13 Things to Know Before Biking The Route Of The Hiawatha Trail

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If you’re looking for an amazing bike ride, The Route Of the Hiawatha needs to be near the top of your list.  We biked the 15 mile trail as a family last summer and we all agreed that it was one of the highlights of our year.  The trail is stunningly beautiful, the history is incredible, and the bridges and tunnels kept the kids excited the entire way.  We’re here to share with you everything you need to know about biking the Route of the Hiawatha!

biking route of the hiawatha with kids

The Hiawatha bike trail is nearly all downhill with a very gradual slope, so the bike riding here is really quite easy and can be done by anyone who is comfortable riding a bike.  ALong the way you cross over 7 giant train trestle bridges and go through 10 different tunnels.  The whole trail starts with a 1.7 mile long tunnel that you bike through that’s absolutely amazing. The tunnel is pitch dark (you’ll need to bring a bike light) and chilly, adding to everyone’s sense of anticipation over the upcoming adventure.  By the time we got out of the tunnel, our kids were all completely energized to ride the Hiawatha as a family.  

The views along the entire trail are absolutely stunning, as you’re riding through the forests and mountains of Northern Idaho.  At many points along the trail there are spectacular viewpoints that will have your jaw dropping with how beautiful things are here.  Make sure to bring a camera along with you since you’ll want to capture these views forever.  

Biking Route of the Hiawatha with kids

What Is The Route Of The Hiawatha Bike Trail?

The Route of the Hiawatha is a scenic bike ride located in Northern Idaho.  The rail-trail was named after a famous train The Hiawatha that traveled this route during the early 1900s. 

In the early 1900’s the Milwaukee Railway Company cut out this tstretch of railroad through the ruggesd Montana and Idaho mountains. THey were attempting to get to the west coast, but the project was much more difficult than anticipated. The project cost over $200 million dollars and took nearly 10,000 men to construct. When you see how rugged the terrain is, you’ll be amazed that they could build a railroad through here.

The train stopped running in the 1980’s and for the last several decades, the route has been open to hikers and bikers.

Since the railroad is no longer in operation, the train route has now been converted to a scenic bike route and is now a family friendly rail trail.  It’s a wide trail that can accommodate lots of riders so everyone can have plenty of space.  It’s about the size of a regular road in most places with the tunnels and the bridges being more narrow.

The Route of the Hiawatha is 15 miles long each way and has a pretty gradual slope. Most people start at the north and ride south (riding through the tunnel first), since that direction is all downhill.

Route of the hiawatha with kids

Where is the Hiawatha Trail Bike Ride Located?

The Hiawatha Trail is located near the town of Mullen Idaho. While this is technically an Idaho bike ride, you’re right next to the border of Montana as well. If you take Interstate 90, between Couer D’Alene Idaho and Missoula Montana, the Route of the Hiawatha trial is right between the two.

This Hiawatha bike trail map will help show you where to go and to find your way.

Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail Map

Where to Stay When Biking the Hiawatha

There are several small towns near the Route of the Hiawatha, and even some options for camping near the trail. However, our all time favorite pick for where to stay before and after a Hiawatha bike ride is at the Silver Mountain Lodging. The place is so fantastic for kids, and the whole family will fall in love with the indoor water park. Yes, INDOOR WATER PARK! Nothing feels better after a long day of biking than a good pool soak, so this place is the best!

Bike Gear to Ride the Hiawatha Trail

If your bike has 2 wheels and good brakes, you’ll be able to make it down the trail, but there are certain things that make it SO MUCH EASIER! We’ve gotten really into biking with our kids the last 5 years and know that good bike gear makes a world of difference. Here are some of our bike gear recommendations for biking the Hiawatha with kids:

Other Bike Specific Gear Recommendations (and our reviews to help you choose the best for YOU):
Safest kids bike helmets
Best Lightweight bikes for kids (bike weight is the #1 factor we look for in good kids bikes)
Bike seats vs bike trailers to transport kids
Best kids bike gloves (so great for the long gravel ride)

If you’re trying to figure out how in the world you’re going to get all your bikes to the Hiawatha, I can’t recommend a Velocirax bike rack enough. They fit up to 7 bikes and are super easy to load, unload, and keep the bikes very secure during transport. Read our full Velocirax review here.

velocirax bike rack review

How Do I Bike The Route Of The Hiawatha

To bike The Hiawatha, you will need a ticket for everyone.  The trail is privately operated and there are trail marshalls along the trail to keep an eye on things.  Before we arrived we had purchased our tickets online and were unsure about where to go to pick our tickets up.  We went up to the Lookout Pass Resort only to be told that we had to go back 7 miles down the road to get to the trailhead.  In the future, we will just pick up our trail passes at the trailhead.  

I must note that during our entire ride, there was no one that ever checked to see if we had passes.  I’m not saying you should be dishonest and not get a pass, this is just an observation.

Route of the hiawatha with kids

Costs to ride the Hiawatha:

Adult Trail Pass Tickets (age 13+): $36
Child Trail Pass Tickets (ages 5-12): $24
Kids ages 4 and under: Free

Adult Trail Pass Tickets + Shuttle Ride: $51
Child Trail Pass Tickets + Shuttle Ride: $39

Do I need advance reservations to bike the Hiawatha trail?

The website strongly encourages everyone to have reservations so that they do not have to turn people away.  Honestly with the number of people that we saw on the trail, there wasn’t much limiting of numbers (and this was the summer of 2020 when they probably should have been because of COVID).  My best recommendation is to get there early to start your ride since the parking lot has limited space.  We arrived around 10:30 on a Saturday and the parking lot was nearly full and there were so many people there.  I was honestly shocked at how busy it was. 

If you do have a large group of 15 people or more, reservations are required!

If you don’t want to nail yourself down to dates, I recommend just getting there early in the day and getting started.  This will not only help you get a good parking spot, but also help you to avoid some of the crowds that we found.  There are also only 2 bathrooms at the trailhead and the line to use them was 15-20 minutes long, so try and take care of that ahead of time.  

Route of the hiawatha with kids
The crowds at the top of the trailhead

Can I Bike The Hiawatha trail with kids?

Absolutely!  We took all 5 of our kids on the trail and they all did great.  Our kids were 13, 10, 8, 6, and 3.  Our 3 year old rode with me on his Kids Ride Shotgun bike seat (the absolute best kids bike seat we’ve found), and all the other kids rode the trail independently without any problems. Even our 6-year-old did great and the gentle downhill slope made it easy for him to keep going without too much effort.  If you have a child who is not a confident rider, I recommend letting them ride on a bike seat or in a bike trailer.  For younger kids, we always recommend taking a Tow-Whee strap to help them on any uphill climbs.  It’s basically a giant bungee cord that allows you to tow them along really gently – we use it all the time for biking with kids and it’s a life saver!

Route of the hiawatha with kids

How do I get my bike back up to the top of Hiawatha?  

The Hiawatha trail offers a paid shuttle service that you can use to transport you and your bikes back up to the top of the trail head.  When we got down to the bottom, there were hundreds of people in front of us and busses only came every 15 minutes and could carry about 20 people and their bikes.  When the staff told us to anticipate a 3 hour wait, we decided that the shuttle wasn’t a good option for us.  Instead, my husband and oldest son rode their bikes back up the hill (remember, it’s a very gentle slope, so not too difficult) and got the car to come and pick us up. 

The ride back up to the top took them a little over an hour, so we saved a lot of time by not taking the paid shuttle (even if that meant we lost out on our money we spent for the shuttle passes).  Truthfully, nearly all of our kids could have ridden back up to the top, except for the 6-year-old, so driving the car down to the bottom was the best option for him.

When is the best time to ride the Hiawatha Trail?

The Hiawatha trail is only open from late May until Mid-September. The least crowded time to bike the trail is in early September when most families have put their kids back in school. If you want to visit during the summer, plan for a mid-week ride, as weekends biking the Hiawatha rea really bust.

Should I ride The Route Of The Hiawatha from bottom to top or top to bottom?

If you have young kids biking with you, or are not confident in your fitness, you’ll want to just ride one way from the top to the bottom.  If your kids are a little bit older and enjoy longer rides, I recommend starting at the bottom, and riding to the top and then back down.  This will give you about a 30 mile bike ride, but with the last half being mostly downhill, it’s completely manageable.  If you are going from the bottom to the top with younger kids, make sure to get a Tow-Whee bike strap before you go to help them on the climb (it’s seriously the best invention for biking with kids on hills!).

Tow Whee strap for kids
The Tow Whee bike strap is amazing for helping kids up the hill
(photo not on the Hiawatha Trail)

How Hard Is The Hiawatha Bike Trail?

Biking the Hiawatha trail really isn’t that difficult.  Our 6-year-old biked the entire thing by himself and our 13-year-old was able to ride from the bottom back to top (all uphill) in just over an hour.  If you enjoy riding a bike and are comfortable riding on a gravel and dirt road, this is one of the best bike trails in Idaho.  

Route of the hiawatha with kids

How long does it take to ride the Hiawatha bike trail?

It took our family 3 hours to bike the Hiawatha trail with kids.  That included a lunch stop, a few bathroom breaks (in the woods), and several snack and water breaks.  Our kids also wanted to stop and take a picture on nearly every bridge and at every tunnel so that slowed us down considerably.  If you are going for speed, plan on the trail taking a little over an hour.

Route of the hiawatha with kids

What do I need to bring to bike the Hiawatha?

There are a few things that you MUST bring with you when you bike the Hiawatha as a family, since there really isn’t anything available at the trailheads (other than junk food and sports drinks on occasion).

Water:  Carry plenty of water for everyone in your family.  I recommend using hydration packs so that you can carry more, and it makes drinking on the go so much easier.  We also usually bring electrolyte powder on longer rides like this to keep the kids hydrated. These drink packets are easy to bring with you, affordable, and taste great.
Read: Top 10 Hydration Packs For Kids

Food:  Plan on bringing plenty of snacks, and depending on your timing, pack a lunch as well.  If everyone is wearing hydration packs, there is room in their bag so that kids can carry their own food. Here are our top recommendations for healthy snacks to fuel your trip.

Bike Lights:  There are several tunnels on the Hiawatha bike ride that are completely dark for a significant period of time.  You absolutely need a bike light.  We tried to use the flashlights and headlamps that we had brought for camping and it was a disaster.  The headlamps didn’t fit properly with helmets on and trying to carry a flashlight while biking with kids didn’t work well either.  Buy these bike lights before you go for everyone (they are an awesome deal and include both front and rear lights).  

First Aid Kit:  If you are riding the Hiawatha with kids, at some point, a bike crash on the gravel road is likely.  Make sure to take a first aid kit with basics like bandaids, antibiotic ointment, tweezers (for gravel in skin), and some pain killers.  Also, remind your kids to control their speed and how to stop gently on the gravel so their tires don’t skid, to avoid accidents.  We love this first aid kit for family biking.

More Hiawatha Bike Trail FAQ:

How should I dress for biking Hiawatha?

Plan on dressing in layers for biking Hiawatha.  You are in a high alpine environment so temperatures are often cold in the morning and warm in the afternoon.  A few of the tunnels are also quite cold (especially the tunnel at the top), so having some warm layers to put on is a good idea.

Are there bathrooms on the Hiawatha bike riding trail?  

Yes, there are a couple of stalls at the top and bottom and one outhouse in the middle.  Plan on using the bathroom before you come and also come ready to take care of your own needs in the woods (carry out your waste or bury it in a cathole).

Are Ebikes allowed on the Hiawatha bike route?

Yes, ebikes are allowed, as long ast hey are type 1 ebikes (which most on the market today are).

Can you walk the Hiawatha Trail?

While you technically can hike the Hiawatha Route, be prepared for lots of bike traffic all around you.  The best way to experience the Hiawatha Trail is by bike.

Where can I camp near the Hiawatha?

There are several forest service campgrounds near the trailhead that are great for camping.  If you head west down I-90, you will find lots of places to stay as you approach Couer D’Alene Idaho and you will also find places to stay east along I-90 as you drive into Montana towards Missoula.  Use the Campendium app to find the best places to camp and current conditions.

When is the Hiawatha family bike trail open?

The trail is open from May 28- September 19, every day from 8am-5:30pm

Can I take a trailer or an RV to the Hiawatha Trailhead?

There is no parking for trailers or RV’s at the Hiawatha trailhead (or even the space to maneuver one and turn around).  If you have a small bike trailer, you will need to park on the north side of the parking lot along the road (there is limited space here).  If you have a trailer or an RV, you can leave it parked at Lookout Pass resort during your ride (this is what we did). 

Can I rent bikes and bike gear for riding the Hiawatha? 

Yes, all the bike gear you need to ride the Hiawatha can be rented at Lookout Pass.  This includes bikes, trailers, helmets and lights. Bike rentals are on a first come, first served basis, so plan to get their early if you need to rent a bike.

How can I avoid the crowds when biking the Hiawatha?

To avoid the crowds, bike the Hiawatha during the middle of the week or during September.  Avoid weekends when things are the most crowded! Generally, we recommend getting on the trail before 9am, or starting after 3pm if you want to beat the crowds. If you need a shuttle service, just make sure that your riding times coordinate with when the shuttles are offered.

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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