Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => Routes => Topic started by: DonKahn1 on March 22, 2021, 03:51:29 pm

 
Title: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: DonKahn1 on March 22, 2021, 03:51:29 pm
I am planning on riding the northern Tier to the west coast from east to west this summer.  I am wondering about the route through Montana.  It appears from most blogs that cyclists use the US2 route from eastern Montana to Glacier.  I am planning on going on the Montana route #200 through Jordan, Lewistown, Great Falls, etc.  Any information on this route out there?
Thanks
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: jamawani on March 22, 2021, 06:35:59 pm
Hey Don -

I used to teach at a small college in eastern Montana.
Been living in Wyoming or Montana since 1990.

You don't say much about your experience or where you're from.
It matters - - because the distances in eastern Montana are immense.
Especially on a bicycle, especially if you are from Boston or Atlanta.

Hwy 200 is much more scenic than US 2 with much less traffic.
Really, it will feel practically empty at times.
Which means there are far fewer services.
Carry lots of water - ride early to avoid the heat of the day.
Also, prevailing winds tend to be westerly - be forewarned.
An early start also helps you get done before strong afternoon winds.

Fort Benton is lovely, historic, with a great riverfront.
Some goodly hills on Hwys 81 & 82.
Then you have to head north to Chester on US 2 to do all pavement.

Unless you really want to go thru Great Falls, I suggest Fort Benton.
Great Falls has nice bike trails along the river, but is pretty busy.
And the highways leading into town are quite busy.
(There are a couple of good bike shops, though.)

However, US 89 via Choteau has amazing Front Range views.
Plus, Choteau has great camping in town at their park.

Warning!
I am talking with the Glacier N.P admin about eastside camping for cyclists.
The park has closed the eastside campgrounds on Gin to the Sun Road.
Nearby private campgrounds ($50+) are booked all summer.
So, it is practically impossible to do Going to the Sun by bicycle.
But you have to do it - - regardless.

I think I may be able to persuade them to make some cyclist accomodations.

<<<>>>

PS - Now that the Bakken play in North Dakota has peteredout,
I would suggest Hwy 200 in western North Dakota.
Fort Mandan is nice, but the Knife River Villages are truly amazing.
Then you can hit Teddy Roosevelt N.P. (North Unit)
And exit by the back gate via Hwy 68 to Sidney, Montana.


Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: DonKahn1 on March 23, 2021, 11:10:06 am
Thanks for your response Jamawani.  Great information on that route through Montana.  I am meeting up with another cyclist in Great Falls, so I will probably take the Hwy 200 route to there.  I had heard the news about the campgrounds being closed on the east side of Glacier, and that does put a crimp on things!  Hopefully there will be more news on the Going to the Sun Hwy by the time I get out there in late June.  Thanks again for all the information
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: jamawani on March 23, 2021, 01:18:27 pm
How late is "late June"?

https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/news/upload/Logan-Pass-Open-Close-Dates_Press-Kit_10-21-20-2.pdf

East of G.F. I strongly suggest riding via Belt and Hwys 331 & 228.
Very scenic and you miss a good deal of traffic until just before the air force base.

There is a service road running along the west side of I-15 from G.F. to Vaughn.
Nothing to write home to Mom about, but beats riding on the interstate.

Just as you head north from Fairfield on US 89 you have the first kick-ass views of the Rockies.
You are on a bluff overlooking the Freezeout Lakes - give yourself time to enjoy.
Then you have great mountain views all the way to Glacier on US 89.

One option for Glacier to to ride north from Browning to Babb and then into Many Glacier.
Many Glacier has the ginest hiking the in the park, hiker/biker camping, campstore, showers, cafe.
It's 14 miles mostly downhill miles from Many Glacier to Babb, then 9 miles on US 89 to St Mary.

Plus, there is major construction on the Many Glacier Road with significant delays and gravel.
Could they make it any harder on cyclists??

I don't know what the night construction schedule will be - it's not posted.
However, if you leave at 4:00a - bare twilight  - with flashers you should get to Babb by dawn.
Still riding with flashers on US 89, you would get to St. Mary by 6:00a.
That would allow you to ride Going to the Sun up to Logan Pass before it gets too busy.
Then spend the day hiking on Highline Traill. (Unless you have acrophobia)

Pic - Lake Josephine at Many Glacier





Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: driftlessregion on April 02, 2021, 01:09:25 pm
It is not true that all campgrounds east of GTSR are full. Use the telephone! I just made reservations in St Mary at two campgrounds.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: DonKahn1 on April 02, 2021, 01:29:14 pm
Thanks for the reply about availability of campgrounds in St. Mary.  Of course being on bicycle, and it not being practical to make reservations so far in advance, I will have to play it by ear as I get closer to Glacier.  Thanks again.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: jamawani on April 02, 2021, 02:50:23 pm
It is not true that all campgrounds east of GTSR are full. Use the telephone! I just made reservations in St Mary at two campgrounds.

When I went online a week ago, the main campgrounds indicated they were booked solid.
I rarely use the phone for anything other than last-minute reservations, but it appears to be an option.
Then again, you could also get a reply like, "We only go thru our website."
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: Iowagriz on April 02, 2021, 03:05:49 pm
Lots of changing dynamics for Glacier this summer. East side (Blackfoot reservation) recently announced they will open for the summer. They closed access via their land last summer. This could easily change again.

Also, Glacier just announced an entrance reservation system. Not sure if this impacts bicycles, but I'd think so.

Recent article can be found on Flatheadbeacon.com

Sent from my SM-N975U using Tapatalk

Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: jamawani on April 02, 2021, 04:40:53 pm
Glacier's reservation system doesn't apply to cyclists and pedestrians entering the park.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: DonKahn1 on April 02, 2021, 06:02:59 pm
Good to know about the reservation system not applying to bicyclists.  Who knows, maybe that will make for less vehicle traffic on the Going to the Sun Road
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: jamawani on April 02, 2021, 08:18:04 pm
I was at the Zoom meeting when they were discussing the reservation system.
The number of reservations are such that it will only take the extreme peaks off.
Park officials state that traffic will still be heavy - especially  in the middle of the day.

Unfortunately, it will push some traffic before 6:00a and after 5:00p.
These are, traditionally, the best cycling times because most cars are off the road.
I've biked at dawn from Rising Sun to Logan Pass with only a few cars.
5:30 June; 5:45 early July is the best time to start.
Hopefully the additional traffic will be minimal.

PS - I will contact them again about hiker/biker camping on the east side.
You know, I am a stinker when it comes to bike access.  I say something like,
"You complain about all the cars and then you don't do anything for cyclists."
I won't win the Miss Congeniality award.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: driftlessregion on April 03, 2021, 08:15:52 pm
It is going to be tough this year for sure, especially for the campgrounds that don't have reservable sites such as the USFS sites. No private campground has ever said to use only the website and have been very cordial over the phone. A couple of campgrounds aren't answering the phone yet. I'm on a 12 day tour and dates are not flexible.  Montana state parks do not turn away cyclists even if campground is full. Wisconsin and Michigan are the same and we've had to remind the staff of this fact more than once.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: jamawani on April 04, 2021, 12:55:32 am
Montana state parks do not turn away cyclists even if campground is full.

It depends.
It depends on whether or not the campground hosts are informed of the policy.
Hopefully, our experience in 2019 and my letter to Montana State Parks will help in this area.

My companion and I got in fairly late on a very hot day - we didn't cycle in the middle of the day.
The campground host was from Texas with an oversized Texas ego to boot.
He said that the campground was full and we needed to leave the park immediately.
When I mentioned MSP policy he became irate and threatened to call the county sheriff.
His wife was standing 3 feet behind him and was totally mortified.
A nearby family came over and said they would be glad to share their site.
The Texas guy said that was against the rules, at first. His wife talked him down.

Unfortunately, this is what sometimes happens - I've toured for 30 years.
There have been hiker/biker sites given to car campers.
The loop with hiker/biker sites closed, etc., etc.
It doesn't happen often - but it can, because hosts often do not know.

I got an apology from Montana State Parks -
But it was a degrading and humiliating experience.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: driftlessregion on April 07, 2021, 11:33:11 am
I guess I'll carry a copy of an email I got from the supervising ranger that confirms the policy. In most state parks, it is a staff person in a gate house that we deal with not a host so that is different.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: HikeBikeCook on April 07, 2021, 11:37:36 am
On the ACA Website, I think where the routes are listed, is a place to print the No-Turn Away Policies for the states that have them.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: EmilyG on April 14, 2021, 01:32:28 am
Wanted to share that in ND, many if not most small towns have city parks that you can often camp in for free. Always good to check in with the police department, or at the local diner to find out protocols. Many of the tiny towns also have swimming pools, so paying to swim gets you a shower!  Small towns in Montana also often have places you can camp, if you eat in a local establishment and talk to folks, you'll find them.     Looking at it from East to West, our lodging was:   Free city park in Glendive, RV park in Circle, Free city park in Jordan, Free park in Winnett (no bathroom after pool closed), Warmshowers in Lewistown, free park in Geraldine, campground in Fort Benton, and RV park in Great Falls. 

There are two rest areas on the route through MT, both with world-class, amazing facilities, that people have reported camping at (overnight parking is allowed). One in Mosby, and one between Circle and Brockaway, called the Flowing Wells Rest Area.   We stopped at both but didn't camp.  Best water in Montana at the rest stops!

We rode the route from West to East in 2018, so not sure how relevant our experience is.  Did the Lewis & Clark section from Lolo Pass to Missoula and around to Great Falls through Augusta, so that section isn't relevant to you, but then we went from Great Falls to Fort Benton, through Geraldine and down to Lewistown (still on L&C route). This was one of our favorite bits in Montana.  From Lewistown, we were on the Northern Tier.  Sweet little town park in Geraldine where we stayed for free.  Be prepared that MT-200 has some rough spots where the road has so many frost cracks that you feel like you are riding on a railroad track.   It is numbing.      I echo other posts talking about the long sections between services on 200, especially from Lewistown to Glendive, and I worry about some of the tiny places, after the pandemic year--did they survive?.  Additionally, we hit numerous severe thunderstorms during our crossing of Montana.  I ended up making a list of ALL service stops across MT, and we would hop from one to the next, check the weather, and act accordingly.  After getting caught in one especially bad lightening storm, we adopted the mantra "check the weather and believe it."   People drive fast (we joked that the 70 mph meant that was the LOWER speed limit...), but are super friendly. 
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: DonKahn1 on April 14, 2021, 08:35:38 am
Thanks for all the helpful information Emily.  I am planning on leaving MN in mid May and heading west, roughly following the Northern Tier route.  If time permits, I will ride the Pacific coast route to around Portland, and work my way back home via Grand Tetons, Black Hills, etc.  I am meeting someone in Great Falls on the way out, hence the 200 route through Montana.  Just curious if you followed the ACA route through North Dakota.  Thanks again for all the information
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: EmilyG on April 14, 2021, 09:19:24 am
Sounds like a grand adventure!
Yes, we followed the ACA route through ND, with a slight detour on the eastern border. We wanted to go through the Sheyenne National Grasslands, and jigged South to do that, and navigated our way through small towns of Colfax and Abercrombie and back to the route in MN at Fergus Falls.

ND was one of our favorite states for the incredibly kind/polite drivers, the tiny towns with incredibly kind/polite people, and the pristine prairie potholes with more waterfowl than you can imagine.   Lots of wind (In ND, the question isn't "will there be wind today" but "which way is the wind howling from today?).  There was just something about it that was truly wonderful.  I read a lot of stories about how people skip over ND, or think it is the worst state ever.   For us, it was truly special. Now, truthfully, part of that had to do with how difficult our journey across MT was!

If you want to read about our trip, from west to east, just to see the terrain and what it was like, this is our travel journal:  http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/bend2boston
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: DonKahn1 on April 14, 2021, 11:43:55 am
Thanks for the link to the blog Emily.  I look forward to reading it, and am sure I will probably have more questions about your trip!
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: BikeliciousBabe on April 14, 2021, 02:03:30 pm
Sounds like a grand adventure!
Yes, we followed the ACA route through ND, with a slight detour on the eastern border. We wanted to go through the Sheyenne National Grasslands, and jigged South to do that, and navigated our way through small towns of Colfax and Abercrombie and back to the route in MN at Fergus Falls.

ND was one of our favorite states for the incredibly kind/polite drivers, the tiny towns with incredibly kind/polite people, and the pristine prairie potholes with more waterfowl than you can imagine.   Lots of wind (In ND, the question isn't "will there be wind today" but "which way is the wind howling from today?).  There was just something about it that was truly wonderful.  I read a lot of stories about how people skip over ND, or think it is the worst state ever.   For us, it was truly special. Now, truthfully, part of that had to do with how difficult our journey across MT was!

If you want to read about our trip, from west to east, just to see the terrain and what it was like, this is our travel journal:  http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/bend2boston

I did the entire NT back in '99. In '06 or '07 I went back for CANDISC, which was a supported, one-week loop tour from/to Garrison. Really liked riding in the state for the reasons you mention. And there sure was wind. One memorable day in '99 we had a strong tail wind heading towards Page except when we had to turn right a couple of time. When that happened, we had to lean sideways to stay upright.

During CANDISC we left the lunch stop town one day and had 18 gently rolling miles until the next rest stop. During that stretch there was a woman with her daughter parked by the side of the road with water and Gatorade for riders. I and my friend pulled up and asked how far until the next stop. She told us 9 miles. I couldn't believe we had only come 9 miles since lunch. "I feel like we've been riding for an hour." I said. My firend looked at her watch and said "We have been riding for an hour." Remember that we were riding road bikes wth no gear. Going down one gentle descent I was in a tuck but only able to hit 12 mph coasting due to a massive headwind.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: EmilyG on April 21, 2021, 09:42:11 pm

I did the entire NT back in '99. In '06 or '07 I went back for CANDISC, which was a supported, one-week loop tour from/to Garrison. Really liked riding in the state for the reasons you mention. And there sure was wind. One memorable day in '99 we had a strong tail wind heading towards Page except when we had to turn right a couple of time. When that happened, we had to lean sideways to stay upright.

During CANDISC we left the lunch stop town one day and had 18 gently rolling miles until the next rest stop. During that stretch there was a woman with her daughter parked by the side of the road with water and Gatorade for riders. I and my friend pulled up and asked how far until the next stop. She told us 9 miles. I couldn't believe we had only come 9 miles since lunch. "I feel like we've been riding for an hour." I said. My firend looked at her watch and said "We have been riding for an hour." Remember that we were riding road bikes wth no gear. Going down one gentle descent I was in a tuck but only able to hit 12 mph coasting due to a massive headwind.
[/quote]

So glad someone else enjoyed ND, wind and all!  In North Dakota we decided that one day, when we are retired and don't have anywhere we need to be, we want to plunk ourselves down in the middle of somewhere, and proceed with a "tailwind tour."  Each morning, we wake up, and find out what direction the wind is blowing towards, and then we'd ride in that direction.  See where the wind takes us.  maybe we'd go back and forth across a state, or maybe we'd eventually go everywhere. 
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: BikeliciousBabe on April 22, 2021, 01:18:49 pm
Hopefully, the wind would blow you to Strasburg, where you can visit the childhood home of Lawrence Welk. CANDISC stayed in town one night so went to check out the place that afternoon. Got a tour from a niece of his and saw the very bed in which he was born. The entertainment that night was a locally famous young girl who sang and yodeled. Earlier in the trip we spent the night at the fairgrounds in Wishek. The entertainment that night was a polka band. Lots of locals came out to hear them play. Because we rode through the "Germans from Russia" area, a couple of nights we were served some old world dinners by local auxiliary groups. Wishek is known for its sausage. It was sort of like kielbasa, only better. We had it with dinner and then again with breakfast the next morning. The first rest stop on the first day out of Garrison (the self-proclaimed walleye capitol of the world), was in the basement of a church while service was taking place upstairs. The "church ladies" had made all sorts of baked good and home made lemonade.
Title: Re: Northern Tier through Montana
Post by: BeauGray on June 08, 2022, 04:08:49 pm
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