This article has been created in partnership between Matador and our friends at the State of Montana.
“Amazing scenery is a given, no matter which ride you do,” says Alex Gallego about group tours in Montana. He is the owner of Missoula Bicycle Works in Missoula and veteran of several of these epic rides. “For me, the highlights of these [types] of rides are the people involved.”
Cycling tours like RATPOD, ToSRoV West, STOKR and the Double Divide Ride will let you experience Montana in real time as only a trip by bicycle can. Here are several of the most famous tours as well as a few DIY options:
RATPOD Ride Around The Pioneers in One Day
Date: June 27
RATPOD is the biggest ride in Montana, with five-hundred-fifty riders covering one-hundred-thirty mile loop through the heart of the rugged Pioneer Mountains. “The festivities that go along with the ride are one of the best parties around,” Gallego says.
One of the “festivities” is the food served along the way. “It’s not the usual rest stop with Power Bars and Gatorade,” Says Jeff Handlin, veteran RATPOD rider. “You roll into the breakfast stop and it’s like stepping into Golden Corral.”
Then, at mile one-hundred-seven, is the famous “pie stop” in the town of Glen. “There are homemade pies just lined up,” Handlin says. “What bike tour has a pie stop?”
ToSRV West Tour of the Swan River Valley
Dates: May 30-31
Miles: 85 each day
Socializing is a key draw of these tours. The layover in Big Fork during the two-day ToSRV West is one of the greatest aspects of the ride. “Lots of the folks that you rode with that day will be found in the bars around Big Fork that evening,” Gallego says. “It’s a great opportunity to relive the entire day. The long climbs and the amazing scenery.”
Double Divide Ride
Dates: June 13-14
Miles: 88 day 1, 51 day 2
While all of the rides include great food and scenery, the Double Divide also provides the challenge of two mountain passes. Also, with fewer riders, this ride offers a more intimate setting than the other tours.
This tour explores a less visited area of Montana, leading to a less crowded feeling on the road in terms of lumbering RV’s.
STOKR Scenic Tour of the Kootenai River
Dates: May 9-10
Miles: 98 day 1, 37 day 2
The scenery of western Montana is hard to beat and the STOKR ride has some of the best, including both natural wonders like renowned Kootenai Falls, and man-made, such as The Dirty Shame Saloon.
This ride has a shorter option that cuts fifty-three miles off of the first day, yet isn’t short on the views. The tour provides an altruistic bent as well, donating the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity. They have seven houses built exclusively by STOKR donations. Riders are not required to pick up hammers, but they are certainly welcome to.
DIY Montana Touring
Of course, if soul searching is what you’re after, a do-it-yourself tour may be the prescription. To get the perfect blend of beauty, solitude, and challenge, one has only to get a little creative. With no organized tour going into the Beartooth Mountains, Handlin created a tour that is equal parts scenic and grueling.
He started his loop in Red Lodge, along the grassy plains and foothills to Chief Joseph Scenic Highway outside of Cody, Wyoming. From there, the road climbs over Dead Indian Pass then just shy of 11,000 feet to Beartooth Pass before dropping 5,000 feet of switchbacks to return to Red Lodge.
“I don’t know exactly how many miles it is, but it took me ten or eleven hours,” Handlin said. He ran out of water, got hammered by a thunderstorm, and had his hands so numbed by the cold that he couldn’t shift. So, was this epic the cure for the common ride?
“I’ll do it again,” Handlin says, “maybe every year. Next time, I’m going to ride it backwards.”
Interested in other cycling options this summer in Montana apart from a group ride? Talk to Eric Warren. He’s one of the Montana Experts at Matador who can help you find exactly the right places and logistics for any adventure you can think of in Big Sky country.
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Frequent Matador Contributor Eric Warren has lived in various Montana locales including Missoula, Big Sky, Bozeman, and Billings, for 25 years.