Tantrum-Proof Mountain Biking

“I hate switchbacks!” It’s a vehement statement and a red flag that can make a dad scramble for coaching strategies to prevent escalation to “I hate this ride” or even “I hate mountain biking.” 

Creating a positive experience with a bit of challenge and a sense of accomplishment are key goals for outings with kids, but where should you go when your kid is ready to ride something more than the Main Street to the Mountains trails? Bozeman Creek is an obvious next step for a bigger physical challenge that gets you into the mountains, but it’s crowded, lacks variety, and will get old pretty quickly. Riding the Bracket Creek road toward Ross Peak is another decent option. But neither is singletrack.

The bottom line is that it’s time to head west—just a little over an hour’s drive—because nothing beats the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) at the top of Route 2 between Whitehall and Butte. 

For a fit 10-year-old with a decent bike (reliable shifting, good breaks and tires, and a low “granny gear”), the first four miles of the CDT north of Route 2 are just right. Ride the gradual 3.4-mile climb and short, steep downhill to the junction with the “Beaver Ponds” trail, then watch for owls as you climb up to a spectacular high point where the trail weaves through a granite wonderland of giant boulders, slabs, and spires. The terrain is park-like, with sparse trees and a flat sandy surface between the rocks—perfect for stashing the bikes and exploring. 

If your young biker lacks motivation, consider leaving Beaver Ponds for another day to make sure you end on a positive note—this trail will dump you back on Route 2, with an uphill climb beside speeding traffic to get back to the car.