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Two motorcyclist on the highway

Entrance to the Methodist Church, Virginia City. Built in 1875.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism, Donnie Sexton.

Wildflowers dot the landscape in southwestern Montana
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism, Donnie Sexton.

Virginia City.
Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism, Donnie Sexton.

From our southwest Montana home base in Butte, one of our favorite Saturday or Sunday loops runs from Butte to Twin Bridges, Sheridan, Virginia City, Ennis, up through McAllister to Norris, then through Harrison and LaHood, to Whitehall and back into Butte – about 220 miles.

It is a fine combination of some good, technical turns, some steep ascents and descents, flat valley-bottom cruising, big sweepers and big scenery, all with quite good roadways and mostly light traffic with plenty of distractions (okay, “attractions”) along the way. That’s a recipe for a superb day out riding, in our book.

It is also perhaps the most popular “poker run” loop out of either Butte or Bozeman, even Helena. Frequently during summer large packs of bikes may be encountered out on the roadway or at various licensed spots in the numerous and quaint little burgs along the route.

Much of southwest Montana – Southwest Montana – is alpine desert with some productive irrigated river valleys. You won’t find much big timber, but there are stands of lodge pole pine and some juniper. Portions of it is sagebrush prairie. What timber there is has been decimated by pine bark beetle. You will see millions of dead trees (gray), dying trees (rusty red-orange) and a few green survivors. It is a horrible natural blight that has residents worried about the potential for catastrophic wildfires.

Let’s use Butte as our launch pad, though the route, with a few variations, can be run nicely as a day-loop out of Bozeman or Helena, too. Be aware, this suggested route means you have to keep an eye on your fuel; there is none between Butte and Twin Bridges (45 miles) and none between Alder and Ennis (22 miles).

By Cole Boehler
the author and publisher of
"Motorcycling Montana"