The name of this route derives from it's passage through Montana's historic gold fields near Virginia City-a former territorial capitol. Legend has it that Virginia City's Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was accused of being the leader of an outlaw gang called the Innocents, offered to bring back his weight in gold to the Vigilantes if they spared his life. The plea fell on deaf ears, and Plummer met his end dangling from a noose in the winter of 1864. Ever since rumors have persisted, and treasure hunters have hunted, for Plummer's gold. Maybe it's still buried somewhere in the hills along this route?
This route is Randonneurs USA (RUSA) Permanent No. 487. RUSA members may ride this route to earn credit towards various awards. For more information about permanents and randonnuering in general-click on the RUSA Website . For specific information about this permanent, including organizer contact information, cue sheet, and entry form click here.
The ride starts about 30 miles west of Bozeman-near Three Forks at the I-90/US Highway 287 interchange (Exit 274). The route takes a lap around the Tobacco Root Mountain Range-featuring snowcapped 10,000 plus elevation peaks such as Hollowtop Mountain and Mt. Jefferson. You'll pass through the quaint small towns of Harrison, Ennis, Virginia City, Sheridan, and Twin Bridges before looping back alongside I-90 at Whitehall. After a scenic ride through a narrow canyon along the Jefferson River you get back to the starting point by Three Forks. There are three significant climbs on the route, starting with Harrison Hill and its rather docile 4-5% grades, then the significantly steeper Norris Hill, followed by the ten mile long monster between Ennis and Virginia City. For daredevils-the descents of Norris Hill and Virginia City Hill are not too technical so it should be no trouble hitting 50 mph if the wind isn't against you. The major climbing is all done in the first 60 miles. The rest of the ride takes you through the Ruby and Jefferson Valleys to the gentle rollers before Three Forks. Those not riding under the RUSA time contraints might consider breaking this ride into a two-day tour. There's lots to see and explore along the way.
The route overlaps Adventure Cycling's TransAmerica Trail from Ennis to Twin Bridges. In the summer months it's very likely that you will encounter cross-country touring cyclists on this stretch.
TO TRAILHEAD: I-90 Exit 274, just west of Three Forks, MT.
Distance: 147.23 mi
Total Time: 12:09:42
Speed: 12.1 mph
Pace: 4:57 / mi
Active Time: none
Speed: 12.1 mph
Pace: 4:57 / mi
Distance to next
Start - Town Pump Truckstop (I-90 Exit 274)
Then go 0.12 mi
Turn Right - US Hwy 287
Then go 10.97 mi
Turn Left - US Hwy 287 (Sappington Junction)
Then go 34.92 mi
Bear Right - MT Hwy 287
Then go 33.75 mi
Straight - bc Main Street in Sheridan
Then go 9.46 mi
Straight - Becomes MT Hwy 41
Then go 14.37 mi
Straight - Becomes MT Hwy 55
Then go 12.10 mi
Bear Right - MT Hwy 2/MT Hwy 69/Legion Avenue
Then go 7.90 mi
Sharp Left - MT Hwy 2
Then go 2.24 mi
Stop - LaHood Park Info control.
Then go 21.20 mi
Turn Left - Town Pump Truck Stop
Then go 0.14 mi
Town Pump Truck Stop (I-90 Exit 274)
Points of Interest
Start/Finish-Town Pump Truck Stop
Location: 45.916288, -111.599979
The Town Pump is open 24 hours and has plenty of supplies. The Wheat Montana Deli and Bakery (in the back ground of this photo) is also an excellent choice. They have super cinnamon rolls! Randonneurs riding this route as a permanent must pass through certain checkpoints, inclucing the start and finish within a prescribed time window. To verify the ride was done with the proper time constraints "proof of passage" from an establishment in the vicinity of Exit 274 is required. Acceptable proof of passage is a stamp and signature on your brevet card from an employee with the current time noted or a cash register receipt noting the time and location.
Location: 45.880927, -111.611652
This stretch of US Highway 287/Montana Highway 2 is very scenic and fun to ride. Caution-there is minimal shoulder for 11 miles between I-90 exit 274 and Sappington Junction. Construction projects elsewhere have temporarily diverted some extra semi-truck traffic to this highway. Ride single file-a mirror is a good idea.
Location: 45.809688, -111.750441
The Jefferson River in the foreground and the snow covered London Peak in the Tobacco Roots in the distance. An early fall snow storm covered the moutains with a beautiful white blanket.
Location: 45.749798, -111.769238
The view that greets you at the top of Harrison Hill. Instead of a descent after this climb you'll find yourself on the high plains in front of the Tobacco Root Mountains.
Location: 45.702223, -111.785717
There's a cafe and a small grocery store on the east side of the highway in Harrison.
Location: 45.570674, -111.691647
There's a small c-store in Norris if you need to refuel before climbing Norris Hill.
Norris Hill Chain Up Area
Location: 45.526134, -111.698470
When you see this sign you know there's some climbing ahead. Norris Hill has some 7 and 8% grades for about 2.5 miles in each direction.
Location: 45.349491, -111.732588
As this sculpture testifies-fly fishing is a big deal in and around Ennis. <a href="http://ennismontanaonline.com">Ennis</a> (pop. 973) is the largest town in Madison County and has all services-including grocery stores, c-stores and restaurants. Ennis serves as another randonneuring checkpoint for those riding this route as a permanent. I got my "proof of passage" at the Town Pump c-store in the background-along with some water and munchies to fuel me for the climb to come.
Location: 45.318176, -111.845369
A view from a scenic turn-out about half-way up Virginia City Hill. This is a good spot to shed a layer and catch your breath. That's Fan Mountain in the Madison Range across the way. You can see the highway snaking up the valley from Ennis to the foot of the climb.
Virginia City Hill
Location: 45.290392, -111.883392
There's no spectacular vistas at the top of the hill-except that beautiful road sign! Time to add a layer for the fast descent to Virginia City.
Location: 45.293698, -111.944482
Opened in 1876, the <a href="http://madison.mt.gov/aboutus/courthouse/courthouse.asp">Madison County Courthouse</a> is the oldest courthouse in Montana still used for its original purpose. <a href="http://virginiacitymt.com">Virginia City</a> was once Montana's Territorial capitol and boasted a population of nearly 10,000. When the gold played out, the town faded to a few hundred residents. Virginia City is the county seat for Madison County, and a very popular summer tourist destination.
Location: 45.319957, -112.076533
This historic point (one of many on this route) explains some of the history of this area. Apparantly, a lot of the gold taken out of here ended up financing Harvard University.
Location: 45.392574, -112.146506
Purported to be Henry Plummer and his gang's hangout as they waited to rob travelers on the road between Virginia City and Bannack (now a ghost town to the west). Plummer remains a controversial figure to this day. Many are convinced of his guilt-others say he was falsy accused and the Vigilantes themselves were the real criminals.
Location: 45.392996, -112.147107
An old railroad bridge crossing Ramshorn Creek next to Robbers Roost. A train hasn't come through here in a while!
Location: 45.456639, -112.197704
Downtown Sheridan. This is another checkpoint for randonnuers. I got my "proof of passage" at the grocery store at the far right of the photo.
Location: 45.540353, -112.330570
An interesting mural on the side of a fly fishing shop in Twin Bridges.
Tobacco Root Mountains
Location: 45.563854, -112.324519
My shadow goes along for the ride in front of the "other side" of the Tobacco Root Mountains in the Jefferson River Valley.
Location: 45.689034, -112.282848
A twilight view of the Jefferson River from the small community of Silver Star. There's a small grocery store attached to the post-office (or is it the other way around?).
Location: 45.870469, -112.101488
Whitehall (pop 1156) is the largest town on this route and has all services. There's stores and restaurants in the town center and near the I-90 interchange. Whitehall is another check point for randonneurs. The Corner Store right in the middle of town is a good choice.
Location: 45.853285, -111.921845
An interesting historic point. Lahood Park was a signifcant way-point for travelers until it was bypassed by the construction of I-90 in the late 1960's. Lahood Park serves as an "information control" for randonneurs riding this route as a permanent. A question provided by the organizer must be answered and noted along with the time on the brevet card. The answer to the question (which will be fairly obvious) will be found on a landmark in Lahood Park.
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