“I’ve always wanted to do that”… the hearts desire of human nature is to have experiences. We all have things we’ve yet to try, adventures we long to experience and memories waiting to be made. The Hiawatha Trail has been on our “to do list ” for years and although it’s less than 2 hours away, we’d never made time to go. Taking action to experience more of life has proven to be endlessly rewarding, this was no exception.
The Hiawatha Trail near Wallace, Idaho was once a train route, with 10 tunnels and 7 high steel trestles spread over nearly 15 miles, making it the most exciting bicycle ride we’ve ever been on. We were mesmerized by everything we encountered along our ride.
The vast amount of butterflies at the beginning of the trail was as if mother nature was welcoming us with open arms and drawing us down the trail. Every color of wild flower decorates the sidelines as we head towards the first tunnel called the St. Paul Pass (Taft) Tunnel, it’s the longest at 1.7 miles. The sign reminded us to take off our sunglasses, turn on our lights and stay away from the sides.
Initially I felt a huge temperature drop as we entered the tunnel, along with a feeling of uncertainty and apprehension. My surroundings were pitch black except for the spot on the ground where my light was shinning and the glaring red light from Mitch’s bike. I was able to hear and feel much more than I could see. Water was running down on each side of the tunnel into canals and was dripping from above. It quickly turned into a wet damp cold feeling that chilled me to the bone.
The darkness began to feel as if it there was no end, a feeling of suffocation and claustrophobia set in, only to suddenly disappear when my eyes adjusted and the walls of the tunnel began to feel wider and I could see more clearly. I saw a faint white light ahead, and no longer feeling rushed I began to slow down and soak up more of the complexity and character of this almost 2 mile long tunnel.
Unknown to us, halfway through the tunnel we crossed over from Idaho into Montana, they say there’s a marker stating where the state line is, but we didn’t see it.
Although the parking lot was full and there were people all around, it didn’t seem crowded and everyone went their own pace. A few things I would like to mention to those who haven’t gone before and if you are planning on going.
*If you bring your own bike, make sure you have a helmet and a light for the tunnels. Our lights were strapped onto our bikes and were 60 lumen, they worked ok, especially after the eyes adjusted. Next time I would also like to have a light on my helmet so I can look around inside the tunnel as I ride.
*If you plan on renting a bike or other equipment you must do so at Look Out Pass, which is not located at the trail. Look Out Pass exit is 0, the Hiawatha Trail exit is 5 coming from Spokane.
*If you park at the East Portal (which we did) you will begin the trail going through the 1.7 mile tunnel and it’s a 1% grade the whole way down. You can choose to ride your bicycle back up to your car or you can take a bus. The people we passed going back up said it wasn’t a hard ride back up the hill. We opted for the bus.
*The last few miles on the trail had plenty of gravel and made it for more work than the rest of the trail.
*The chipmunks are beyond cute and friendly, but please remember they are still wild and are not to be fed people food.
*Our cost to ride the trail was $10 each and then to take the bus back up was $9 each. One thing to note, the bus drops you off before the Taft Tunnel and you will have to ride back through the 1.7 miles to get to your vehicle.
*Wear clothes that you’re ok with getting dirty, especially as you ride through the wet damp tunnels, the mud will splatter from the back tire onto your back, everyone ends up with a Hiawatha Tail going on the Hiawaytha Trail.
If you don’t shout it out, it stains! ooops.
*There is a time zone change from Washington into Idaho/Montana and we were totally thrown off, so keep that in mind.
Go before they close for the winter, pack a lunch snack into a backpack, maybe a jacket for the tunnels, bring the whole family and have a great time! It does wear on the body afterwards, especially the vibratations, if you’re not an avid rider, be prepared to sleep solid that night and be sore the next day.