For those who want to explore!
Located in the northwest corner of Montana is what most refer to as the “Crown of the Continent.” This is a vast playground for any outdoor enthusiast. Glacier Park is home of the continental divide, and 1 million acres filled with vast forests, towering mountains, and during three months of the year a ocean… a ocean of cars, crowds, and crazy drivers.
Every year Glacier National Park breaks it’s annual visitation record. Last year a whopping 3.3 million people hiked the trails, swam in the lakes, and battled for parking at the famed Logan Pass Visitor Center. But this doesn’t have to be you this summer if you follow this tip.
Explore Outside the Boundary of the Glacier
The truth is, there is much more to explore beyond the boundaries of Glacier than most think. If you want to beat the crowds this summer, exploring these spots is the right choice for you.
Located 40 miles south of Glacier Park nestled up in the Swan Mountain Range is the Jewel Basin Hiking area. This spot provides some of the best day hikes in the area. Home to 25 crystal clear alpine lakes and 35 miles of hiking trails, it is easy to say one could get lost here. Don’t worry though, I promise you will only get lost in the best of ways! 😉
Also…. you can camp, park and hike for free!
Ever wonder what Glacier Park looked like before the roads, the buildings, and parking lots? Go see it for yourself in the Bob Marshall Wilderness aka “The Bob” by locals. For the slightly more adventurous types (yes I’m talking to you), spend a day, or a week or two weeks here. There are approximately 1,100 miles of trails, that stretch across it’s 1.5 million acres. Home of the some of the most amazing mountains, rivers, and valleys in Northwest Montana.
Ah yes… how could I forget home! Maybe I am biased, but the opportunities of the Swan Valley are endless. Don’t believe me? Hop on Alpine Trail #7 and head north, you’ll be walking for about 50 miles! Want to stand on mountain peaks in the morning? No problem! How about swimming in sparkling alpine lakes? Yeah got that covered. How about ease of access? Park at the trail head. And yes of course it is FREE!
Too often we are blinded at what’s in front of us because what people say we should think, speak, and explore. Don’t fall for it, and explore your surroundings. Maybe the trick isn’t to listen to me. But try to focus on what is right in front of you, because your Glacier Park is probably begging to be explored!
#1. It’s a real thing
Opened in 1998, the Hiawatha trail is a 15-mile-long bike trail that operates out of Lookout Pass Ski Area right off of I-90 at exit 0. All amenities such as trail passes can be found at the ski area that opens at 8 a.m. The actual main trail for the Hiawatha is actually located 7-miles east of the ski area at exit 5 in Montana. The trail is open roughly from the end of May and closes at the end of September every year.
#2. You don’t need to own a bike to ride the Hiawatha Trail
Okay, that’s a lie, well only slightly. You do need a bike to ride the Hiawatha. However, you do not need to own one personally because you can rent one from the Lookout Pass ski area. Not only can you rent from two choices of mountain bikes for both children and adults, but you can also rent helmets, bike lights and bike trailers.
#3. You will never know what actual time it is
Because the Hiawatha trail main trailhead starts in Montana, but Lookout Pass ski area where you buy your ticket is in Idaho, and Idaho and Montana are in two different time zones it can get very confusing. Now you may be reading this and thinking that it’s logical to just reference Montana time because that’s where the trail starts. But actually half of the trail is in Idaho time because the first tunnel you bike through sends you straight into Idaho from Montana. But then again be warned, I still don’t know this to be 100% because after riding the Hiawatha many times I still am very confused by the time concept.
#4. It’s fun for the whole family
Or in my case my best friend and I because we’re out of state college students. But nonetheless, the Hiawatha trail is a perfect weekend outing for all ages. The 15-mile trail is mostly all downhill so it’s not as strenuous as 15 miles’ sounds. Along with this there are many pullout spots along the trail to take a break, take in the view and have a picnic.
#5. The views are incredible
I personally struggled with staying on the trail because of how pretty the scenery is. If you go later in the season, you’ll be able to see the trees begin to change color. So if you’re somebody who likes to look at everything but where you are going, go slow to avoid a spontaneous trip off the side of the trail.
#6. There is a light at the end of the tunnel
One of the very cool things about the Hiawatha trail is that it use to a continental railroad system, and contains 7 sky high trestles along with 10 train tunnels. Right out of the gate, bikers will bike through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel which is 1.66 miles long. You will be totally consumed by darkness in this tunnel and it gets very cold. Unless you are Bane from the Dark Knight rises, it’s essential that you have a reliable and bright bike light, and no your IPhone flashlight will not suffice. It may sound scary to some, but the tunnels are one of the main attraction on the trail and an experience you don’t want to miss. Also, the acoustics in the St. Paul Pass tunnel will convince you that you should’ve auditioned for American Idol.
#7. Make sure you pack the essentials
As a veteran of the Hiawatha trail I will tell you that it is much more fun if you pack the right things. Some of these necessities for ultimate fun on the trail include a helmet (everyone loves to be safe, also it’s required), gloves (the tunnels get very cold, so gloves come in clutch), a backpack (to hold all your snacks of course), snacks and a sack lunch (to fill your backpack of course. I also recommend packing a pb&j because it’s the one sandwich that taste best smashed), a bright light (if you have one, if not you can rent one), first aid kit (because better safe than sorry) and water (you’ve got to stay hydrated!). Also I recommend dressing in layers because some parts of the trail are more shaded then others which causes some to be colder than others.
#8. Always buy a shuttle pass
A shuttle pass is not required to buy because it’s possible to ride the 15 miles down to the bottom of the trail and then back up, and some people do this. However, from experience the 15 miles back up to the trailhead is a lot harder than the way down because, well, gravity. But when planning ahead purchasing a $9 shuttle pass so that you have the option to ride on the bus back up to the trailhead is never a bad idea. Better safe than sorry right? You never know what may happen to you on your 15-mile ride to the bottom. You may have plans to be an animal that day and go down and back up, but then realize you’re much more tired after the first half of the ride, or realize it took longer than you thought and you’re short on time. Like I said, it’s better safe than sorry, and also who doesn’t love fun facts and stories about the area provided to you by your very knowledge Hiawatha shuttle driver?
#9. Angels do exist on the Hiawatha trail
I recently learned on my past trip on the Hiawatha trail that angels exist. I was about 5 miles into the trail when tragedy struck and I popped a tire. I realized I was probably SOL because I never planned on popping a tire, because who plans on that? With ten more miles to go I began pedaling my sad self down the now extremely bumpy trail. After a mile or so on my embarrassing flat tire, a red haired angel pedaled up next to me on a blue bike and asked if I needed a replacement. Her name was Emma, or as I call her Angel Emma and she was one of the patrols on the trail that assisted the distressed like myself. She quickly worked her magic and replaced my tire and sent me on my way. Thankfully Lookout Pass who operates the Hiawatha trail plans for people to have misfortunes down the trail.
#10. Take your time on the trail and enjoy the ride
The Hiawatha trail has been dubbed the “crown jewel of rail to trail adventures” and a crown jewel of an adventure it is. Not only do you get to be outside exploring beautiful Montana Idaho but you get to be amongst other friendly cyclists! So enjoy the ride and take the whole day to experience it.
Sad you missed your chance to ride the Hiawatha trail this season?
Because I know I would be if I missed it, but thankfully I didn’t! And because I didn’t you can experience parts of my ride in this short video.
Enjoy and visit www.ridethehiawatha.com for more information and to plan your trip next season!
Have a hidden adventure you want to share?
Tell me about it!
It is no secret that the majority of the University of Montana student body is made up of Montana born and raised students (we’re talking 74% in-state). It is also no secret that there are “Keep California Out!” signs on everyone’s lawn (not really).
“Oh where are you from?” – Seemingly interested older Montanan
“Sacramento, California!” – Me
“…I’m sorry…” – Now uninterested and bitter older Montanan
“I’m not 🙂 Thanks for having me!” – Smiling me
Take a minute to listen up. I may not speak on behalf of the rest of the Californians in Montana, but I have a perspective I’d love to share. The second I stepped on University of Montana’s campus I knew that it could be my home away from home. The city of Missoula, hell the state of Montana, felt like hugging someone that you haven’t seen in years. I’ve been here for 4 very short years and no, I don’t plan on staying, but yes I will be back to visit. The reason being that it offered the experience of a lifetime for this particular time in my life.
For anyone who’s interested, University of Montana allowed me to step away from most everything I knew in Sacramento (yes I had seen snow, every year in Tahoe minus the recent winters). I was able to clearly establish my values as a young adult, assess the type of future I wanted, and walk away with some of the best friendships I will have for a lifetime.
You see, us Northern Californians appreciate tall trees, snowcapped mountains, cleaning our campsites and wandering to find that adventure just doesn’t end. I can single-handedly agree that California has some extreme undesirables. But so does Montana (hello Meth Capital), so does Colorado, so does New York, and Wyoming and every other state you can name. How do you think Arizona feels hosting all the frail Montana old-timers looking for warm retirement? Probably a mix of “stay in your own state” and “please contribute to our economy; look we have handicap approved EVERYTHING!”
I’ll leave on this note. The amount of times that people think that I’m a Montanan prior to asking is remarkable. Let’s just say I’ve had to convince just about everyone I meet with a valid California drivers license. My experience with those who are excited to have me is what makes Montana “the last best place”. The nay-sayers couldn’t keep me out if they tried.
By: Lia Sbisa, proud Sacramento Native and Montana Visitor