Cycle Montana - Missoula to Bozeman
Beginning in Adventure Cycling’s hometown of Missoula, we’ll follow the Bitterroot River upstream before climbing over Lost Trail and Chief Joseph passes. We’ll descend into the Big Hole Valley, a basin so broad and sparsely populated that you’ll feel as if you’ve ridden back in time 100 years. Keep an eye out — you may catch sight of a bear scampering through the sagebrush, en route from one mountain range to another!
From the Big Hole, we’ll climb Big Hole Pass and pedal north along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway with its lush alpine meadows and lodgepole forests. You’ll also experience a number of delightful small towns and soak in hot springs along the way. We’ll briefly parallel the Big Hole River before ascending to the Continental Divide and stunning 360-degree views. Then we’ll roll into the legendary copper mining city of Butte and toward the headwaters of the Missouri River, so prominent in the journals of Lewis and Clark. From here it’s a leisurely cruise through wheat fields and ranchlands into Bozeman. Upon completing our Big Sky ride, we'll catch a shuttle back to Missoula.
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Our 2022 departures have already taken place, check back for future dates.
"In my opinion our tour leader was excellent, giving us as participants a lot of space: a good attitude for our tour experience!"
Day 1. Missoula, 0 miles
You'll get together with your tour leaders and the rest of the group in Montana's "Garden City," home to several national nonprofit organizations — including, of course, Adventure Cycling Association, whose offices and staff you'll have the opportunity to visit. At the campground, you and your new riding companions will enjoy a hearty dinner and have your first map meeting. Our on-tour mechanic can help you make sure your bicycle is ready for the Wild West roads, and you'll start getting to know your fellow participants. Then it's time to crawl into the tent and get some shut-eye to prepare for the big skies, tall mountains, and rushing rivers that are in your near future.
Day 2. Missoula to Darby, 66 miles
A beautiful opening ride to Darby, through one of Montana's premier mountain valleys, is a great warm-up for the ride to come. Rolling out of Missoula on the Bitterroot Trail, we'll first pass through the town of Lolo where you can swing in and have a look at Travelers' Rest State Park. The park marks the site of an ancient Native American campsite used by the Lewis and Clark expedition in both 1805 and 1806. From Lolo we'll continue south along the glimmering Bitterroot River, riding on a separated bikeway almost all the way to Hamilton. You might consider a short side trip to Stevensville, Montana's first town and original capital, where you can visit the old St. Mary's Mission, established in 1841, to learn the story of Father Pierre DeSmet and other "black robes" who arrived early on the scene in this part of the Rocky Mountains. To the west, the high crags of the Bitterroot Range scratch the big Montana sky; to the east, the lower Sapphire Range lines our way. From Hamilton it's 15 miles to our camping spot in Darby.
Day 3. Darby to Jackson Hot Springs, 77 miles
In the delightfully cool early morning mountain air, we'll proceed south along the Bitterroot River, through tiny Sula, and up and over to the west side of the Continental Divide (and Idaho) at 6,990-foot Lost Trail Pass. Then, just like that, back over to the east side (and back into Montana), one mile later at 7,241-foot Chief Joseph Pass. The latter pass is named for the Nez Perce chief whom you can learn about, 16 miles down the road, at the Big Hole National Battlefield. This site commemorates a terrible chapter in the Indian Wars of the late 1800s. After crossing the Big Hole River at the town of Wisdom — whose trout-filled waters draw fly fishermen from around the world — we'll continue to our night's camp, with its fabulous soaking pool, at funky and fun Jackson Hot Springs.
Day 4. Jackson Hot Springs to Wise River, 65 miles
Leaving Jackson Hot Springs, we'll start the day with a gradual but steady climb to Big Hole Pass (7,360 feet), where at the top we'll be rewarded with a view of Big Hole Valley. After an enjoyable seven-mile descent, we'll turn north at Polaris, pedaling alongside Grasshopper Creek on the Pioneer Scenic Byway. We'll ride gentle uphill grades before starting the climb to the center of the Pioneer Mountains. After cresting at Crystal Park, located at nearly 8,000 feet in elevation, we'll spin past vast alpine meadows and the rugged granite peaks of the Pioneers to the east. Shortly after, we'll begin a 20-mile descent through lodgepole pine forests to our campsite in the town of Wise River.
Day 5. Wise River to Butte, 54 miles
Initially we'll follow the Big Hole River — another famous fishing destination — before starting a stair-stepping ascent to the Continental Divide. This time we'll have the striking ramparts of the Pintler and Anaconda ranges as our mountainous backdrop. After descending into the wide Silver Bow Valley, we'll meander our way into Butte, site of "the Richest Hill on Earth." Once one of the most prosperous cities in the country, the town sits atop massive underground copper deposits.
Day 6. Layover Day in Butte, 0 miles
At one point, Butte was the largest city for hundreds of miles. Our group will take an extra day here to explore the heritage that this historic area has to offer. Off the bike, we can stroll among the Victorian homes, turn-of-the-century buildings, and mine "headframes" in the Uptown district. Alternatively, we can hop on our bikes to visit some of the other regional attractions, such as Anaconda, Georgetown Lake, and Fairmont Hot Springs.
Day 7. Butte to Three Forks, 64 miles
Continuing eastward, we'll leave Butte and climb into the Highland Mountains. We'll once again cross the Continental Divide, this time over Pipestone Pass, and then gradually descend all the way to Three Forks, which Lewis & Clark noted as the place where the Gallatin River joins the Madison and Jefferson to form the great Missouri River. We'll spend one last night here under a beautiful starry canopy.
Day 8. Three Forks to Bozeman, 37 miles
From the headwaters of the Missouri, it's a leisurely but scenic cruise along the Gallatin River to Bozeman. Our group will pass through rolling ranchlands and wheat fields, wheeling on toward the completion of our grand tour in Big Sky Country. You'll have the option to take our early afternoon shuttle back to Missoula, or depart the tour from Bozeman as there is so much more to explore in the area.
Know before you go
Information for eBike riders:
Because every rider, eBike, road condition, and elevation profile is different, it is ultimately up to the participant to judge best whether their battery will last through each tour day. We recommend using pedal assist in its lowest setting or off when not needed to maximize battery range. Bringing a second battery is also recommended, and it can be carried by staff and available at a designated stop during the day.