Rugged and Wild: Riding the Remote Lionhead Mountains

The Lionhead Mountains provide a true backcountry mountain biking experience!

Mountain Biking Difficult, Severe

Also in Montana, United States of America

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Photo: Greg Heil

Description

The Lionhead is a remote mountain range straddling the Montana/Idaho border just west of Yellowstone National Park. While most maps label these mountains as the "Henrys Lake Mountains," the catchy "Lionhead" name, taken from one of the peaks in the range, is more widely bandied about in mountain biking circles.

When riding high in the Lionhead Mountains, it feels like you might be pedaling down the most remote bike-legal singletrack you can find in the Lower 48. This rugged mountain range doesn't contain a single dirt road and instead is crisscrossed solely by a web of steep, rugged, and little-ridden singletrack trails. While most of the trails can be located and navigated fairly easily, the tracks are narrow and little-traveled. The most well-used trail is a section of the Continental Divide Trail that traverses the range from Targhee Pass down to Raynolds Pass. Some other trails in the range are threatening to disappear altogether due to lack of use.

Thousands of vertical feet of climbing bring you to the top of an alpine ridge with stunning views in all directions. After slaving away for hours gaining the summit, you're in for a ripping descent down one of the many drainages. With nary another human being in sight, you're on your own to survive and make it down alive. This, of course, is the exact appeal of exploring these wild mountains.

Unfortunately, mountain bike access in the Lionhead is on the chopping block. Local Wilderness advocates are threatening to turn this mountain range into a proposed Wilderness Area. Due to an unfortunate (and many would say, illegal) precedent set just north of here in the Gallatins, turning the Lionhead into a proposed Wilderness Area would effectively ban mountain bike access, even if it takes decades for the mountain range to officially become a Wilderness. Take advantage of the Lionhead while you can by mountain biking these fantastic backcountry trails right now!

The Lionhead is renowned as prime grizzly bear country. Signs at every trailhead warn that bears are highly active in the area. Mountain biking is considered a high-risk activity in grizzly bear country due to the quiet speed of a bicycle and how quickly you can accidentally sneak up on a bear when rounding a blind turn. To mitigate this risk, make plenty of noise while riding, try to ride with a group of people, and consider attaching a bear bell to your handlebars. Also, make certain that you carry bear spray with you every time you ride, in case you do get into an encounter with a grizzly.

Routes included

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