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Cycling Montana - Bozeman to Missoula

Old 07-22-21, 09:16 PM
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IGH_Newbie
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Cycling Montana - Bozeman to Missoula

Dear All-

I am traveling to MT (for work) next month, and have been strongly considering cycling from Bozeman to Missoula. I have worked out three possible routes; wondering, though, if my overall plan, is a poor idea, in light of the wild fires in the West right now. Given that it's a month before my trip, I'd welcome real-world feedback with those familiar with the area. Thanks!
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Old 07-26-21, 06:13 AM
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Originally Posted by IGH_Newbie View Post
Dear All-

I am traveling to MT (for work) next month, and have been strongly considering cycling from Bozeman to Missoula. I have worked out three possible routes; wondering, though, if my overall plan, is a poor idea, in light of the wild fires in the West right now. Given that it's a month before my trip, I'd welcome real-world feedback with those familiar with the area. Thanks!
Fires aside, what are your three routes? And can you handle relatively benign dirt that is fairly flat?

I have ridden between Missoula and the area somewhat near Bozeman (as far east as Cardwell) a couple of times.

Forgot to ask: Do you plan to camp or motel it. If the latter, that could limit options somewhat.

Last edited by indyfabz; 07-26-21 at 07:07 AM.
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Old 07-26-21, 08:02 AM
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Montana is pretty smokey right now and it;s hard to say what the conditions will be in the future.
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Old 07-26-21, 02:00 PM
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Hopefully things will be better by the time OP will be in the area.

OP: I was thinking that one option with about 30 miles of dirt would be off the table if you won't be camping, but then I remember that there is a campground with some cabins at the end of very scenic Rock Creek Rd. They also have a good restaurant.
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Old 07-26-21, 07:50 PM
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The routes under consideration are:

Route #1
Bozeman - Frontage road to 90W
Manhattan
Three-Forks
Butte
Anaconda
Drummond
Missoula

Route#2
Bozeman
Three-Forks
Townsend
East Helena
Helena
Elliston
Ovando
Missoula

Route #3
Bozeman
Norris
Ennis
Dillon
Melrose
Sula
Hamilton
Missoula



I will be carrying a tent, bedroll, and air mattress, though am not adverse to motels I'm limited to how much recreational gear I can take with me. Also debating between shipping my bike or renting. I can't change the dates I'm going (mid-August); if the fires are raging, I'll have to come another time to do the ride, which is not the end of the world. Thank you for your guidance!

Last edited by IGH_Newbie; 07-26-21 at 09:56 PM. Reason: Inclusion of Map
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Old 07-27-21, 11:39 AM
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Some things:

1. Six days? That seems like low mileage.

2. Route #3 between Melrose and Sula is the long way around, and MT 43 to Wisdom has little to no shoulder in places. Then you have to make the long slog up to Chief Joseph to get to Sula. Might wan to consider Dillon to Jackson or Wisdom via Badger and Big Hole Passes for the night and then to Sula. You can camp here in Jackson Home (harwoodsbunkhouse.com) There is also a hot springs resort in town, but I don't know if they allow camping anymore, and it's only open Thu-Sun. Jackson Hot Springs - Home (jacksonhotspringslodge.com) Wisdom has free and pay camping. If you do go through Melrose I recommend keeping going for a bit more. Just after MT 43 crosses the river there is a BLM campground called Divide Bridge. You can see it on Google Maps. You'd have to carry food with you and/or stop at the restaurant in Melrose as the next supply point is not until Wise River, where there is a restaurant or two and a mercantile. Also, Sula to Hamilton will take you no time. It's basically all down hill (once you do the sort, easy hill west of the Sula campground) to one degree or another, and there is no camping directly in town that I know of.

3. Re: Option #1: The camping in Butte is far from optimal. Right by the Interstate. The motor lodge portion of the Hotel Finlen in the historic section of the city is worth the extra money. And Butte to Anaconda is not much of a day's ride. There is a relatively new trail that is not shown on Google Maps, and if you can do some easy dirt, you can make it between those two cities without having to get on the Interstate. Consider being able to make it from Butte to Philipsburg in one day, or even Drummond. Yes. You have a climb up to Georgetown Lake from Anaconda, but it's not super hard. After you pass the lake it's basically all down hill to Philipsburg, which is a nice little town with a nice campground/motel, decent grocery store, library for Internet and some restaurants. (I love staying there.) Or you can continue on to Drummond. Never been here, but I believe MT 1 is still gradually down hill. Also note that I believe you have to ride I-90 in two places to get from Drummond to Missoula.

Let me know if you want a knock-your-socks-off route from Philipsburg that involves one paved climb, 30 miles of basically flat dirt along a famous trout stream and 10 miles of paved flat to a campground/restaurant from which Missoula is a pretty easy ride the next day (only 3 miles on I-90).

I will probably have more comments later. Also, I would look into shipping using Shipbikes.com or Bikeflights.com
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Old 07-28-21, 12:38 PM
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So I gave more thought to this. Some of my recommendations would be influenced by both your wants and needs. Looking for the most climbing or the relatively easiest route? Can you handle dirt? Do you need a restaurant or other source of prepared food at every overnight camping location or are you going to carry groceries and cook?

Without knowing the answers, here are two possible itineraries from Bozeman you might wan to consider:

#1:

Three Forks; Short day from Bozeman. You could camp at Headwaters State Park, which is where the Missouri River starts.

Butte: About 65 miles to the Hotel Finlen via Willow Creek and MT 2 over Pipestone Pass. The early miles of MT 2 pass through a beautiful valley and Lewis & Clark Cavers State Park. (You could break up the day to Butte by stopping there, but you would need to carry all necessary food as there is no source around. Also note that the actual caverns are up a steep, 3 mile climb from the camping area, which is close to the road.) Saw some American White Pelicans fly over when I camped there in 2016. Second largest wingspan of any bird in N. America. Pipestone Pass is not that hard of a climb as passes go. I know a place it Butte to get a good steak.

Philipsburg via Anaconda and MT 1. I can amp you out a way that avoids I-90 but has a few miles of easy dirt.

Ekstrom Stage campground either via Rock Creek Rd. (mostly unpaved) or MT 1 and frontage roads, with some riding on I-90. Both about the same distance. Decent restaurant at the campground, which is right along Rock Creek.

Missoula via three miles on I-90 than frontage roads/recreation paths. Again, I can map it for you.

If you really wan to get adventurous, you could go back up the hill from Philipsburg for a bit (not hard) and take MT 38 over Skalkaho Pass to Hamilton. It's paved, then not paved, than paved for a while than not paved again until a little bit after you pass a beautiful waterfall during the descent. The road is not for the faint of heart, however. There are no guardrails, and its twisty in places higher up. But you would be on the side away from the dropoffs. From Hamilton you can take the bike path along U.S. 93 all the way into Missoula.

#2

Again, a short day to Three Forks.

Somewhat long day but very little climbing to Twin Bridges, home of the awesome Bike Camp in the city park right along the Beaverhead River. Shower, flush toilet, inside shelter, camp sink, picnic tables in the parks, great lawn for pitching your tent, electricity to charge devices. Free, but donations strongly encouraged. The town has a good grocery store and a couple of restaurants.

Very short day to Dillon that passes by famous Beaverhead Rock. It really does look like a beaver and basically saved the Lewis and Clark expedition. Dillon has grown over the years, or at least so I have heard. (Haven't been there since 2000.) There are now outlet now. And there is a cool county museum open during the week with all sorts of authentic stuff from the pioneer days. Camping on the edge of town at the KOA.

Short day will allow you to rest up for the ride to Wisdom. 65 miles and two passes Badger and Big Hole, but neither are steep or particularly long. At the top of Big Hole you can take a short, flat walk on a gravel path for an amazing view of the valley you are about to descend into. Mountains and cattle ranches as far as the eye can see. Riding from Jackson to Big Hole in 2011 I saw a mouse with a calf on one of the ranches. RV park in town, American Legion Park with indoor shelter at the edge of town just across the river.) Saloon, restaurant and motel in town.

Darby for the next stop. The climb from Wisdom to Chief Joseph Pass on MT 43 is long, but not steep until the last couple of miles, and even that part is not super steep. Absolutely beautiful stretch of road. Early on it passes Big Hole Battlefield site, where you can top of water bottles. When you reach U.S. 93 you can make a left to a highway rest stop with bathrooms and water. Just make sure to turn back around or you will end up in Salmon, ID. From there, it's all down hill to one degree or another through Sula to Darby, where there is a campground at the west end of town. Market, motel and restaurants as well. If you want a dirt option from MT 43 to U.S. 93 to Sula (Gibbons Pass instead of Chief Joseph), let me know. But part of it is even more of a challenge than Skalkaho.

From Darby, there is the blah way (U.S. 93) or the wow way (Old Darby and Sleeping Child Rds., with about 6 miles of easy gravel) to Hamilton and then the bike path to Missoula, which is quite nice and passes by services in places.

In 2014 I rode Gibbons Pass from Sula to MT 43 on the way to Wisdom. Stopped at this point to look back and saw this. You'd be going down it. Not a place you want to lose control. The east slope, which you would climb, is much smoother and much less steep.



Sunset at the Bike Camp in Twin Bridges:





Let me know if you have any questions.
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