of our ride.

Our ascent at the Pearson Trailhead was at 3,180 feet. Our destination – the East Portal at 4,147 feet. That’s almost a 1,000 feet elevation gain.

Albeit, a 2% grade, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of cycling uphill on a gravel trail. But after biking to the West Tunnel of the Sun Road, I was prepared. Granted, I felt like I was exercising (my legs were working), and there was one spot that was particularly tough. But all in all, it was fairly easy.

Meeting the Trail Marshall


Here I am paying the Trail Marshall.


On the first part of our journey, we rode through a dense pine forest. The pedaling got the blood flowing and warmed us up nicely.

We soon removed our jackets and met a trail marshall who collected 30 dollars and gave us trail passes which we displayed on our bikes.

He told us that he had already rented 190 bicycles at the East Portal, which meant that all of those people would be riding downhill towards us.

We were not alone in our uphill endeavor, there were two other families who started out around the time we did.

Before we rode on, the marshall said that the scenery would improve as we climbed. And it did.

Scenery and Trestles


Snow peaks and a trestle (center) high in the mountains.

The mountain views from The Hiawatha were pretty amazing but it was the trestles that captured my attention.

Some rising 250 feet above the ground, these train bridges turned bike trails made it a sky-high biking adventure. The trestles also made leaning over the cable railing for picture-taking a trifle dizzying.

We rode over a total of 7 trestles, stopping frequently for pictures.  I was puzzled that I didn’t see more of the other bikers stopping for photographs.

I do believe they missed an opportunity to capture their ride for posterity.

The scenery and the trestles were remarkable, but it was the tunnels that made The Hiawatha extraordinary.

To experience the trestles and more of this cycling adventure, check out our Facebook album.  Feel free to comment and “like” too!

Till next time,



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