The Usual (Biking, Hiking, Beering)

Ever since David took the train to Whitefish with our friend Vinny last March for a ski trip he has been talking about the how much I’ll love the town. I’ve seen the picture he took of the Sicilian pie they shared at Second Street Pizza at least four times. I’ve heard about how the ski resort feels like a small town mountain with still lots of great terrain. David and Vinny even joked about buying a place we could share and take the train to on the weekends (until they checked real estate prices). Therefore, my expectations were pretty high for Whitefish when we arrived there after Glacier. The pizza, beer, atmosphere, and mountain biking did not disappoint. Although David has long said he couldn’t live outside a medium size city with lots of food, music, and culture to option, he remarked at least a couple times in Whitefish that he thought he could live there – I agreed.

While in Whitefish we:

  • Enjoyed a couple beers at Great Northern Brewing Company located right in downtown.
  • Dined at Second Street Pizza and of course got the Sicilian pie. It is HUGE and I couldn’t believe David said they each ate three slices last time he was there. It provided dinner and two lunches for me. While at the shop, we got some bike recommendations from a nice local sitting next to us who overheard us talking about Bonsai Brewing Project, a brewery we really wanted to check out but was unfortunately closed on Mondays.
  • Mountain biked (if you can call it that given our non-mountain bikes) on the Whitefish Trail from Whitefish Bike Retreat. This is an awesome place offering a lodge, campground, skills area, trails, deck, showers, bike washing station, and maps. We just stayed for the day and managed not to sustain any injuries in the skills area.
  • Slept at Whitefish Mountain Resort, which has free RV parking in the summer. We appreciated the slightly cooler temperatures here compared to down in the town and the views from out the back of the van.
  • Trail ran on the Whitefish Trail while David had some coffee shop time.

After Whitefish, we made our way to Missoula with a quick stop in Bigfork (a cute town on Flathead Lake) and at a cherry stand. The area around the lake is full of cherry trees and we must have passed at least twenty stands. In Missoula, we spent the night at Big Sky Brewing, which is a member of Harvest Hosts. They have a large outdoor music venue behind the brewery and we were told we could use the field while we were there, which provides great sunset views. We enjoyed laying out in the field until the sprinklers turned on. Of course we visited a couple more breweries in Missoula as well as an evening farmers market where we bought way too many baked goods, fruits and veggies.

We left Missoula midday and headed southwest into the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. We found a great camping spot here on iOverlander and were very excited when another Sprinter van joined us. Miss Lollipop the Van’s owners, Natacha and Vincent, recently started full-time van life and we enjoyed swapping van tours and stories. They coincidentally also have an Ikon ski pass, so we made plans to meet up in the winter. We left in the morning to make the rest of the drive to Riggins, Idaho which provides access to Hells Canyon Wilderness. I’d read about Hells Canyon on several websites and blogs, but it was surprisingly hard to find information about how to access it or the best hikes. Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America, although David found it “questionable” that this is measured from a mountain peak (He Devil). After reading about the Seven Devils backpacking loop, I decided this would be a good spot to view the canyon from. Given the impending stormy weather, we opted to camp at Seven Devils campground (which is a free, first-come first-served primitive campground). Although only 18 miles from Riggins, the campground is up a dirt, washboard laden road that climbs 6,000 feet! Given we don’t have an air compressor yet or any suspension upgrades, the road was very slow going, but at least had some great views. We were stopped near the top of the road by a few horses crossing the road, which left us very confused.

Near the campground is Heavens Gate, which is an active fire lookout. We enjoyed chatting with the ranger in the lookout, who said he has manned the lookout six days a week for the past nine years. What an interesting job. From the lookout you can see four states. David hilariously guessed the states as Oregon, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. We were in Idaho. We also did a short hike to Mirror Lake and Sheep Lake before returning to the campground where David thoroughly enjoyed gathering and splitting downed trees for an impressive campfire.

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