Let me start by saying that I am not a “Roadie”. There was a time when I would rather eat worms than ride my bike on anything that wasn’t singletrack and not only did road riding sound boring, there is the looming possibility of being hit by an automobile. Then one day last year my wonderful wife who is a part time Roadie suggested a route that our friends Bruce and Sue had done and enjoyed: http://www.helenabicycleclub.org/files/7513/6262/6997/Bitterroot_300k.pdf
I dismissed this notion at first because there would be some road riding between sweet spots and frankly it sounded kinda boring, but after a year of looking at maps and collecting all the gear that we would use on such a trip, we made a plan to ride it over Labor Day weekend.
Having decided to ride in a clockwise direction and do the biggest climb first, we started in Wallace Idaho and rode East on the last few miles of the Trail Of The Couer D’ Alenes. Once reaching the end of this easy paved trail, we found our way past Shoshone Park, to a fish hatchery, and then a left turn onto the start of the Norpac Trail. The signs marking this trail always seemed to be in weird places that are just out of sight from the intersections. When in doubt, the Traiforks app will help show you the way.
The Norpac is a gentle gravel road which climbs all the way to the top of Lookout Pass and deposits you into the ski area parking lot. We were amazed at the elevation we had gained with little effort. Stop here to purchase tickets for the Route Of The Hiawatha and reward yourself with a cold beverage (or two). From the ski area, a nice downhill ride gets you to Rainy Cr Road and another gentle uphill to the East Portal. This road will have some traffic (cars with bikes mostly) and is only a couple miles long.
Welcome to the Hiawatha. This rail trail is a beautiful fifteen mile downhill ride on gravel that starts with a mile long tunnel. Once at Pearson, continue on the Milwaukee Road which has several tunnels for another nine downhill miles.
From Avery you have a couple options: Gravel or highway. After having rode all of those gravel miles, asphalt was a welcome relief and it was still early in the day so we started on the highway. This turned out to be a good choice as we made up tons of miles and had very few cars going our direction. Once at Calder, we crossed the river for lunch then continued on following the gravel Milwaukee Road. We ate a lot of dust due to heavy holiday traffic until finally reaching St Maries.
Now was the crux for me. It was 5:00 pm with two busy highway options and it was L.D. weekend combined with Paul Bunyan Days to boot. As luck would have it, my wonderful wife inquired at the restaurant where we had dinner about getting a shuttle to the Trail Of The Coeur D’ Alenes and within ten minutes bikes were loaded into a pickup and we were saved from potential disaster and already sore behinds.
The West half of Trail Of The Coeur D’ Alenes is like riding your bike through the longest park ever! Wetlands on both sides and totally isolated from any roads in places. After turning East at Enaville, the trail goes through several areas of mining and industrial reclamation until ending back in Wallace.
I enjoyed this loop and would consider doing it or something similar in the future. I still don’t particularly enjoy road riding but it was all part of the grand adventure in leaving the safety of your car behind and seeing new places while riding and camping with just a bicycle for a few days.
*Note: Pay no attention to the elevation gain/climb. Map data does not compensate for going through tunnels. Garmin reported 2600ft gain first day, 3700ft route total.
Local Trail AssociationMountain Bike Idaho (mtbid.org)
Trails in Route
More Stats for Bitterroot 300k mountain bike route
Altitude min2,121 ft
Altitude start2,709 ft
Altitude end2,714 ft
Distance climb80 miles
Distance down73 miles
Distance flat16 miles
- Snow Packed
- Snow Covered
- Freeze/thaw Cycle
- Prevalent Mud
- Very Dry