Three for Two
Biking near "Montana's favorite small town."
As the town motto suggests, there’s a lot to love about Three Forks. In spring, biking is high on the list. It used to be your options were limited to a few prime weeks at Lewis & Clark Caverns, but with the addition of Copper City, “Montana’s favorite small town” has enough to entertain for an entire weekend of riding—and depending on the year, you can start as early as March. If you stay where you play, Pipestone is a short drive west on I-90, and there are enough trails there to make a Three Forks mountain-bike weekend worth skipping the drive to Moab.
Shiny As a Penny
The Copper City trail system has substantially expanded what can be responsibly ridden early season. With almost 20 miles of trail completed, the area has options for everything from a quick lap on the way up to Helena, to half-day loops into cactus country. Depending on the year, biking can start in March, and being that the system is on BLM land, camping is an option here as well. There isn’t much water, so bring lots, and even if the days are warm, plan on temps plummeting overnight.
If you’re after technical singletrack, check out the Trident trail. This ridgeline classic traverses Copper City limestone with huge views into the system’s easternmost basin. From the ridge, you can see the Boss Tweed trail connecting to more singletrack to the north, and more than once I’ve been enticed into a longer ride than I’d planned because of Tweed’s tantalizing topography. Once you’re back in the basin, the area feels much bigger and more remote, and the landscape’s features are worlds away from anything you’ll be riding around Bozeman come summer.
No Motor, No Problem
When most people think of Pipestone, they think of dirtbikes and RVs. And while there are a lot of motorized folks out there enjoying the quick-drying trails, there’s also some quality biking and awesome camping. Heading north at the Four Corners Staging Area, there are dozens of excellent campsites and plenty of trails criss-crossing the road. If you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and go with someone who has. I’ve been with folks who have ridden here dozens of times and it still feels like they’re mostly guessing their way around. Several of the trails are prime for shuttling, so get a crew together and take turns lapping the downhill while one person picks everyone up at the bottom.
If you require peace and quiet in the your recreation, avoid Pipestone. As I mentioned, there are a lot of motorized users on bikes and ATVs, but by and large everyone is courteous and respectful of multiple uses. Keep an open mind and you’ll have a blast. (Try dirtbiking for the first time and you might just find yourself composing a Craigslist ad for that full-suspension.)
Tried & True
The last stop on our Three Forks bike tour is Lewis & Clark Caverns, the original early-season biking destination. Again, the trails here can be dry as early as March with the right conditions, but beware that in the shadier draws, things can stay muddy into April. Don’t ride muddy trails, no matter how far you drove to get there. Much like Copper City and Pipestone, the landscape here looks more like Arizona than Montana. Be wary of cactus and snakes, and pack along all the water you’ll need. There isn’t a ton of mileage here, but the state-park campsite does make for a nice overnight, and dinner at Lahood just a few miles down the road can’t be beat.