Idaho is full of impressive structures and feats which testify of the work ethic and skill of generations past. The Route of the Hiawatha is one of those indescribable features one needs to experience to appreciate.
In 1907, the Milwaukee Railroad commenced rail construction through a seemingly impassable route: The Bitterroot Mountains. Spanning much of the border between Idaho and Montana, this beautifully rugged mountain range required trestle bridges and tunnels to create a gentle grade for the trains. It took 9,000 men five years working through winter weather to complete the forty-six-mile project which contributed substantially to freight and passenger travel through the north and Midwest. The line was abandoned due to bankruptcy in 1980; the final engine passed through the mountains to make the journey no more.
In 1997, efforts began to re-open the route of the Hiawatha for bikers and hikers to traverse. Today, fifteen miles of the “rail to trail” route is open for enthusiasts of every age to enjoy. The “most scenic stretch of railroad in the country” is a fairly easy ride due to the moderate railroad grade. It’s all downhill and cyclists can catch a shuttle at the bottom which provides transportation back to the Taft Tunnel (near the parking lot).
The trail itself crosses seven towering trestle bridges – the tallest reaching 230 feet high - and ten solid tunnels. The longest of these tunnels, the St. Paul Pass or Taft Tunnel, extends 1.66 miles under the state line. After undergoing repairs, the tunnel was opened to non-motorized traffic in 2001. It is completely flat inside, and any who plan to enter will need headlamps and/or flashlights to navigate through the pitch-black interior.
The Hiawatha Trail is the perfect summer adventure destination with river rafting, camping, and hiking nearby. Bike rentals, trail tickets, and tours are available at Lookout Pass Ski Area. Future plans for the route of the Hiawatha include expanding the trail by thirty-one miles which can be utilized by ATVs, horses, and automobiles. Connecting St. Regis, Montana to Pearson, Idaho, this portion of the trail will incorporate two more trestle bridges and a tunnel.
Without a doubt, the route of the Hiawatha is a tribute to the overwhelming grandeur and notable history the state of Idaho embodies. Adventure is calling!♦