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The 31-mile long Route of the Olympian is one of several rail-trails occupying the abandoned Pacific route of the Milwaukee Road, which originally connected the railroad's Wisconsin hub with Washington state—nearly 2,000 miles to the west. The trail directly links with the popular Route of the Hiawatha, allowing for a longer journey across the border into Idaho through the jaw-dropping Taft Tunnel.
The Route of the Olympian has a complex set of use restrictions due to its fragmented course and local transportation needs. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the first 8.6 miles of the trail from the connection with the Route of the Hiawatha at Taft to the tiny community of Saltese are restricted to non-motorized use only. Those with ATVs can use the parallel NorPac Trail to travel from Taft to Saltese, although that route is shared with full-size motor vehicles.
The stunning Dominion tunnel and trestle are located near the midpoint of this section of the Route of the Olympian. The trestle is restricted to non-motorized use year-round. The trailbed from the trestle to the trail's eastern terminus is a two-lane road of fine gravel. West of the trestle, the trail turns into a single-lane gravel road and has much more loose surface rock.
Bikers and walkers share the trail with motorized vehicles from Saltese east to St. Regis, as the route provides popular locations for fishing and a local transportation alternative to busy (and difficult to access) Interstate 90. Portions of the route, in fact, are technically marked as county roads, though they see very little traffic.
A variety of upcoming improvements will do much to further help separate vehicular traffic from non-motorized recreational users. For now, enjoy the extended trail mileage and the gorgeous mountain scenery in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
The Route of the Olympian runs adjacent to I-90 at times, so access is fairly easy. The main parking area is located at the Taft trailhead, which is shared with the Route of the Hiawatha. The trailhead sits at the East Portal of the Taft Tunnel, located 2 miles from Taft Exit 5 off I-90 in Montana. Signs will direct you to the tunnel from the exit.
As a former Trail Marshall on the Route of the Hiawatha, I wanted to experience and compare the Olympian trail. I rode in late August, 2014, from the western (Taft or East Portal) end to St. Regis. Contrary to the website description, the trail surface of the upper(western)half of the trail to opposite the 50,000 Dollar Bar is a good, relatively smooth surface. Beyond that, the trail surface is quite rough and should only be ridden with wide tires. Also, thereafter the trail is close to the interstate and scenery is less nice. Plan on taking a minimum of 3.5 hours to ride the whole trail to St. Regis and somewhat longer if riding west. A good day trip would be about 15 miles to the 50,000 Dollar Bar (across the interstate) for food and/or drink or espresso at the same location. There is a nice primitive campsite on the river just before this location. Most of the elevation drop (2-2.5%) is in the first five or so miles from East Portal. After that, the trail is mostly flat or slightly downhill. Scenery is nice altho pretty restricted to trees and the St. Regis River which is alongside much of the way. The one tunnel (about 100 yards long) and one trestle are in the first five miles from East Portal.
Rode from St Regis to the Route of the Hiawatha. The beginning of the route wasn't marked. I looked at the satellite image of the route map to make sure I was starting in the right location. About 2-3 miles in to it, the trail turned into a single track that went down hill into a creek. The creek is calf deep in July. I know this because I unsuccessfully attempted to ride through it without getting off my bike. After the creek, you go up a small hill and the trail picks up again. There are no signs stating you're on the Route of the Olympian so a few places will have you guessing. It's a steady, gradual uphill climb all the way (from St Regis). Some sections are loose rock and gravel. I'm glad I was on my diesel, my tank, my 29" mountain bike. Initially, I thought about taking my hybrid. The thinner tires might have held up but they would have dug into the loose rock more. Although the trail was near the interstate, the traffic sounds didn't degrade the quality of the ride. There are no restrooms along the trail. There's a bridge around Saltese with large gaps in the surface. Keep going straight and you'll be fine. There's one tunnel on the route that was occupied by a moose. I made some noise and it ran the other direction. Overall, I enjoyed the ride. Beautiful scenery, fresh evergreen air in the lungs, whats not to like.
This promised to be the first day that would not have showers and thunderstorms in the mountains, so we headed to Montana and the East Portal of the Route of the Hiawatha (a great ride)to see the new Route of the Olympian.
From East Portal, the Route of the Hiawatha heads west into Idaho with many tunnels and trestles. It is a Must Do ride. Fee: $10 and $9 for the shuttle back to the top. Pay and enjoy. It's worth it.
From the other end of the East Portal parking lot, the new Route of the Olympian heads east into Montana on the same Milwaukee Road bed. This one is free.
Head left at the parking lot and go to the far end. There is a newish restroom and electrical frame to mark the start of the trail. No signs yet.
The trail bed is a good quality two lane gravel road. Those who know the trail bed in Washington on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail will like this better. TrailBear is on a trike where you don't do a single line - you do three - and the trike liked it. That is rare.
One thing you notice. Downhill. It is all downhill. Nice if you have a shuttle waiting. Otherwise, grind up the grade on the return. (TB grinds up the grade.)
The attractions on this bit of trail are the tunnel and the Dominion Creek trestle, which is about 3.5 miles from the trail head.
The tunnel is a short curved one and you can see daylight at the far end. Still, a flashlight would be nice as the trail bed in the tunnel is rather rough. Exit into a large ? parking area ? and the trestle is just beyond.
Here is a curved steel trestle with a new wooden deck instead of the usual concrete pans filled with gravel. Overhead are a few of the old wooden frames that carried overhead electric wires.
Beyond the trestle the trail turns from two lane to one lane with a lot more loose surface rock. Enjoy. TrailBear turns about here to begin the grind uphill.
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