Top of the world 

Hike-a-biking the Whitefish Divide

Page 3 of 3

Fortunately, the calorie-deficit bonk doesn't hit until we reach the roads below, the same roads that will by the end of the day deliver us, filthy and famished, to the steaks and flowing taps of the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge.

But that's still a long way off, and we still have hours astride the divide—the most spectacular stretch of ridgeline yet. Here we find a series of long and faint but rideable stretches linking cairn to cairn, high above a series of blue tarns rippling lightly in the breeze. Snow slivers cling to the scree slopes and hug the shorelines below. With temperatures nearing 70 degrees, gusty winds send a low patchwork of cumulus pillows scudding across the sky.

We begin our final descent just a few miles from the range's southern terminus. With another day (and some food), we could ride all the way to Whitefish. Bob, Matthew and I agree that in our lifetimes of great cycling experiences, this ranks as one of the best.

click to enlarge More comfortable than they look: the rusty beds in an old lookout provide a fine spot to relax and consider the situation. - AARON TEASDALE
  • Aaron Teasdale
  • More comfortable than they look: the rusty beds in an old lookout provide a fine spot to relax and consider the situation.

While the two of them roll away, I take one last look across the mountaintops, the pale blue sky stretching forever on all sides. We'd done it. I'd done it. We'd spent three days up here in the great open, in the land of mountain goats and golden eagles. I blow a kiss into the air and smile. If this is my last mountain bike ride up here, it's a hell of a farewell—85 miles in three glorious days, directly on top of the world.

The Route

Whitefish Divide Trail #26 runs for 40-ish miles along the crest of the Whitefish Range immediately west of Glacier National Park. The best access from the north is Whale Creek, though it is also possible to reach the divide on overgrown trails from Trail Creek. The Glacier View Ranger District map is the best source for studying your options. The trail can be followed south toward Whitefish Mountain, and at trail's end dirt roads will you to Whitefish itself. We exited at Coal Creek Road and looped back to our car near Ninko cabin on Whale Creek. No permits are required, but don't forget the bear spray.

click to enlarge MAP BY JOE WESTON
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