Playing at Pipestone
A dirt biker’s Shangri-La
By Jimmy Lewis Explorebigsky.com Contributor
This past winter has been unique. On more than one occasion, I felt like I was living in Utah rather than Montana. Sure, the unusually mild weather had more than a little to do with this phenomenon. But my novel feelings were also evoked by equally novel experiences. These new adventures had to do with the fact that I’ve recently discovered a place called Pipestone, a haven for dirt bikers 60 miles west of Bozeman.
Technically referred to by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) as “The Pipestone Travel Management Area,” Pipestone is open year-round and boasts a far dryer and warmer climate than the Bozeman/Big Sky area. This means it’s possible, especially during a winter like the one we just experienced, to ski knee-deep powder at Big Sky on Saturday and ride bone-dry or slightly dampened single-track in a semi-arid montane environment on Sunday.
Consequently, my KTM never had its fuel drained this past winter and my riding form saw improvement.
In the spring, especially right about now, the riding opportunities at Pipestone are considered by many to be the best of the year. The air-temps rarely become uncomfortably hot, and the occasional rains pack the trails well and keep the dust down.
Of course, one can keep riding Pipestone all summer; however, by the time July and August arrive, the heat can be intense and the trails dusty. Meanwhile, at that time of year, there are myriad trails open to dirt biking throughout the alpine environments of the Bridger, Gallatin and Madison ranges. Spring is definitely the sweet spot.
The Pipestone riding area is analogous to being a ski-hill for dirt bikers. There are approximately 75 miles of smooth, maintained trails of varying difficulty scattered about a mountain environment on roughly 35,000 acres. There is even a handy trail-map provided by the BLM in the “Pipestone Staging Area,” a large parking area featuring loading ramps and BLM maintained outhouses located just north of I-90 off of exit 241.
Unlike a ski resort, riders do not have to pay for a lift ticket and can ride any day of the year at Pipestone for the price of a Montana OHV permit/sticker. In the way of rules and regulations, make sure that your silencer possesses a spark arrestor and that your pipe does not exceed 96 decibels—ye soft pipes play on!
The area is becoming more popular with mountain bikers, as it is often possible to employ a shuttle-system to experience as much downhilling as a biker can handle. There is also opportunity here for four-wheeling and riding ATVs. The real draw for dirt bikers is that Pipestone harbors myriad single-track not open to other OHVs (Off-Highway-Vehicles).
Pipestone is a family-friendly place to ride. There is something here for every level of expertise. Parents with kids or spouses will find easily managed trails and scenic views. Experts will find single-track that will raise the pucker-factor to a heightened degree. There are technical rock climbs; timber-lined trails requiring tight maneuvering; long straightaways through sagebrush flats in which you may discover that your bike does, in fact, possess a fourth and even fifth gear; creek crossings and funky bridges; and long, winding drainages in which berm shots are the norm. It’s also a good place to train for the Montana XC dirt bike races, the first of which is April 28.
If you’re of a mind to camp and hang out for a couple of days, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for both dry-camping with RVs in one of the three staging areas, or for packing in and tent camping.
Why do they call it “Pipestone”? I encourage you to go find out for yourself. When you take a ride there, venture up to the “Ringing Rocks Staging Area,” dismount, and throw a few pebbles at the larger stones naturally piled up at the lookout. At that moment, the answer will become obvious. Then, make sure to take in the vistas of the Tobacco Root Mountains, the Elkhorns and the Highlands.
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