Magazine article Sunset

Riding the Rails

Magazine article Sunset

Riding the Rails

Article excerpt

UP IN THE MOUNTAINS of northern Idaho-about 55 miles southeast of the resort area of Coeur d'Alene-what was once one of America's most scenic sections of passenger rail travel is now open to mountain biking. Beginning at the Roland Trailhead near Lookout Pass on Interstate 90, the Route of the Hiawatha ambles 13 miles down the former Milwaukee Railroad line, dropping 1,000 vertical feet to the Pearson Trailhead, northeast of Avery, Idaho.

At the time it was built, between 1907 and 1909, this stretch of the railroad in the Bitterroot Mountains was the world's most expensive railway construction project. Today the gentle 1.7 percent grade makes for a highly scenic, moderately easy bike jaunt. Picturesque trestles, as high as 200 feet, tower above the timber and creeks below. A few of Hiawatha's train tunnels are so long they require a flashlight.

The railway history is engaging, as well. The Loop Creek drainage was once home to 1,000 workers. Today the only sign of these raucous railroad towns is a sagging wall at Adair, just east of Tunnel 25. Still, squint at an upcoming train tunnel and you just might envision a locomotive chugging your way. Area code is 208. …

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