Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, Route of the Hiawatha honored

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Bicyclists enjoy a ride on the Route of the Hiawatha in September. The popular bike route, along with Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, has been named the Rail-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

Two popular biking trails in North Idaho have been named to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame.

The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha were both honored recently.

"We've had some rigorous debates here in the national office to narrow down our choices to the first 25 Hall of Fame inductees," said Karl Wirsing, director of Communications with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "It's no easy task because there are countless deserving trails around the country."

The 15-mile Hiawatha and the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes were the only Idaho trails to be selected by the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

"We are lucky to have two really great bike trails in such close proximity to Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, Spokane and Missoula," said Ric Clarke, Route of the Hiawatha trail supervisor. "What's even more unique is the fact that the two trails are so close to each other. More and more people are figuring out that they can connect the two for a single, sensational riding experience."

The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes is managed by The Tribe and the state of Idaho.

"It is one of the best kept secrets in northern Idaho," said Coeur d'Alene Tribe Chairman Chief Allan. "It showcases our homeland."

Recent trail developments are making it possible to ride between and beyond these two pathways, setting up the potential for an unprecedented trail loop across North Idaho and parts of Montana.

The paved Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes begins in Plummer at the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's Veterans Memorial Park, a few miles shy of the Washington border, and heads northeast along Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Coeur d'Alene River until Mullan, scratching at the Montana state line. Mullan used to be the end of the road, so to speak.

But the nonprofit Friends of the Coeur d'Alene Trails has helped extend the pathway from Mullan roughly 11 miles to Lookout Pass on the Idaho-Montana border, said Leo Hennessy, non-motorized trails coordinator for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

The extension is known as the NorPac Trail and it uses a Northern Pacific right of way that has become an open Forest Service road. It is marked and signed as a trail, with a packed-gravel surface. People can still drive on it, often to access other nearby hiking trails in the Bitterroots.

To reach the NorPac Trail from the eastern end of the Coeur d'Alenes, users can follow signs to take a paved, low-traffic road for about three miles to detour around the Lucky Friday mine, which still operates in Mullan along the rail corridor.

At the three-mile mark, there is railroad grade, which begins with a climb of nearly 1,500 feet up to Lookout Pass, elevation 4,680 feet, at the Montana state line.

"It's a major grade," said Hennessy. "You'll be crankin' in low gear at times."

The Hiawatha was also named the No. 1 Rail to Trail in the nation earlier this year by USA Today.

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