Author Topic: Missoula to Casper-WY  (Read 6399 times)

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Offline mathieu

Missoula to Casper-WY
« on: July 28, 2023, 01:25:23 pm »
I am planning to ride from Seattle to Omaha following roughly the Great American Rail Trail. From Seattle to Missoula the route is fairly obvious and also from Casper-WY to Omaha-NE. The main puzzle is how to go from Missoula to Casper. Since there is virtually no existing rail trail in Wyoming, I feel free to cross that state in whatever direction that suits me best.
I plan to stay overnight in motels and only carry a tent and sleeping bag for emergencies. My preferred daily distance is 60 miles. I'll use a mountainbike with rear panniers.

From studying the map I see roughly 3 options, each having some major downsides :
(1) Missoula to Jeffrey City on the TransAm;  last stage from Jeffrey City to Casper (100 mi) ;
(2) Missoula to Butte - Bozeman - Gardiner - east on I-14 to Greybull - south on I-20 to Shoshoni ; last stage from Shoshoni to Casper (110 mi ; no services) ;
(3) Missoula to Butte - east on I-90 to Bozeman - Billings - Buffalo ; south on I-25 to Casper ; last stage from Kaycee to Casper (70 mi).
Obviously, I am not sticking to an Interstate if there is a fair country road roughly parallel. I am not afraid to ride on roads with narrow or no shoulders.

I am glad to hear your comments and recommendations on these options.

Offline BillBekay

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2023, 11:51:21 am »
A beautiful route that I would also like to cycle once (coast to coast). Indeed, there is still a piece missing. I've been puzzling for the Missoula - Valentine part. The map below is the part up to Hay Springs. After that I see the Cowboy Trail on the map as far as Norfolk, but I don't know if it is passable everywhere. On YouTube there is a report from Roland & Julianna and they cycled coast to coast, mainly on old railways. They also ran into the problem after Missoula and took the Lewis and Clark Trail. They didn't like that, cars often passed them close and at high speed. Incidentally, it was very hot (100 degrees Fahrenheit).
« Last Edit: July 29, 2023, 04:21:33 pm by BillBekay »

Offline jamawani

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2023, 01:07:26 pm »
Matt -

You don't indicate when you might be doing this. Makes a big difference.
Also, do you want the very, very shortest route or do you squiggle?
Southern Montana and Wyoming have a short cycling season.
Esp. if you don't have camping gear and need to ride from motel to motel.

None of the routes you have indicated are all that great.
Also, not sure how much dirt you wish to do - since you did the GDMBR.
Have you done the TransAm already? Is Casper an essential endpoint.
US 20/26 ain't all that special - lots of traffic & trucks, no scenery, but with shoulders.

Have you considered riding across northern Wyoming to the Black Hills in S. Dakota -
Then taking the Mickelson Trail thru the Black down almost to Nebraska?
Word of warning - the Cowboy Trail in much of Nebraska is mega sand.

Offline jamawani

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2023, 01:12:49 pm »
PS -

You confuse the Interstate Highway system with the U.S. highway system.
The U.S. highways are written as "US 20" & "US 14" - Interstates are "I-25".
U.S. highways were established in 1926 as the first nationwide systems.
The Interstates were proposed in 1956.
Usually U.S. highways have less traffic, but not always.

I-14 and I-20 are in Texas.
Tot ziens!

Offline mathieu

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2023, 05:07:43 pm »
Thanks for the comment. The map you added looks very much like the TransAm route from Missoula to Muddy Gap, where the TransAm continues south to Rawlins and the blue line goes east to Alcova / Casper. This is my option #1. I cycled the TransAm east to west in 2009, so I know this route quite well. I prefer to explore new areas, but all things considered this might be the best choice.

Yes, I have also heard that some rail-trails in Nebraska are not in good riding condition. I won't stick to them if it becomes tediously slow. The same is true for the John Wayne rail-trail in eastern Washington. I have seen small parts of it when cycling south-north in that state near Cheney. It looked very much like a loose coarse vulcanic sand, which is no fun to ride. Where possible I will skip those trail parts.

I can't resist to make a comment on the Youtube video clip from Roland and Julianne, about the dangerous narrow shoulders in Montana that led them to quit cycling there. Maybe it's my European view, but I think it is mostly their own fault. By sticking right on the narrow shoulder or the white line, you put yourself on an edge. You practically invite cars to pass narrowly without reducing speed or changing their line. On those kind of roads I always take a line about 2 ft left the white line. In that way you force cars coming from behind to change their line, or to slow down if there isn't enough room to pass. You keep the initiative to give way. I believe this is a fair interpretation of sharing the road.
I have done some 7 cross-country routes in the US, totalling more than one year of daily cycling, so this is not a naive theory. It works.   
« Last Edit: July 30, 2023, 09:04:27 am by mathieu »

Offline mathieu

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2023, 06:34:41 pm »
@ jamawani

John, thanks for commenting, because you are probably the most experienced person on this forum when it comes to cycling the States west of the Mississippi/Missouri. I rode from Washington-DC on the GART route last year but quit in Omaha because of the excessive heat in the Midwest in June. I intend to fly to Seattle medio August and start from there because of the temperature statistics and the prevailing wind directions. Casper is not an endpoint, but a town that links fairly straightforward to the dots on the GART map from Omaha. From Seattle to Missoula I counted about 12 stages, so I may get there in the second week of September.

West of Casper, the GART map is rather sketchy. I had my option #2 prepared for last year as GPS tracks, but feared the long and empty road between Casper en Shoshoni and the large elevation gains between Cody and Cooke City in the Yellowstone Park. Also the roads in Yellowstone were a concern. That's why I came up with options #1 and #3. I have cycled the TransAm in 2009 and know those roads fairly well. East of Butte-MT is new territory for me.

I am not that strong anymore, approaching 75 yrs, so I prefer the comfort of a motel bed, shower and food service instead of camping. That obviously rules out long remote stages. I don't mind dirt roads if they have a good surface. I am very much looking forward to the Hiawatha bike trail between Idaho and Montana, although it is a slight detour.

Sorry for messing up the Interstate Highway system and the US highway system. I hope it is clear which options I described.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2023, 08:13:08 am »
If you can pull off 75 miles, this is a nice route from Missoula to Philipsburg:

There is a motel and several places to eat in P'Burg. Decent chance of seeing a moose on Rock Creek Road. The first 10 miles are paved.  Next 30 to the climb are dirt.  Surface was good last time I was there in 2016.

From there, MT 1 will take you to Anaconda, and you can get to Butte from Anaconda without getting on the Interstate.

Also, the Hiawatha is a great ride, but you will feel the grade going up.  That was a tough piece of railroad.  When you get to the eastern end of the trail at East Portal, the former railroad right-of-way becomes the Olympia Trail.  You can ride that all the way to St. Regis.  You'll have to research surface conditions yourself.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2023, 08:17:21 am by BikeliciousBabe »

Offline jamawani

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2023, 11:16:15 am »
Hi Matt -

Well, I had a long post I was going to finish up today - -
And I accidentally deleted it. Meh.

First, I'm no fan of the Great American Rail Trail.
I see it largely as a promotion piece for Rails-to-trails.
Through nearly all of Wyoming and most of Montana it is imaginary.
Nor does it make much sense since there are excellent paved roads -
and even better forest roads galore.
And it is - what word should I use - arrogant? -
to draw a line through Yellowstone National Park
with the false implication that it is somehow a planned route.

The stretch just north of Gardiner is an example.
A study is being done to revive a rail route abandoned 70 years ago.
Nearly all of the right-of-way has reverted back to private owners.
Not only is it virtually impossible, it would also be prohibitively expensive.
Meanwhile, there is the practically empty and gorgeous East River Road.


If you've already done the TransAm, why not head thru Butte?
Butte has an amazing history - one of the greatest cities of the West.
It's seen some hard times since it was the biggest city between Chicago and Seattle.
But ya gotta love it.

Hwy 1 from Drummond thru Phillipsburg to Anaconda is a great ride.
The Rock Creek route suggested above has I-90 riding and quite a few miles of uphill gravel.
I suggest heading due east out of Missoula to Ovando then on an empty small road south to Drummond.

If you want to cut off the big Ovando loop,
you can cut over the Garnet Mountains thru the ghost town of Garnet.  Tough but doable.
Saves 30 miles.

From Butte, you may wish to take old roads to Three Forks -
Then some busier possibilities thru Bozeman to Livingston.
THEN - - you can take the East River Road south to Yellowstone.

Best - Jama

Offline mathieu

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2023, 12:26:22 pm »
@ BikeliciousBabe
Thanks! I missed that backcountry road. Last year's plan for that section was to go from Anaconda to Hamilton over the Skalkaho Pass (2211 m). Your route is shorter, more direct and, coming from the west, has less elevation gain. I will seriously consider that. A day of 75 miles might be at my limit, but there is enough time to find that out in advance.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2023, 12:35:34 pm by mathieu »

Offline mathieu

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2023, 01:38:00 pm »
Hi Jama,
Thanks for your suggestions. Especially where the GART maps have so many blanks, I take it as license for following my preferences. I visited Butte twice on the Great Divide route. It's a nice place to have a rest.
The road from Philipsburg over Garnet ghosttown to Missoula was in my gpx-files last year. Now the Rock Creek route suggested by BikeliciousBabe seems preferable to me.

I found your journal C2C from Westport to Sandy Hook on CrazyGuy. The days in eastern Montana, Wyoming will certainly give me inspiration to further explore option#3 and possibly rethink my route through Nebraska.

Offline BillBekay

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2023, 08:19:20 am »
Hi Jama, regarding the Missoula to Butte stage via Ovando and Phillipsburg: immediately after leaving Missoula, the Kim Williams Trail looks like a nice route. After that it seems possible to cycle directly along the Blackfoot River (the north bank, Lolo National Forest). And once back on the highway after 5 miles of biking, turn left along the Blackfoot River (there are some camping areas like Thibodeau Campground). With this detour you avoid a piece of MT-200 which seems quite a busy road (and also it goes up). Finally, you could also cycle via the Sunset Hill Road, but that is a bigger detour than the above three options. Do you know if these alternatives are useable?
« Last Edit: August 02, 2023, 01:22:56 pm by BillBekay »

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2023, 09:15:21 am »
I agree about Butte.  Have stayed there 3 times during tours.  Always at the motor lodge portion of the Hotel Finlen.  Reserve a room on the first floor and you can roll your bike right into the room.  And if you are really hungry, I know a place to get a good steak within walking distance of the hotel.

Yes. Rock Creek Rd. in that direction is a net elevation gain, but it's' gradual.  Once you turn off for P'Burg, there is a legitimate climb, but if your experience ends up like the two I had, you''ll have a decent tailwind up, and then a nice descent to town. And P'Burg up to Georgetown Lake is going to involve some climbing before the long descent towards Anaconda, so you might as well get some work in.

P'Burg itself is a nice town.  Seems to be prosperous.  The woman who ran the motel/campground on W. Broadway all 3 times I was there was a character, but in a good way. (I would book ahead of time.) Last time I was there camping (2016) I crossed paths with ACA's Cycle Montana tour.

Send me a PM is you want my route from Anaconda to Butte that avoids the Interstate.  There has been some paved trail development over the years, but it does not show on Google Maps.  I ran into a local who showed me the way to go.

Offline mathieu

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2023, 05:03:58 pm »
@ BikeliciousBabe
The nice route from Missoula to Philipsburg that you suggested uses a short section, about 5 mi, of US-12 between Clinton and the start of the Rock Creek road. Are cyclists allowed on US-12 ?

Offline jamawani

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #13 on: August 03, 2023, 05:21:05 pm »
It's 22 miles from downtown Missoula (ACA) to Rock Creek Rd.
Nearly all of it is meh - and some super-meh. The 5 miles on I-90.
It's legal to ride on the interstate and there is a wide shoulder.
You have to watch carefully because of wire debris that can cause flats.

I-90 was built on top of US 10 in many parts of Montana.
Sometimes you still have the old highway - Old US 10 - other time not.
On the map link I provide - Old US 10 continues past MP 17 -
But it dead ends and you would have to hoist your bike over the interstate fence -
then dash across the westbound lanes to the other side.
All for 3 extra miles of service road riding.

BTW - most of the time the service road is right up against the interstate.
So, like I said, it's pretty meh riding.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Missoula to Casper-WY
« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2023, 01:52:29 pm »
Sometimes you have to ride "Meh" to get to "Wow!".  And for part of the way between Clinton and Bonner Jct. there is a rec. path that had a good surface, at least back in 2016.