Helena Mountain Biking … Big Time Access for a Small City
I first heard of Helena Mountain Biking when my son-in-law and I hosted our MBD booth at the IMBA World Summit in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I had a tablet (old-fashioned paper kind) and pen and was walking around hitting up all the booth venders for their favorite trails. When I got to the Bentonville (Arkansas) and the Bike Helena (Montana) booths, I found people that not only told me their favorite trails, they wanted me to come to their city and try them out … ASAP!
He mentioned his group was looking for riders to come experience Helena biking. Quickly I told Patrick I was interested and I would most likely be able to fly to Helena for free (my youngest daughter had become a flight attendant). He assured me he would take care of me once I got there. And boy did he take care of me! These are some of the things Patrick and Helena’s hospitality provided.
- Picked me up at the airport.
- Shipped my bike to Helena and back.
- Provided a hotel room.
- Took me to the Vigilante Bike Park and introduced me to several volunteers working on a pump track.
- Stocked that hotel room with socks, drinking water and a logo glass, stickers, a map of the trails, and left a note saying, “the beer is in the refrigerator,” (which it was), and four $25 visa gift cards!
- Provided me with 3 (wonderful) local riders as guides.
- Gave me a walking tour of the city.
- Drove me to a ghost town in the Elkhorn Mountains.
- Took me to dinner, breakfast, and coffee.
- Made sure my bike got shipped back home in time for my trip to Tahoe.
- Kept checking on me to make sure everything was going well.
Helena Mountain Biking
With the enthusiasm and leadership exhibited by Patrick and others, Helena has recently developed a bike park in town and a trail system right on the edge of town … and they are only getting better. During my short stay I witnessed several volunteers working on a pump track at the Vigilante Bike Park, MCC (Montana Conservation Corps) workers replacing signs in the South Hills, and visited trails under construction or recently completed in the South Hills area.
Helena has also added a free community bike shuttle called, The Trail Rider (a bus pulling a bike trailer) from several spots in the city to many different trailheads in the South Hills as well as to the top of MacDonald Pass (to ride the Continental Divide Scenic Trail). The Trail Rider runs 5 days a week (Wed-Sun) during the summer months (June-August) and weekends until the end of September when the shuttle service then closes for the season.
Bike Helena also offered a Shuttle Fest, on August 15th, 16th, and 17th in 2014. On these 3 days continuous shuttles were provided to Helena’s South Hills Trail System as well as the iconic Continental Divide Scenic Trail (on top of McDonald Pass).
With many ways to easily access trails, the people of Helena are excited about mountain biking (along with hiking and horseback riding). Their two major assets, Vigilante Bike Park and the South Hills trails are definitely worth a visit.
Vigilante Bike Park
The Vigilante Bike Park is built on top of Helena’s old dump site. Tons of dirt were delivered from local construction sites and quickly formed into a roughed-out bike park. During my visit the men were working on fine tuning the pump track … a very extensive pump track. A man named Will Harmon was telling us where to shovel the dirt, and it was a good thing, since the rest of us were not sure what needed to be done. Will had designed the track, and he knew exactly what he wanted.
I have to mention a young helper named Landen Beckner. I had worked on a pump track and trails in the San Diego area and this was the first youngster I had seen contributing. Not only was Landen a good worker, I found him quite personable.
He gave me suggestions (as to what trails to ride) and a few riding tips (he is a member of USA cycling). To learn more about this fine young man you can visit his site at Landen Beckner.
I am pretty sure the majority of pump track users are kids …. They should help to build and maintain it!
The Vigilante Bike Park has a functional jump line with plans to build a larger one. They also have completed a couple of other nice features … a large dirt mound with switchbacks, where beginning riders can practice going up or coming down. They have also built a separate rock garden … again to develop some skills and confidence before hitting them on the real trail. And lastly, they have imported some large rectangular rock columns (leftover from Helena’s Urba Renewal Project of the 70’s) to allow riders to practice rolling onto and off of large boulders.
South Hills Trails
The trails in the South Hills are a wonderful resource for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders in and around Helena. Below is a map of all the trails in the South Hills area (I have posted another map below which shows the trails I biked during my stay)
For an interactive version of this map please visit South Trails Interactive Map.
The Trails I Rode
During my 4 days riding in the South Hills, I found the trails to be well designed, well maintained, and (mostly) well signed. Although I didn’t manage to ride all 75 miles of trails, I did ride all or part of the following (some 2 or 3 times) … enough to get a good feel for Helena Mountain Biking.
Acropolis Crest, Backside, Barking Dog, Contour, Don’t Fence Me In, Dump Out, Eagle Scout, Easy Rider, Emmett’s, Entertainment, Hanging Draw, Highway to Hell, Hogback, Little Moab, McKelvie, Mini Ridge, Mount Helena Ridge, Old Shooting Range Connector, Pail Rider, Pinchot, Prairie, Prospect Shafts, Quarry, Rent Money, Rodney Meadows, Rodney Ridge, Show Me the Horse, Skills, South Dump Gulch, T.R., Wakina Sky, Waterline, West End, 1906, and the 2006 Trails.
Helena Mountain Biking … Interactive Map.
The map below shows all the mountain bike rides I took during my 4 day stay in Helena, Montana. Some were guided by local riders, some were done on my own. If you are going to visit (which I recommend) you might want to check out these beautiful trails.
Click trails for infomation or the icon for driving directions.
Have you done any Helena Mountain Biking rides? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
My 3 guides, plus the riders I met on the trails, in the brewery, at the bike park, in the bike shop and cafes, seem to follow a routine. They ride up into the hills, stop to catch their breath, talk a little, drink a few gulps of water, and then take a fast trail or trails down to either Grizzly Gulch Road, Oro Fino Road, or Davis Street … which they ride back into town. Not a bad routine for an after-work ride. I also know a part of Helena Mountain Biking involves going to some of the areas close (like the continental divide) that I did not get a chance to ride.
My Three (awesome) Guides
Their favorite downhill trails seem to be Show Me the Horse, Highway to Hell, Entertainment, Rent Money, Helena Ridge, and Emmett’s. I found these trails to be quite similar … fast, flowing routes from 1 to 4 miles long … falling between 700 to 900 feet through grassy fields and patches of thick trees … with no major drops or jumps (Horse drops 910 feet in 2.35 miles. Highway drops 843 feet in 1.58 miles. Rent drops 745 feet in 1.71 miles and the downhill portion of the Helena Ridge Trail drops 692 feet in 4.14 miles). In Eric’s opinion, Mount Helena Ridge Trail is the signature trail of the area, so I wanted to make sure I made that run.
Riders with enough time or motivation repeat this routine, usually riding a different trail down. On my last ride in the South Hills I met 2 young men who were planning to do 4 repetitions … doing 4 of their favorite downhill trails. I’m not sure they were successful as they were partaking in smoking instead of gulping a little water!
Since there are no lifts in the South Hills of Helena all riders must pedal their bike up into the hills (in order to do the downhill) so most everyone rides some sort of an All Mountain Bike. I saw no big downhill rigs (which made sense, they would be too heavy to pedal into the hills and are not required since there are only small drops and jumps), nor many cross country bikes. Of course, Helena’s Trail Rider Shuttle provides some help for downhillers during the summer season months. For example, Eric told me his favorite run was to take the shuttle up to Park City, then ride back into town on the Mount Helena Ridge Trail.
Helena Mountain Biking Overview
The city of Helena sits right at the base of some beautiful, grass and forest topped foothills in central Montana. The people of Helena have developed a gem of a trail system in those foothills … and they are not satisfied! They continue to improve and expand their system in addition to building an extensive bike park. I had an amazing visit and recommend you try it out too! I am already looking forward to some more Helena Mountain Biking … maybe another visit next spring!
Below you will find links to the four rides I took in the South Hills of Helena. Click and enjoy.
My Four Rides
Select Day 1 … Grizzly Gulch to learn about another ride in Helena’s South Hills.
Select Day 2 … Riding with Timmy to see another ride in the Helena area.
Select Day 3 … Mount Helena Ridge to see the signature trail in this area.
Day 3 …Select Day 4 … South Hills Adventure to read of an incredible journey in the South Hills.