Throw a leg over the saddle of your 2 wheeled steed anywhere in Great Falls, and you have several options for a pedaling adventure. There are routes for road rides in every direction and distance. The River’s Edge Trail (RET) is easily accessible for casual rides along the river that are family friendly. RET has over 20 miles of paved trail that provide scenic views of the river and dams, parks and other points of interest. Mountain bikers can pick up single track at the end of the paved portion of the RET on the South Shore trails or ride the North Shore trails from the Rainbow Dam trailhead. Great Falls is becoming a bicycling destination that offers riding for all skill and ability levels, and this article digs into the options for road riding. The local weather allows riding to begin earlier and end later than most Montana locations due to chinook winds often bringing 50- and 60-degree weather in mid-winter to provide riding opportunities for restless bike riders.
Picking a Direction
Road bike riders can choose ride distance and difficulty from a variety of routes. The wind can sometimes be a factor in the chosen direction of a ride. Most local riders learn that wind happens and, they ride the wind. Options include a ride out against the wind, and sail back when you are tired. Or make it an easy ride by catching a shuttle upwind. All rides from Great Falls include the beautiful mountain scenery in the distance. In addition to the mountain scenery, many roads run along the Missouri River. Ride distances can be customized for rider preference, with centuries and metric centuries available in most directions.
Head East or South
The highway east from town allows for turning south for a 43-mile round trip to Stockett or continue east on the Highwood road for a 60-mile ride to Belt and back. Both destinations lead to food and beverage stops. The route south follows along the Missouri River for 6 miles before providing the rider with challenging hills to complete the 42-mile trip to Eden and back. This route is enhanced by views riding toward the Little Belt Mountains.
White Sulphur Springs is a classic expedition for the long-distance rider. This 74-mile ride can begin at Armington Junction and follow the Kings Hill Scenic Byway through the picturesque Little Belt Mountains. The 5,000 ft of elevation gain to the top of Kings Hill requires some serious pedaling. The pay-off is 31 miles of downhill to White Sulphur Springs, and the hot springs for soaking the tired body. Local resident, John Juras has made the ride several times and says, “this is an epic ride with great scenery, low traffic, good road, diverse terrain, and challenging climbs.” Riders can either have someone meet them for a return shuttle or make their way back over the hill on two wheels.
Southwest out of Great Falls begins with a leg burning climb up Gore Hill. Many riders prefer to skip that pleasure and will begin their ride from the top of the hill. Ulm is a 15-mile round trip.
Along the Missouri River near Ulm.
South from Ulm is a great ride along the Smith River. The wind is usually a crosswind and there are few hills. Southwest of Ulm, the frontage road follows the Missouri to Cascade. This ride is worth any wind as it is a spectacular ride through the volcanic formations of the river canyon. North of Ulm, a 4-mile ride to First Peoples Buffalo Jump leads to a good rest stop and turn-around point. From Ulm, the ride can be turned into a century by continuing through Cascade to Wolf Creek.
Head West or North
Riding north has two scenic destinations. Benton Lake is a 28-mile round trip with light traffic. The ride is moderate with Lake views. The Lake is a noted bird refuge. Turning east off the northern route leads to a 32-mile ride to Morony Dam on the Missouri.
Vaughn lies west of Great Falls. The route is mostly flat and a good beginner trip if the rider turns around at Vaughn. A more challenging ride can be made by including the Stringers on the frontage road to Power. The 47-mile round trip and the stimulating hills make this a ride for the more serious.
Ride Park to Park
A State Park to State Park ride can be a fun destination journey. Begin at Giant Springs State Park and follow the River’s Edge Trail to the Highway up Gore Hill. Take the frontage road to Ulm, then travel north to the Ulm First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park. With the return trip it is about a 40-mile ride.
Great Falls is a bicycle-friendly city with a through town bike route that includes sharrows. There are 4 bicycle shops in town that sell and service a wide variety of bikes. The Great Falls Bicycle Club sponsors group rides throughout the summer months for all experience levels and a specific ride for those interested in race training. The bicycle club website provides more detailed ride information with maps.
Frank LaLiberty grew up in Great Falls and rode motorcycles on the South Shore Trails in the ‘60s before they were closed to motorized travel. He has been an avid bicyclist for the past 20 years, riding both road bike and mountain bikes on local roads and trails. Frank has worked extensively on maintenance and construction or Great Falls trails. He constructed the “Welcome to South Shore Trails” sign at Rainbow Overlook and the signs that mark the trailheads for the other trails. Frank is an advocate for trails throughout the state. He is a member of the State Trail Advisory Committee of Fish Wildlife and Parks, a founding member and vice president of the Montana Trails Coalition, an officer in the Friends of the Little Belts, and Secretary/Treasurer for the Great Falls Bicycle Club. Frank has been teaching Agricultural Education, Shop, and Junior High Science at Cascade High School for 32 years. Frank and his wife Mary Jane live in a home they built themselves and have 4 children, all who graduated from Cascade High School, and 13 grandchildren.