Old Milwaukee Bridge

The 600-foot high steel trestle provides a panoramic view and is located 1.5 miles from the trailhead on the old Milwaukee Railroad.

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There are more than 25 miles of non-motorized trails in Thompson Park south of Butte. Among the many hiking opportunities is the old Milwaukee Railroad.

There is no elevation gain on the gravel trail, which features a pair of tunnels and a trestle, and interpretive signs explain the railroad’s history.

Known as the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, this 4.5-mile stretch remains atop Pipestone Pass from what was originally 2,300 miles of track from Chicago to Tacoma, Wash. It was completed in 1909 and according to one of interpretive signs, “It was lauded as an engineering marvel for the quality of its construction.”

The tunnels — one 550-feet long and the other 1,100 feet — were initially dug by hand labor and followed up with machine drills and dynamite. Visitors can walk through the tunnels, but be sure to bring a head lamp or flashlight.

There is also a third tunnel, the 2,300-foot long Pipestone Pass tunnel, at the start of the trailhead. However, it’s closed to the public.

The 600-foot high steel trestle provides a panoramic view, and is located 1.5 miles from the trailhead. It’s another half mile to the first tunnel.

Trail Sign

A sign directs hikers along the the old Milwaukee Railroad.

A 440-mile portion of the track, from Harlowton to Avery, Idaho, was electrified in 1914. It became North America’s longest electrified main line, and drew Thomas Edison to Butte to ride the Milwaukee Railroad.

“Electrification has been such a tremendous success on the Milwaukee Road that it is difficult to state the results without exaggeration,” Charles A. Goodnow, Milwaukee Railroad executive, was quoted as saying on one of the signs. “But I think it quite within the fact to say that the Milwaukee Road has forgot the Continental Divide exists.”

While the line itself no longer remains, there are remnants along the trail such as power poles and cement foundations.

The trail is popular with mountain bikers, but also suited for hiking and horseback riding. In the winter it is groomed for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing as well as fat-tire biking.

When driving west from Whitehall, take Highway 2 to the summit of Pipestone Pass. There is a large pullout on the left and then a smaller one about 1,000 feet further up, where the trail begins behind a metal gate.

How to get there: From Belgrade drive west on I-90 about 50 miles to Whitehall. Then take Highway 2 from Whitehall toward to the parking lot at the top of Pipestone Pass.

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