Route Overview


SW Montana



Days Out


Recommended Tire Size



Summer and Fall

Elevation Gain



7/10 Physical
4/10 Technical

Primary Surface(s)

Rough Gravel
Smooth Gravel

Route Map

Route Details

The Tobacco Root Gravel Loop (TRGL) is a long weekender in southwest Montana with burly climbs and thrilling descents featuring three hot springs, abandoned mines, historic barns, scenic vistas, refreshing rivers, great camping and friendly towns.

The loop starts at the Kountz Bridge south of Whitehall, which offers easy access from I-90 and overnight parking, although several alternate parking options are noted. The route as described is ideal for a 3-day weekend with an afternoon start on Friday, but fit riders could complete it in two days. Optional side trips are also marked on the map, including extensions to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park and the attractive towns of Ennis and Virginia City.

Possible Route Itinerary:

Day 1 of the voyage begins at Kountz Bridge and progresses clockwise to the South Boulder Valley and Carmichael Hill before descending to the historic town of Pony. Grab a burger at the Pony Bar, then head down the road for an evening soak at Upper Potosi Hot Springs. The hot spring is a natural pool approximately 3/4 mile north of the trailhead. Most of the trail can be ridden by bike but is better suited for hiking. The hot spring is typically not much warmer than a bathtub and ideal for mid-summer soaking. You’ll also pass the privately-owned Potosi Hot Springs, which offers luxurious rental cabins if you feel like treating yourself. Day 1 stats: 34 miles, 3900′ vertical.

Day 2 begins at Upper Potosi Campground and proceeds to Norris Hot Springs, which opens at 10 AM for a quick soak and a mid-morning snack. If you choose to take the shortcut through the Sitz Ranch to Norris, be sure to ask permission first, as it is a private road (but worth the effort to ask). After Norris, the route has two punishing climbs, including a 3.5-mile push through Revenue Flats and an 8.5-mile slog up South Meadow Creek. After the effort, riders are rewarded with a 16-mile descent down Granite Creek into the town of Alder, where camping and food awaits. If you want to break up the big climb, there is dispersed camping available near the major junction on South Meadow Creek Road. Day 2 stats: 60 miles, 4500′ vertical.

Day 3 is a pleasant cruise through the Jefferson River Valley. You can find food and refreshments in Twin Bridges, which also offers a bike camp with showers or overnight parking in the city park. Beyond Twin Bridges you’ll pass the Historic Doncaster Round Barn which once housed Triple Crown winner Spokane. Renova Hot Springs offers one last chance to rinse off your trail dust and a couple of choice camp spots if your schedule aligns. Soaking conditions are variable by season, but best during spring or early summer, when river water can be mixed with the scalding hot spring water. Be sure to take the upper canal road above the hot springs to catch some nice views of the Jefferson Valley. You’ll also pass an historic kiln from the Parrot Smelter before returning to your vehicle at the Kountz Bridge. Day 3 stats: 55 miles, 1200′ vertical.

Alternate Routes
A couple alternate routes that John has ridden are provided here, which allow shorter distances or different starting and camping locations.

The TRGL – Short Sureshot Version continues past Upper Potosi Hot Springs and climbs a steep ridge on a USFS ATV trail before dropping in Sureshot Lakes. The route then continues up South Meadow Creek but bypasses Norris Hot Springs, making this the shortest loop around the Roots.

The TRGL – Sheridan/Renova/Norris Version also uses the Sureshot cutoff but continues down Renova Flats to Norris Hot Springs for the second night of camping, eating and soaking. On the final morning, the route utilizes Highway 287 from Norris to McCallister rather than climb back through Renova Flats. This is a great way to break up the ride, although the second day is a tough 60-miler, and it’s easy to skip Potosi Hot Springs on a hot afternoon.

  • Paved: 25%
  • Smooth Gravel: 30%
  • Rough Gravel: 35%
  • 4×4 Road: 10%
  • Singletrack: 0%

If you choose to take the shortcut through the Sitz Ranch to Norris, be sure to ask permission first, as it is a private road (but worth the effort to ask).

Parking is available near the start at Kountz Bridge south of Whitehall or also at Potosi Hot Springs, Norris, Sheridan, and Twin Bridges.

John, the route creator, originally completed this route on a 1991 Bianchi Volpe with 37mm tires but says that you’d be better suited on a modern gravel bike that could accept something wider. A hardtail mountain bike would be overkill on all but the roughest descents, although some might appreciate the suspension. A few necessary sections of pavement exist, but the route is approximately 75% gravel.

Numerous camping options are marked throughout the route, including pay sites and dispersed camping on public land.

Tent sites are available for a fee at Norris Hot Springs, but fill up quickly on weekends. Camping is also available near Upper Potosi and Renova Hot Springs.

A few city parks permit camping for traveling cyclists, including the bike camp in Twin Bridges.

The best camping locations are marked as POIs although many more exist.

Lodging is available in the towns of Whitehall, Ennis, Virginia/Nevada City, Sheridan, or Twin Bridges.

John has created a detailed RideWithGPS page for the Tobacco Root Gravel Loop, where you might find a bit of additional information.

John Babcock (he/him, Butte, MT) created and stewards this route.

Here’s a little bit about John in his own words:

I started bike travel with a few simple road and gravel tours in my 20s but picked up bike travel again in my 40s. I work full-time but still manage several tours per year ranging from overnight to several weeks, mainly in the western US (MT, ID, AZ) and Mexico (Oaxaca, Yucatán, Huasteca). I’m also a Warmshowers host along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in Butte, MT, and have hosted over 450 guests throughout the years.

This loop is near my hometown of Whitehall, MT, and I’ve been exploring the Tobacco Roots since childhood, so this is a homage to my Montana roots.”

John Babcock has offered to be available to answer questions if you are planning a trip on this route.

Please also get in touch with any updates on route conditions that may be relevant to other riders.

Please submit your questions and comments on the route via the contact form below.

    This route traverses the traditional lands of the Shoshone-Blackfoot and Salish.