Originally founded by four gold prospectors, Helena has been able to mine a different kind of precious resource. Helena has earned a silver-level IMBA Ride Center designation, with more than 75 miles of trails spread throughout the town and just outside of it. A free shuttle runs from May to October, schlepping riders from downtown to a different trailhead Wednesday through Sunday.
Starting at the Beattie Street Trailhead in town, riders tackling the southern trail network immediately climb more than 1,000 feet up Mount Ascension in less than 2 miles. (Even with the shuttles, riders should anticipate climbing at least 500 feet right out of the gate.) Expect lots of solid intermediate-level trails with lots of climbing, fast descents, and the occasional technical section thrown in.
For more of a challenge, shuttle to the infamous Continental Divide Trail. Not surprisingly, the CDT has much more of a backcountry feel. Imagine sections of embedded washing machine-size rocks, haphazardly spaced up a more than a 20-percent upslope; now do it over and over again until you reach the 6,700-foot top of the climb. Luckily the descent—launching over shark-toothed rock gardens and skidding into impossibly tight switchbacks— make the effort worth it.
Must-Ride Trail: Entertainment Trail starts at the top of Mount Ascension and sends riders down a fun, fast descent through wildflower-filled meadows and pine trees, then connects to Rodney Ridge, where long straightaways with wide, bermed turns allow you to pick up a wicked amount of speed.
Best Place for a Post-Ride Beer: The trails to the south of town dump out mere blocks away from Blackfoot River Brewing Co. (https://blackfootriverbrewing.com/), giving mountain bikers an refreshing reward at the end of their ride.
Best Place to Get Some Sleep: The Holiday Inn Express is clean, affordable (rooms start at $165), and—best of all—located next to a shuttle stop.