Piping Hot

Springtime biking at Pipestone.

Distance: 9.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,280 feet
Time: 2 hours for described route
Route: Loop
Season Begins: April
Nearest Town: Whitehall
Hot Tip: Hand signals motorized folks use: when passing others head on, hold up as many fingers as there are riders behind you. Hold up a closed fist if nobody is behind you.
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Rider Ability: Intermediate

Pipestone is a designated motorized OHV area where mountain bikers go early-season to start the year’s dirt riding. In a bad snow year, the trails might be dry in late February or early March. Late March to May is prime Pipestone season. The summer here is hot, with plenty of motorized users, so bikers migrate to other areas by June. On weekends there are lots of people, but on a weekday you might only see a few others.

There are lots of unofficial trails. We’ve tried to make the Pipestone map as accurate as possible, but there will always be more rides. The nice thing about being up in Pipestone’s high elevations, north of the national-forest boundary, is that all you need to do is head downhill toward the Tobacco Roots if you get disoriented.

This described route is a good introduction to Pipestone. It has varied surfaces, some nice singletrack, and great views of the Tobacco Root and Highland mountains. Climb the main access road up to Pipestone’s upper reaches and then ride on some narrow, poorer-quality dirt roads. Eventually you’ll be on singletrack, crossing the landscape from west to east.

At the end of the singletrack there is some more dirt-road riding, with a fast descent to another singletrack. Take that trail all the way down the Dry Creek draw to where you began. There are many more days of Pipestone riding when you are done with this ride.

The geology of Pipestone is unique to southwest Montana. Read up on some of its obscure rocks here.

Take Pipestone Exit 241 off of I-90. Turn right, then veer left on a dirt road. Drive about two miles next to the interstate. Park on the right just after crossing an abandoned railroad.

0.0: Ride up the main dirt road.

2.4: Turn right on Road 8639. After .25 miles stay straight where Road 8637 goes off to the left.

3.0: Veer left on Road 8635. There will be two other roads that go left to Spire Rock off of this road. Keep right at both.

3.5: Wide turnaround area. The main road goes left through a fence. Keep right. 

3.8: Route splits. Veer left and climb through scenic meadows as the route becomes singletrack, goes through trees, and crosses Hartman Creek. Stay straight where the trail crosses two dirt roads. 

5.2: Trail ends at a dirt road. Turn left, then immediately left again, and continue to the junction of Road 8641. Stay right.

5.6: Turn right at a road junction and descend toward the Tobacco Roots. After 1 mile, veer left on Road 6.

7.0: Turn right onto Trail 9 and descend the Dry Creek draw until you see the railroad on an earthen trestle. Turn right on an ATV trail and climb back to the parking lot.

This trail description was taken from Southern Montana Singletrack by Will Robertson.

Southern Montana Singletrack

Aimed at an audience of intermediate to advanced bikers, Southern Montana Singletrack (Beartooth Publishing, $30) is a nigh-on comprehensive collection of Montana mountain-biking opportunities. The guidebook includes trails from all over Montana: Bozeman, Big Sky, West Yellowstone, Butte; the Tobacco Roots, Gravelly Range, Anaconda Range, Pioneers, Bitterroots, and Beaverhead Mountains. From Livingston to Red Lodge, to Billings and back, this book has it all. Written by folks with a combined 60-plus years of mountain-biking experience, this trail guide is one to keep on your coffee table andin your daypack. Smaller than the first edition, with a user-friendly spiral binding and waterproof pages, Southern Montana Singletrack offers distances, elevation profiles, time estimates, surfaces, difficulties, and the nearest towns for all 75 trails. Each trail also features a map, photos, directions, and helpful notes. If you’re in need of a navigation tool to set you up for a successful season, look no further. —Naomi Ohman