Montana Trails Coalition
Trails for All Montanans & Visitors
The possibility of a rail-trail that spans the country has been known since the mid-1980s. The Rails-To-Trails Conservancy (RTC) leads the way in planning and inspiring this dream and has committed its expertise and resources to complete this project. The Great American Rail-Trail is a cross-country trail that will run 3,700 miles between Washington D.C. and Washington State and cross 12 states. The preferred route connects 145+ existing rail-trails, greenways and other multiuse paths spanning more than 3,700 miles. The planned trail is already more than 53% complete with over 2,000 completed miles on the ground and will be within 50 miles of 50 million Americans.
RTC worked with communities, organizations and public agencies in Montana to identify the most likely successful route through the state. Currently the route will generally run from Yellowstone Park, to Livingston, Bozeman, Three Forks, Butte, Anaconda, Ravalli County, Missoula and along the Route of the Olympian and connect with the Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho! Many other trails in Montana will serve as connectors with this route and be important parts of the system. For more information and the preferred map go to https://www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail/route/.
The Great Western Trail is a north-south long distance multiple use route which currently runs from West Yellowstone Montana to Mexico through four western states in the United States. The trail has access for both motorized and non-motorized users and traverses 3,100 miles through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. It carries the designation of a National Millennium Trail.
It is the longest truly multiple-use trail system in the world being made up of paralleling and shared routes for all types of trail recreationists. These include hikers, horsemen, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, snow-shoers, motorcyclists, snowmobilers, boaters, ATV and four-wheel drive vehicle users.
The Great Western Trail has been created with very little new construction, linking together existing routes approved for the above uses through primarily public lands. It is one of the finest examples in the United States of what can be accomplished when all users come together on a mutually beneficial project.
The Great Western Trail Association is now working with public land managers and trails organization to identify a route from West Yellowstone to the Canadian border. For more information, go to https://www.gwt.org/about-the-trail/ or https://www.facebook.com/Great-Western-Trail-Association-110393403725/.
The 31-mile long Route of the Olympian is one of several rail-trails occupying the former Pacific route of the Milwaukee Road, which originally connected the railroad’s Wisconsin hub with Washington State. The trail directly links with the popular Route of the Hiawatha in Idaho, allowing for a longer journey across the border 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.
For more information and map. Go to https://www.traillink.com/trail/route-of-the-olympian/.
Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks draw thousands of hikers to Montana, many of them traveling the Continental Divide Trail as it passes through both parks along the state’s western border. But what about the rest of the state? The grasslands of eastern Montana. The Missouri Breaks.
The Montana Trail 406 will connect all of them, says Race Bannon, president of the Montana Trail 406 Association. Rather than build new trails, the group will connect about 1,500 miles of existing trails that crisscross Montana from east to west. The trail will be for hikers, bikepackers, horseback riders, and paddlers. Bird watching, rivers and streams for fishing, and abundant wildflowers are expected to draw people to the trail.
Creating a true multi-use trail is difficult, Race says, because bicycles are not allowed in wilderness areas. As a result the group is focusing first on foot travel, with bike routes bypassing the wilderness areas to come later.
The trail includes 538 miles of the Continental Divide Trail, 400 miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and 149 miles of the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River from Fort Benton to the James Kipp Recreation Area.
Additionally, the group is hoping to work with Indigenous people in eastern Montana to be able to route the trail across their lands.
Race sees the new trail as an outlet for the surge in hikers since the COVID pandemic began. The trail will bring people to less-visited parts of the state, and help economies in small towns, he says. And that, he says, can only benefit Montana.
For more information, go to http://backpackingroutes.com/new-montana-trail-connects-1500-miles-existing-routes/ or https://www.facebook.com/montanatrail406/.