Oct 23

On the Road: Tour Montana

by Diana Cochran

 

With summer in full swing, it’s time to haul that motorcycle out of storage and take in Montana’s scenic beauty. Here are five rides recommended by Montana motorcycle enthusiasts.

Lake Koocanusa

This ride is a favorite for Cole Boehler, editor and publisher of “Motorcycling Montana,” a 500-page book on biking in Big Sky Country. Boehler, a 35-year veteran of Montana motorcycling, looks for remote routes with lots of hills and turns, quality pavement and road engineering, and majestic views.

“This ride is a really full day, and you’ll experience every kind of riding there is,” he said.

It starts at Noxon, about 140 miles west of Missoula on Highway 200. A few clicks west of Noxon, head north on Highway 56 toward Troy. This will take you 43 miles along the Bull River and past Bull Lake, where you might see moose, bears and other wildlife.

At Troy, turn northwest onto Highway 2 and ride toward Idaho for 10 miles. Thenturn east onto Highway 508, also known as the Yaak Valley/Libby Dam Road. This is where the ride gets interesting.

“It’s very remote country,” Boehler said. “You need to be conscious of your motorcycle’s fuel range and where fuel is available.”

Riders also should be comfortable with the limits of their bikes.  Navigating the Yaak Valley/Libby Dam Road is technical and tricky, but that’s what makes it fun, Boehler said.

After about 40 miles, the road comes out at Libby Dam on the south end of Lake Koocanusa, a 90-mile-long body of water that stretches into Canada. Below the dam, at the junction with Highway 37, head south on Highway 530, which follows the Fisher River back to Highway 2. Boehler recommends stopping for sustenance at Happy’s Roadhouse Inn, just east of the junction of the Fisher River and Highway 2.

 

Beartooth Highway

Known to locals as Beartooth Pass, this 68-mile stretch of road in southwestern Montana and northwestern Wyoming is a National Scenic Byway. It also is the highest elevation paved highway in the Northern Rockies.

“In my estimation, it’s the most spectacular ride in the nation,” said Tim Buckstead, owner of Bone Daddy’s Custom Cycle in Red Lodge.  “It’s just the perfect package.”

Riders can access the Beartooth Highway south of Red Lodge. Its switchbacks climb to 10,947 feet before dropping down into Cooke City, Wyo. The ride takes two to three hours depending on weather and traffic.

 

Deep Creek and King’s Hill Pass

The 142 miles between Townsend and Belt offer up two challenges for motorcyclists: the steep and curvy run through Deep Creek at the Townsend end and the 7,393- foot King’s Hill Pass at the Belt end.

“It’s a sporty road,” Boehler said. “You can have some fun. But it’s a relaxed sporty road.”

The route passes through White Sulphur Springs, where riders can stop off at the Spa Hot Springs Motel to soak in natural hot springs.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

Visitors to Glacier National Park don’t want to miss this stunning stretch of highway, which spans 50 miles, crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (elevation: 6,646 feet) and offers riders the chance to see a real glacier.

“You can’t overstate the beauty of it,” said Jerry Archer, manager at Glacier Harley-Davidson in Kalispell.

The road is busy, so expect to ride at a leisurely pace, Archer said. Luckily, there is a lot to look at, including waterfalls and the park’s infamous mountain goats.

Traveling from east to west puts riders on the inside of the highway, which hugs the mountains on one side and abuts a sheer cliff on the other.

“A lot of people get a little apprehensive when they can look over the edge of the road and can look down thousands of feet,” Archer said.

Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway

Access this spectacular ride from Butte. Boehler takes Interstate 90 west to Highway 1, and then follows Highway 1 for about 12 miles to Mill Creek Road. Mill Creek Road, which changes to Deep Creek Road, carries riders past Mount Haggin State Wildlife Management Area.

It dumps out onto Highway 43, where riders should hang a right and head east for 10 miles to the junction with the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway at Wise River.

“The byway is just stunning,” Boehler said. “As you approach the summit, it gets twistier and twistier and twistier. Talk about beautiful. It is just awesome.”

The byway ends at Highway 278, where riders can turn east for a 29-mile ride to Dillon or, if once wasn’t enough, backtrack over the byway to Wise River.

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