In the Shadow of Lewis and Clark

Pedaling the Lolo in Idaho and Montana
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Welcome to your summer vacation. How does 80 miles of wild and fast dirt-road riding through the dense coniferous forests of northwest Idaho sound to you? That's your treat in just one direction. Your return is a beautiful 100-mile paved-road ride, along the Lochsa and Middle Fork of the Selway Rivers, followed by a final and pretty 25 or so more miles of dirt—some of it past Kansas-like yellow wheat fields—to close the loop. Yes, the pavement section can be busy with traffic, but then we're talking Idaho-type busy. Besides, the Lochsa route is rated by the state as a "Wild and Scenic River Corridor" and offers a constant picture-postcard view of deep-blue water, rocky chasms, and pure-green mountainsides.

Interested? Grab an Idaho map and run your finger about two-thirds of the way up, to where the state begins to narrow. Look until you find U.S. Highway 12, the red line that wiggles its way from Lewiston, Idaho, in the west to Missoula, Montana, in the east. Now look harder, just to the north of U.S. 12, along the eastern third of the highway. See the unpaved road that runs parallel to it, and that intersects with a number of others twisting north and south through this west slope of the Rockies? That's your route: Forest Service Road 500—the Lolo Trail.

Nature and History
We'll get to the great pedaling in a minute. First let's look at the other great attraction of this piece of territory: its history and status as the best-preserved, most natural stretch of the famed Lewis and Clark Trail. The bicentennial of that expedition is 2004-06, so if you go soon you'll be beating the crowds.

You've got two choices when it comes to pedaling the Lolo. First is whether to do it as a loop (which will involve a pavement route), a one-way car shuttle, or a 160-mile all-dirt out-and-back. Second, you need to decide on a direction; should you pedal east or west? Lewis and Clark traveled it in both directions, by the way, so don't worry about pedaling history "backward."

Not sure? Pick up a copy of the explorers' journals, add Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, and James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians, and maybe a book on the Nez Perce War. Then block out a week in late summer to pedal the Lolo Trail.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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