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Blue Cross Blue Shield photo

HELENA – The trail system around Helena is extensive, and thanks to a free shuttle, recreationalists have access to them all summer long.

Starting Friday, weather permitting, the Trail Rider will take bikers, walkers and hikers up to various trailheads that surround the Helena area.

Trail Rider is a free service, courtesy of community partnership, that, “Brings people from the Downtown Area to different trailheads throughout the Helena area,” said Heidi O’Brien, Executive Director of Bike Helena.

Designated as a Silver-level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Helena is home to more than 20 different trailheads and 75 miles of singletrack that can be accessed from the downtown area, making riding or running the trails an easy way to recreate.

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“Helena’s a trail town, and the Trail Rider is a great way to get to the trailhead. It’s free service so whether you want to explore new trails or hit up the trails you love the most, Trail Rider is a great way to get there,” said John Doran, Spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the shuttle’s main sponsors.

New this year is a Friday morning shuttle ride. Riders can take hit the trails before they head to work. Shuttle times run at 6 and 6:45 a.m. and pick up at the Women’s Mural at the corner of Last Chance Gulch/Walking Mall and Broadway. Previously, the shuttle only ran on Friday evenings.

“Friday morning commute is a unique take on the alternative commute to work,” Doran said. “Anytime you can get out in the morning, get on the trails, get some exercise, get some fresh air – we know that contributes to a happier workplace.”

For 14 years now, Trail Rider has been shuttling riders to the trailheads. This year, the start of the Trail Rider schedule also signifies the launch of the Spring Shuttle Fest weekend.

“We’ve never done a Spring Shuttle Fest before, it’s always been the August Shuttle Fest, but we thought, ‘What a great way to launch the program for the season,'” O’Brien said.

The Spring Shuttle Fest will be in conjunction with Helena Craft Beer Week and Ales for Trails. The fest means Trail Rider will run continuously from Friday through Sunday every 45 minutes to various trailheads. For the full schedule click here.

Trail Rider started several years ago by the Business Improvement District and only ran on the weekends for a few months out of the year. The only stop was to the Mount Helena Ridge Trail.

The Bike Helena organization took over the program and has since expanded the service adding several other days and various stops based on rider demands.”It was just a natural fit for us to take over the program,” O’Brien added.

This year the addition of the Barking Dog/Waterline Extension is a new stop to the shuttle schedule. O’Brien added that as demands change the schedule will adjust to accommodate.

Every year the program grows more. The original bus only had the capacity to carry a small amount of bikes, eventually a trailer was added to accommodate more bikes. But there continues to be room for growth. 

“If we see that shuttles are getting full, we’ll just run more shuttles, we’ll offer more times,” O’Brien said.

Since most trails end in Downtown Helena, as bikers finish their rides, they are in the perfect location to grab a beer at the local breweries, get a bite to eat or enjoy a soak at the local hot springs. This year, a new addition for riders: a free pass for the newly remodeled Broadwater Hot Springs handed out to everyone who uses the shuttle.

Not a biker? Trail Rider is open to everyone.

“Trail Rider is open to all different trail users. So we invite mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners – everyone is welcome aboard,” O’Brien said. “We do ask that people leave their pets at home.”

The shuttle will run 5 days a week from May 19 to Oct. 1. The pick location for most days is at the Women’s Mural. On Sundays the shuttle will run from Rimini Road to MacDonald Pass beginning in July. For the full schedule of stops click here.

The shuttle is scheduled to run through Oct. 1, however, if weather conditions change the shuttle man not run. Bike Helena will update their Facebook page for schedule changes.