Intro to Gravel Touring & Bikepacking - Montana
As the experts on self-contained bicycle travel, we’d like to share our knowledge by offering our Introduction to Dirt Touring course. Two days of open-air, informal campground discussions will be followed by four days and three nights of field work where we’ll learn the theories and skills specific to off-road bicycle travel and apply all that we’ve learned in a practical way. We’ll travel and live as a group would on an Adventure Cycling tour on the Great Divide Route: sharing meals, campsites, and friendship.
Note that you’ll need to come to this intro course with some cycling and camping skills as well as experience riding on gravel and unpaved surfaces. After finishing the course, you’ll be ready for a solo outing, a trip with friends, or another Adventure Cycling group tour. Upon completion, you will qualify for our Learn and Earn tour incentive!
"Everything was terrific! We had such a great time — Thanks!"
Day 1. Whitefish, Montana, 0 miles
We’ll begin our class with an orientation meeting to introduce you to your course advisors and the classmates with whom you’ll share your six-day adventure. There will be a discussion of the course schedule and general housekeeping rules. Once we are all acquainted and have a general idea of the course framework, we’ll prepare dinner and begin learning how to live on the trail in comfort and style. After sharing our first meal, we’ll cover the week’s daily schedule, cooking rotations, group gear, and budgeting, among other topics essential to off-road touring. Once we know the basics, it will be time to hit the hay.
Day 2. Whitefish Shakedown Ride, 9 miles
At 7:00 a.m. sharp, it’s up and at ’em! Your advisors will cook breakfast before we delve into discussions about equipment and what a savvy off-pavement bike traveler should pack. Then we’ll address how to best carry all this critical stuff. We’ll talk about the classic trailer vs. pannier debate, which has become even more complicated with the advent of an array of creative frame-mounted packs, which many bikepackers favor. After we sort out the gear issues, it will be time for a well-deserved, hearty lunch.
Following the lunch break, we’ll discuss what it’s like to live off the road, exploring topics of safety, backcountry touring skills, attitude and etiquette, and general touring rules. Then we’ll put some of this newly acquired knowledge to work on a short ride — a warm-up for our multi-day adventure that begins tomorrow. We’ll also stop at the market and buy food for the next day. Learning what food to purchase and pack will be an important lesson; there’s almost nothing worse than a hungry cyclist! Returning to camp, we’ll enjoy an evening meal before settling in for discussions about the crucial skills of map reading, trip preparation, and preparing for inclement weather and roadside repairs. After another full day, it’s time to catch a few winks before we head out on tour tomorrow.
Day 3. Whitefish to West Glacier, 39 miles
Our journey begins traversing a portion of the broad Flathead Valley. The Flathead is bordered by mountains on three sides and Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the western U.S., on the fourth. We’ll pass through the bustling town of Whitefish, a mecca for mountain bikers, skiers, and tourists seeking world-class scenery. Our ride brings us to West Glacier, a town just outside the boundary of Glacier National Park, one of the crown jewels of the National Park System.
Day 4. West Glacier to Polebridge, 17 miles
Today, we will make our way out of Glacier to the vast forests that border the park along the North Fork Road. We’ll parallel the North Fork of the Flathead River, one of the wildest rivers in North America. We’ll ride through what the Nature Conservancy calls “one of a dozen places on the planet that remains a complete and functioning natural system.” We end today’s ride at funky and fun Polebridge, a place totally off the grid, and the home of a handful of rustic cabins and “the Merc” — the Polebridge Mercantile. Not only is the Merc on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s hands-down the best bakery you have ever ridden to.
Day 5. Polebridge to Upper Whitefish Lake, 23 miles
Our journey continues northward along the Flathead River until we meet the famed Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. We will ride a short but beautiful section of Adventure Cycling’s premier mountain bike route that stretches 2,774 miles from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. On our way to Red Meadow Pass, we’ll pass through prime habitat for mule deer, lynx, elk, wolverine, and grizzly bears. As you approach the pass and Red Meadow Lake, notice the high slopes above the lake that are striped and fanned with avalanche chutes. Your climb up the pass is rewarded with a magnificent downhill ride to our evening’s camp on Upper Whitefish Lake.
Day 6. Upper Whitefish Lake to Whitefish, 26 miles
Upper Whitefish Lake to Whitefish, 26 miles. Our descent continues today, but be sure to hit the brakes and look for ripening huckleberries. While Montanans seem to put huckleberries into everything from pastries to pies, pancakes, and beer, there is nothing better than getting off the bike and chowing down on fresh hucks. As we make our way back to our starting point, know that even though our journey ends, the memories of our ride through the Crown of the Continent will never fade.
Know before you go
Bike Shop Info:
Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish, Montana, can provide a rental bicycle for your tour. RESERVATIONS ARE RECOMMENDED, especially during the peak rental season of July–August. Glacier Cyclery has a wide variety of bikes for rent, including full suspension and hardtail mountain bikes, touring road bikes, and fat bikes. Touring bikes come equipped with a rear rack. If you request it at the time of reservation, Glacier Cyclery can install a rear rack on one of their hardtail mountain bikes.
Contact Glacier Cyclery for more information:
Glacier Cyclery, 406.862.6446, glaciercyclery.com
This tour will start and end at The Whitefish Bike Retreat in Whitefish, MT, and group reservations have already been made for the first day of this tour. Whitefish can be a high-demand area. If you are arriving before the first day of the tour or would like to stay on the last day of the tour, the Whitefish Bike Retreat has camping and indoor options available. You can make a reservation directly with the Whitefish bike retreat online.