My family loves bikes. We enjoy riding for exercise and recreation, but also to go places. To the park, to the fishing access, to the grocery store, to soccer practice, to work, to school. If you go places by bike, it’s not just about the destination, but much more about the journey getting there. A few years ago we decided to take our love of traveling places by bike a little further and went on our first bicycle tour. Ever since, we’ve been hooked. In my mind, there is no better way to travel. If you really want to experience the Big Sky, the open land, and the nice people in small rural communities across the state — try riding your bicycle.
Although we rarely have enough time to drop everything and ride cross country, we have some of the nation’s most noteworthy cycling routes and destinations right in our Montana backyard.
Wondering where to take your first bicycle camping trip? There are several routes perfected by the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). This national organization that has mapped thousands of miles of bicycle routes throughout the US and makes its home in the Big Sky State. Check out this Montana Film Series to get a glimpse of the Great Divide, Lewis and Clark, TransAM and Northern Tier route networks that traverse a variety of terrain in Montana. These routes use a combination of bike paths, paved roads, gravel roads and even some single track (in the case of the Great Divide). ACA provides the maps, gear lists, accommodations and other resources to plan your first bicycle trip. Don’t have a week or two off to ride across Montana? Bike Overnights is also a great resource, and has user-submitted route ideas for weekend randonneuring.
Want to try bicycle touring but aren’t comfortable riding on the road? We hear you! Our kids are old enough to ride independently — but only on paths or rural gravel roads — not two lane, 70 mph Montana highways. Too risky. Fortunately, Montana (and surrounding states) offer hundreds of miles of safe cycling. Check out the Rails to Trails Conservancy routes and trails, sometimes called rail trails that are exclusively designed for non motorized use. The RTC Trail Finder allows you to search by location, and refine based on use, trail surface and length. Most trails have their own websites, which often have more detailed information than RTC. Using this resource, we created a bucket list of bike-tour worthy (i.e. longer distance) trails to do with kids. Did we miss something in your area? Let us know!
- NW Montana and northern Idaho: Route of the Hiawatha, NorPac Trail, Milwaukee Road, Route of the Olympian, Route of the Coeur d’Alenes.
- Teton National Park and Jackson Hole Wyoming: Grand Teton Multi-Use Pathway, Jackson Hole Community Pathway System
- Black Hills area of South Dakota: George S. Mickelson Trail and Custer State Park Spur
- Great Falls: River’s Edge Trail network
- Flathead Area: Great Northern Historical Trail, the Gateway to Glacier Trail and the Tobacco River Memorial Trail and Glacier before it opens to cars
- Missoula to Hamilton: Bitterroot Trail
- Ashton/Victor area of eastern Idaho: Victor-Driggs Rail Trail, Ashton-Tetonia Trail, Railroad Right of Way Trail
Note that the top three rides on my bucket list are in neighboring states. I know there are some great rail trail initiatives underway in our community of Livingston. How about yours?
For a few glorious weeks every spring, you can also safely bicycle in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks before they open to the onslaught of cars, trucks and RV’s. This year, our first tour of the season will be in Yellowstone National Park. It’s sure to be a challenging ride, but a rewarding one!
So there you have it, time to start planning your family camping trips by bike!