While watching the Tour de France, one is inspired to get on a bike. Some may love the thrill of the peloton, but I prefer big open spaces and nicely paved roads with very little traffic when I ride the skinny tires. Don't worry, if you can't hop the pond to France, the scenery around Southwest Montana rivals anything found in Europe.
This ride takes you along the lazy Jefferson River, through a beautiful rock canyon hiding spectacular limestone caverns deep within its walls. Leaving the river bottom, the vast ranches, potato farms and wheat fields southeast of Cardwell give you a feel for the real Montana. Waving at someone on a tractor is common, and the few cars encountered were mostly accommodating. The only hint of industry is the talc mine near Sappington Bridge.
Fun sightings on today's ride: deer, antelope, pelicans, Canada geese, ducks, osprey, red-winged blackbirds by the dozens, a very alive rattlesnake along with several flattened ones, numerous fly-fishing drift boats and a charming horse-drawn wagon making its way slowly north on Highway 287.
A good place to park is the visitors center at Lewis & Clark Caverns state park located on Hwy 2 west of Three Forks. It has nice restrooms and info center replete with maps.
Ride west along the Jefferson River to Cardwell. This section is the narrowest, an early start can get you ahead of traffic. Turn south (left) at the gas station near I-90 interchange then start the long undulating climb on Hwy 359 to junction of Hwy 287 near Harrison. From here you can turn left to make 35-mile loop or turn right, go through Harrison and out to Pony (in-and-out) returning to same intersection for a 50-miler. Prepare for screaming downhill to Sappington Bridge, back across the "Jeff" then go left (west) to return to parking area passing Rockin' the Rivers concert site. Roads are all nicely paved, most with decent shoulders, caution the narrow sections along the river. The loop climbs in stages with nice areas to catch your breath. Going the other direction means a long steeper hill in the early part of the ride and graceful descent with the Tobacco Root Mountains ahead of you, ending on a slight uphill along the river.
When to go:
This ride is great anytime during the summer, spring or fall. I prefer the spring and fall for the milder traffic and temps. It's recommended to start early in the day to avoid strong afternoon breezes and possible thunderstorms.
Tips: If you have an Iphone or Android try Map My Ride, this savvy app will track your ride via your phone’s gps. Stay safe with Road ID, a personal identity system with emergency contact info.
- Article & photos by Glenniss Indreland
Horse-drawn vehicle on US Highway 287 in Southwest Montana
Pelicans on the Jefferson River