Red Meadow Pass Loop, Montana

  • Distance

    105 Mi.

    (169 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    80%

  • % Singletrack

    0%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    4

  • % Rideable (time)

    100%

  • Total Ascent

    6,595'

    (2,010 M)
  • High Point

    5,630'

    (1,716 M)

Contributed By

Zach Miller

Zach Miller

Guest Contributor

Zachary thought he’d give up bicycling for running, until a 45-day mosey along the GDMR helped refocus his passion for adventure. Follow along at Zach’s blog.

A lovely weekend dirt wander that takes in Montana's Whitefish Range, set just west of Glacier's staggering peaks and chock-full of dirt roads, singletrack, and stunning views. Named after a classic point along the GDMBR, the route climbs to the 5600' Red Meadow Pass and continues along a vehicle-free dirt road meandering in the laps of giants in Glacier National Park.
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Whitefish, Montana is a town that has emerged from its big timber and railroad history into a hub of adventure. Much of the land surrounding the Flathead Valley is National Forest land and due to its past, the mountainous Flathead National Forest is laced with left-over logging roads and trails in all sorts of conditions.

The ride leaves town and wanders along mostly dirt roads through the Whitefish Range. The opening portion follows the classic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and offers a high chance of seeing other inspiring riders headed southbound from Banff! Along the way, there are options to pedal up to Werner Peak Lookout for a night of 360 views as well as a few singletrack trails paralleling the road.

This corner of Montana is particularly damp, where the most eastern growths of Western Red Cedar forests occur, and large ferns, bear-grass, and alder fill the understory with vibrant greens and reds. The first half of the ride will pass by a few lakes, including the beautiful Red Meadow Lake atop the pass, where swimming in the refreshing and crystalline waters will reinvigorate any rider.

After cresting the pass, the route cuts down into the North Fork Valley with gorgeous mountain views peaking through all the way to Polebridge. This classic Montana “town” sits right on the North Fork of the Flathead River and the border of Glacier National Park.

The next portion of ride cruises through the Inside North Fork Road of Glacier National Park. A few years ago, flooding washed out the road and closed it to vehicles, leaving a 20-mile section of dirt road bliss. The road wanders along the foothills of the massive peaks the Livingston Range, through old-growth forests, regrowing burns, and glacial-fed creeks tinted slightly turquoise and grey with rock-flower.

Connecting from Glacier National Park with brief periods of pavement, the dirt continues in a final push through logging roads above Columbia Falls. Broad views of the Flathead Valley and fast dirt make for a fun finish as the route returns to Whitefish, where fresh beer, ice cream, and greasy food wait to reward satisfied riders.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Upper Whitefish Lake is a beautiful forest-encircled spot that is great for camping, swimming, yoga, and snacking.
  • Red Meadow Lake is also a classic break or overnighting location and is the high point of the route – so enjoy the views.
  • An Old Growth Ponderosa Stand (mile 62) along the Inside North Fork Road is well worth stopping for and taking in these fire-seasoned forest elders.
  • The View of the Flathead Valley along the Shale Road is perfect for pausing to let the ride soak in before returning to civilization.
  • Red Meadow Pass is often not clear of snow until mid-June and sees winter again in mid-October, so plan to ride this one during the summer or early autumn.
  • Weather is quite varied in NW Montana during the summer/fall, so be sure to bring rain gear.
  • Parking is plentiful near the train depot in downtown Whitefish.
  • Bears are prevalent throughout the Whitefish Range and Glacier National Park, so carry bear spray and make some noise around blind corners.
  • Camping at National Forest Sites can be found at Upper Whitefish Lake and Red Meadow Pass, with many other opportunities just off trail while in Flathead National Forest.
  • Mt. Werner Lookout must be booked well ahead of time through the Montana DNRC website and is roughly 5 miles off-route (with lots of climbing) but has incredible views.
  • Polebridge has free camping at the North Fork River access north of town and a hostel as well, if sleeping outside isn’t your thing.
  • Glacier National Park has beautiful developed camping at Bowman Lake (6 miles off-route) as well as campgrounds at Quartz Creek, Logging Creek, Fish Creek, and Apgar.
  • Countless creeks are passed along the route, so bring a couple liters of water and a filter and call it good.
  • Polebridge Mercantile has legendary bear claws and a solid selection of beer, as well as general camp-food supplies.
  • Apgar Village and West Glacier are tourist hotspots in Glacier National Park, and therefore have a few quick restaurants and ice-cream offerings.
  • Celebratory Libations are best found at Bonsai Brewing, a brewery build in a converted house in Whitefish.
  • First-time bikepackers and seasoned vets can enjoy the route.
  • Dirt roads in NW Montana are of the highest adventure quality, where smooth high-speed sections seamlessly flow into washboarded, pot-holed climbs and descents with forested views worth stopping for sprinkled throughout.
  • Variety in the road conditions offer the opportunity to enjoy any bicycle for the ride, whether a light-duty cross bike, a backwoods-ready mountain bike, or even a long-and strong tandem.
  • Singletrack additions, from smooth and flowy developed trail to full-on backcountry bikeschwacking, are aplenty along the route.

Additional Resources

  • Glacier Cyclery is the hub of adventure bicycling in Whitefish and a must-stop shop for more route info, current conditions, local singletrack beta, bike parts, and a good time.
  • A USFS Flathead National Forest Map will serve you best for the route and for further exploration of the Whitefish Range.
  • Glacier National Park requires park fees (~$12/individual) or a national parks pass.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

Tags

  • Graham

    This looks incredible, thanks Zach!
    I noticed that the total mileage is only 105. I know the elevation plays a large part, but would it be feasible to do this loop in two days instead of three?

  • Zachary Miller

    Hey Graham! This could absolutely be done as a pleasant two day ride (and is ridden by some as a lengthy day ride). If going for two days, I’d definitely recommend camping near Polebridge to capitalize on fresh morning bear claws!

  • Darlene Paranaque

    Thanks for the info! Is it necessary to book campsite beforehand?

  • btompkins0112

    Awesome writeup and photos! I noticed in the trail notes that this route is good for a cross bike, so I read that as 40mm tire friendly!?! Correct?

  • Zachary Miller

    Yes indeed! You might have to check your speed on the descent off Red Meadow Pass, but you’ll have no troubles with a 40c-shod cross bike!

  • Zachary Miller

    For the campsites in Glacier National Park, it certainly could be useful to book ahead of time, especially during the high season (June-August). Other than that, they are first come-first served sites!

  • btompkins0112

    Good deal! Thanks!

  • Nico

    Passed through this area just a few weeks back on a section ride of the GDMBR. Beautiful scenery- Red Meadow Lake and the views of west Glacier were a highlight. Lots of Huckleberry patches on the way between Whitefish and Red Meadow Lake. Didn’t make it out to Polebridge but managed to sample their famous baked goods at the Whitefish Farmer’s Market instead- good stuff!

    Ran into a pair of guys doing this loop or a very similar variation as a one-night “credit card” tour on our descent from RML toward Whitefish. They rode from Whitefish to Polebridge via the north route, planned to stay the night at the Polebridge Hostel, and then head back via the south route. Seemed like good fun for a short overnight escape.

    Saw grizz tracks on the way to RML and heard reports of grizz up ahead “just off the road” on the way to Upper Whitefish Lk but never had a run in. They’re definitely in the area though…

  • http://www.bergersride.com bergersride

    The main campgrounds in Glacier NP each have a hiker/ biker site, no reservations, only for thru hikers and touring cyclists.

  • Tony LeBaron

    Thanks for a great route! I rode it this weekend as a quick overnighter. Highlights included Red Meadow Lake, my afternoon bear claw and coffee break in Polebridge, and the bonus singletrack at Swift Creek (highly recommended!). I saw a moose and a black bear and many confused tourists who couldn’t quite grasp the concept of non-motorized travel. There was fresh snow on the high peaks in the park!

    Two comments:
    -The Park Service has moved the southern end of the road closure to just north of Camas Creek Trailhead, not at Fish Creek as this page states.
    -The route between Sloan Lane and Belton Stage looked like a private driveway to me. It had a gate and a private property sign. I played it safe and took the brand new bike path from West Glacier to Belton Stage Road, then rejoined your route. I’m happy to send you that portion of my .gpx track if you’d like.

    Cheers!

  • John Baker

    AW MAN…. I’m dying to get back in the NW to ride these areas again. You’re killing me here as I type from down in the Appalachians.

  • KATE’76

    If we want to ride longer….like a week….any ideas?

  • John

    This is a great area and I look forward to trying out the route. It should be pointed out that camping in griz country requires a certain camping etiquette that might be unfamiliar to those coming from out of region. Be prepared to keep a very clean camp, hang food and other bear attractants, and be neurotically clean at both formal and informal camps. Safety for bears and campers depends on minimizing bear/human interactions.

  • Mattski

    Greetings, we are going to be visiting Glacier in June with two 13-year-olds, and I have been looking for a bikepacking adventure for us all. We are completely newbies–would we be nuts to attempt this or–OTOH–could this be a perfect get-accustomed ride? All advice is appreciated!

  • Dan Ben-Horin

    Hi Tony, I was thinking about giving this a go next week, would you mind sharing your .gpx track?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com Logan Watts

    So sorry for the delay; I just saw this. I think if the group is OK with that initial climb, this is probably a good route for people who are beginners to bikepacking but are semi-regular cyclists. It is mostly two track and gravel, so certainly not a technical ride. If you stretch it out to 3 or 4 days it should be doable. However, I would recommend talking with someone in Montana about bear safety on this route if you don’t have any experience with that aspect.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com Logan Watts

    Hi Tony. I too missed this email. That would be great if you could send the corrected GPX.

  • Tony LeBaron

    Here is my re-route: https://caltopo.com/m/M9EE
    Have fun!