By the time May rolls around, most of us are looking forward to the mountain biking season and miles of twisting and turning single-track bliss. The problem is, area trails usually don’t dry out until mid-June. Solution: check out some new terrain. Selected from Montana Singletrack (Beartooth Publishing; $17) by Will Roberston, these spring favorites are a great excuse to take a three-day weekend.
Day 1: Friday
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Ditch work at noon and head to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. To get there, take MT 2 from Three Forks and head west along the Jefferson River. Claim a campsite as soon as you roll in so you don’t get scooped while you're out riding.
If you don’t have your trail-climbing legs yet, ride the park-entrance road up to the visitor center and your choice of two single-track descents. Option one is a steep, bomber trail that leaves from the southwest corner of the parking lot. It is a bit loose, and the steepness will demand your attention. Head down the canyon trending left and all too quickly you are back at the campground.
Now it’s time to head back up the road for descent option two. This trail leaves from the southeast corner of the Caverns parking lot. Tight switchbacks and a very narrow trail drop you to the northeast and through an old stone tunnel under the main road. Switchback up, but stay right. You'll top out on a small saddle before another swooping descent back to the campground. A lack of focus on either of these trails will deposit you in prickly-pear hell, so keep it together. Mountain biking is gaining popularity in the park, and showing respect for other trail users will help ensure that we stay in good graces.
Day 2: Saturday
Toll House Canyon to Beaver Ponds Loop
Pack up in the morning and go west on MT 2 toward Butte via Pipestone Pass. There is a turnout about a mile west of the pass at a funky collection of fake plants in a white planter. Saddle up and grind back toward the pass and a small turnout on the right just before the top, which is the start of the Pipestone CDT (Continental Divide Trail). From the turnout, climb for three miles and turn left at the junction with Toll Canyon. Descend back to MT 2. Don’t think of stopping here, this is only half of today’s ride!
Back at MT 2, turn left toward Pipestone Pass again. Now, find the entrance on the north side of MT 2 for the start of the Beaver Ponds trail. Climb steeply from the road and turn right after the fence. From here you enter a fragrant pine forest interspersed with granite boulders. Weave through this challenge and turn left at the tree with two red paint markers. Check your clips, then let it rip down to the Beaver Pond and a buff downhill section that deposits you right at your car.
Now, load the roof rack and head to Helena. Your destination is Forest Service land up Grizzly Gulch and past the hidden burg of Park City. You can also take the scenic drive several miles out to Park Lake, just be sure to leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.
Day 3: Sunday
Wakina Sky to Mt. Helena Ridge
In the morning drive back down to Grizzly Gulch and park at the major trailhead on the left, just after the signed Wakina Sky Road. This is Dump Gulch and the end of today’s ride.
Hop on and pedal back to Wakina Sky Road, turn left, and spin 1.5 miles to where the road switches back to the left. Keep straight here and enter the forest at the rusty old gate. Staying low and right in the bottom of the drainage provides a somewhat ledgy ascent to a large meadow. To avoid the rocky section in the drainage, you can stay high and left from the gate to find a superb, pine-needle-covered single-track that climbs to the same meadow.
At the meadow, take the first hard right and continue toward the forest. Once you enter the trees, the cover is thick and it cools off for the soft, mile-long single-track descent and a glimpse of the goods to come. Arrive back at Grizzly Gulch, take a left, and grind up the gravel back toward the fork at Park City. Stay right.
Once at the Mt. Helena Ridge trailhead, climb long switchbacks toward the ridge proper. During May, the Arrowleaf Balsamroot is ablaze with bright yellow flowers along the entire ride. Follow the perfect grade to a short, steep section near the top. Cross the ridge and begin the descent.
If Ulr, the Norse god of snow, were a mountain biker, he would have created this trail at the same time he gave Bridger Bowl its cold smoke. The next six miles are “smile-so-hard-your-face-hurts” riding. You can hammer it or nearly coast the whole way. The guidebook has you exit the ridge at Show Me the Horse junction, but why stop there? Stay on the main ridge for another 1.5 miles and turn hard right down Dump Gulch for the last bit of downhill euphoria right back to your car.
Now it’s time to wipe those grimy speed-tears from your eyes and stop at the Blackfoot River Brewing Company to rehydrate. On the way back to Bozeman via MT 69, Boulder Hot Springs Inn is the perfect ending to the weekend.
These are great early season rides but please do not attempt them if the trails are wet. Pipestone Pass in particular can hold melting snow well into spring. Mountain biking on muddy trails causes erosion and increases our impact and could lead to limited access in the future. Lastly, be courteous and promote good will among all trail users. For more info on trail etiquette, visit imba.com and check out Rules of the Trail.