Sept. 14-17, 2016
Just over one year ago I started planning this trip. I was studying the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (IDBDR) and I was intrigued by the Magruder Corridor and the Lolo Motorway. With my small KTM 350, I am not really interested in riding any of the BDRs, but I enjoy learning about them. The Magruder and Lolo looked interesting from a historical perspective as well as an enjoyable dirt bike ride.
I also studied the T1 Tour of Idaho routes. While the BDRs are aimed at large adventure bikes, the T1 is designed for small dirt bikes. The route consists of a lot of very technical single track trails. I don’t have the skill or strength to tackle most of the T1, but I found that by taking the union of the T1 and IDBDR it formed a nice loop.
The western connection between the Magruder Corridor and Lolo Motorway did not consist of extreme single track, but what looked to be really fun ATV trails. Perfect for my small dirt bike and my skill level! But the eastern connection consisted of a lot of pavement – which I don’t like on my small bike.
I spent months looking for alternatives to avoid the pavement, but that made the trip get longer and longer. With a time constraint of only four days, and road closures due to fires, my original loop ended up being the route of choice for this trip.
Here is my highlights video from the trip:
My GPS track for the four-day adventure is shown below. I would point out, however, that my GPS randomly powered off a few times each day – usually while traveling fast. Thus, it didn’t record an accurate track of the entire route. If you look closely you will see straight lines. This indicates the section where my GPS was off. (I think the GPS battery vibrated loose, causing the GPS to power down even though I was running off 12V from the bike.) Each days ride is shown in a different color.
I originally wanted to do an Idaho ride in July so my son and daughter could join me. But about one week before we left, we learned that the Magruder Corridor was closed for repairs until August. So we opted for a central Utah trip and explored some of the Arapeen ATV trails.
I rescheduled the Idaho trip for mid-September. My children could not come because they were back in college, but some work colleagues were able to join me; Ross (KLR 685), Scott (KLR 650), and Danny (DR-Z400).
Day 1: North Fork to Poet Creek
We left work a little early on Tuesday so we could drive from home (Salt Lake City area) to Salmon, Idaho, where we had a motel reservation.
We awoke to a chilly and cloudy morning with a forecast for rain. After breakfast we drove to North Fork, and then headed west along the Salmon River Road until we found a nice place to park.
We started our ride at about 9:30 AM and continued west on the Salmon River Road. We rode about one mile past our turnoff to visit the small store at Shoup – even though it is currently out of business. Most of this stretch was paved.
Just as we turned north on Spring Creek Road, it started to rain lightly. Spring Creek was an enjoyable ride as we climbed rapidly into the mountains. I saw about a dozen deer through this section.
We stopped to regroup on a pass and Danny noted that it was snowing lightly. Great! That is all we need!
We pressed on and took a side spur to Blue Nose Lookout. The view was somewhat limited due to the cloud cover and drizzling rain/snow.
A short time later my GPS powered off for the first time. Rather than figure out what was wrong, I pressed on from memory. That is generally not a good strategy. I ended up taking a wrong turn, which took us down to Horse Creek Hot Springs. That would have been great if we had more time – but we were running behind schedule. I figured that to make our desired camp by about 5:00 PM we would need to average about 23-24 mph. We were riding about that fast, but we had far more stops than I expected.
Anyway, we powered up my GPS and returned to our designed route. We wanted to stop for lunch at Painted Rocks Reservoir, but it started to rain harder and the temperature was dropping fast.
We opted to find shelter under a tree in the Alta Campground. I dug my down jacket out from my luggage and pulled out my balaclava and glove liners to help stay warm. This was also the first time I have used my grip heaters all day long.
After lunch we pressed on to Painted Rocks Reservoir. It was raining pretty hard, but the road is paved in this area so it wasn’t a serious problem.
When we arrived at the dam we discussed our options. We decided to press on and see how muddy the trail was. To our surprise, mud was not an issue. We crossed the dam and then rode along the other side of the reservoir. We then took the Tough Creek trail over the mountain to the Magruder Corridor.
We were surprised that a section of the Magruder was paved. In fact, I was surprised that the entire Magruder Corridor was in really good condition. It was a much easier ride than I expected – but it was thoroughly enjoyable.
We stopped at Nez Perce Pass and at the Magruder Ranger Station. Just before we got to the ranger station, the rain stopped and the ground was bone dry. We were surprised how quickly we went from wet to dry conditions.
After a short break and snack, we pressed on as the road follows the Selway River for a few miles. We were also surprised that just about every camp spot had an outfitter with their large white tents and horses. Hunting season was ramping up, so there were a lot of people in the area.
The only technical trail of the entire trip was the side spur to Burnt Knob Lookout. We would like to rename this to Broken Fibula Lookout in honor of Scott, who dropped his KLR and smashed his ankle. He was in a lot of pain, but didn’t learn that he also scraped his elbow and knee until we got to camp, and he didn’t learn that he had fractured his fibula until after the trip. What a man!
This side spur doesn’t look very hard in my videos, but with a loaded bike it was quite a challenge. Ross and I made it to the top, but it was quite a workout. It is a long and rocky climb with a lot of loose dirt. Danny stopped to help Scott, so he was not able to make the top.
While Ross and Danny helped get Scott and his bike off the trail, I went on ahead to find a campsite before dark. Our target was Poet Creek, which is one of the nicer campsites along the route and has a nice stream for filtering water. The main campground was full, but there was a nice spot alongside the road just outside the campground. We covered about 162 miles on our first day.
We were able to get camp set up before dark, but we ended up riding until about 7:00 PM instead of our desired 5:00 PM. We were just glad to have a nice place to camp and be out of the rain. It did, however, get quite cold during the night. Both of my water bottles froze. I was glad I had the down throw blanket I got for my birthday a few weeks earlier!
Day 1 video:
Day 2: Poet Creek to Smith Creek
The skies cleared during the evening, which is why it got so cold at night. In the morning our tents were covered in frost, so we didn’t get as early of a start as we had planned. But we enjoyed a nice breakfast and beautiful clear blue skies.
We continued along the Magruder Corridor for about 15 miles. We passed our backup campsite at Granite Springs – we were glad we didn’t end up staying there – the place burned to the ground a few years ago.
In the Mountain Meadow area we split up. Scott continued down the main road to Elk City while the rest of us tried the first of three planned ATV trails. I don’t know the name of the trail, but I learned about it while studying the T1, Tour of Idaho.
This turned out to be an absolute blast! This trail is my new all-time favorite trail. It starts off as a standard ATV trail through the forest. It then enters a large burn area that is covered with 3’-4’ tall pine trees. It was like riding through a Christmas Tree plantation.
And then things got really interesting. We took a fork in the trail, but the trail almost disappeared into thick brush. According to my GPS we were on the right track, and there were a few tire tracks on the trail – but the trail was seriously overgrown. We bushwhacked our way through and found it to be a really fun gem. The trail drops down off the mountain until we finally popped out on the Red River Road. The trail was about 12 miles long.
We planned on taking forest road 423 to another ATV trail called the Divide Trail #505. Unfortunately, road 423 closes for wildlife management on September 15 – the day we were there. The road was gated closed, so we had no choice but to find an alternate route. Since we were running behind schedule (again), we opted to take the pavement in to Elk City and meet Scott for lunch.
We had a great lunch and filled up our bikes with fuel. We covered about 217 miles on our first tank of gas. With my 5 gallon tank, my low fuel light came on at about 213 miles. I think the tank gives me a range of at least 250 miles.
After lunch we discussed our options again. Our plan was to ride the third ATV trail – the Boundary Trail #835. But Scott wasn’t up to riding an ATV trail and as I mentioned, we were behind schedule – so we opted to take the easy road up to the Falls Point Road #443 and head over to the Selway drainage. This was another pleasant ride.
The Falls Point Road descends fairly rapidly for about seven miles. It was an easy and fun ride, but it was amazing how long the descent was. There were a lot of water bars and water dips to avoid erosion. These were a little tricky with fully loaded bikes.
We stopped to take pictures of Selway Falls and continued on to Lowell and the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway Rivers. The road along the Selway was under construction and had some sections with slippery, gooey mud.
Our planned camp for the night was at Rocky Ridge Lake up on the Lolo Motorway. We knew we couldn’t make it that far before dark, but we decided to press on and find a place to camp along the road. My plan was to ride up Big Hill to Smith Creek #101, which leads to the Lolo Motorway #500. Either I picked the wrong trail, or Big Hill is not open to motorized travel (at least this time of year). So we bailed on that plan and buzzed down Hwy 12 to Syringa and started up Smith Creek #101 from the bottom.
Smith Creek is on a steep side hill and there are no obvious places to camp. While Scott rested, Ross and I spent about 45 minutes scouting for a decent place to camp. We finally found a flat patch of ground in the middle of a seldom used, overgrown trail. There was no fire ring, but it turned out to be a nice place to camp. The thick trees sheltered us from the wind and we were at a lower elevation than either of the other camps. Ross entertained us by showing a Big Foot video on his phone. Just what is needed before sleeping in the forest!
Mileage for the day was about 142 miles. Once again we rode until almost dark.
Day 2 video:
Day 3: Smith Creek to Horseshoe Lake
We awoke to another gorgeous day. We continued up Smith Creek road until we came to a side spur to Walde Lookout. I told everyone where we were headed, but being early in the morning no one seemed to remember.
As I passed the last junction on the trail to the lookout I wondered if I should stop and wait for the group – but it was obvious that you want to take the trail that goes up since we were heading to a lookout tower. Well, I thought it was obvious.
I pushed aside my fear of heights and ascended the 100’ tall tower (which seemed more like 500’). The lookout host gave me a private tour of the small shack on top while we waited for the rest of the group to find their way. They eventually remembered that we were heading to the Walde Lookout waypoint that I provided along with all of the other GPS tracks and points.
The tower was really interesting and well worth the time and the climb up the 165 stairs. One of the steps has 5280 engraved on it – indicating that the step is one mile above sea level.
Smith Creek road is a well maintained road but it was covered in loose gravel. This made cornering a little sketchy, but it gave us a chance to work on our cornering technique. I think we all improved – a little.
We eventually arrived at the junction with Road 500 – the Lolo Motorway. The Lolo is a really fun ride! The middle section was a lot rockier than I expected, but it wasn’t difficult on a small dirt bike – you just have to pay attention and pick your line carefully. There was, however, one long rocky climb that didn’t seem to want to end.
Like the Magruder, we rode through a mixture of forest, meadows, and burn areas. The forests are so thick you can’t see very far, whereas the burn areas really open up the view. The biggest challenge on these trails is paying attention to the trail and not over enjoying the scenery. Going off the trail could be fatal.
We were surprised to learn that this area of Idaho does not have Quaking Aspen trees, which we expected to give us beautiful autumn colors. The undergrowth was changing color, but the pine trees made it difficult to see much of the time.
We stopped for lunch at Rocky Ridge Lake. What a beautiful spot! It would have been nice to camp there, but it would have been a lot chillier than the place we did camp.
We planned on camping somewhere near Lochsa Lodge for our third camp, but since we were running about ½ day behind schedule, we decided to camp at Horseshoe Lake. This isn’t quite as nice as Rocky Ridge, but it wasn’t bad at all and we were the only ones there. Unlike the crowded Magruder, we only saw a handful of people all along the Lolo.
The rockiest part of the Lolo is the part between Rocky Ridge Lake and Horseshoe Lake. It wasn’t overly difficult, but it was the most tiring section of the entire loop, not counting Burnt Knob Lookout.
We took another side spur to Castle Butte Lookout. This is a very nice lookout shack, but it was not manned while we were there. The last portion of the trail is really rocky, so if you aren’t up for it, just park your bike and walk up to the lookout.
The gal at Walde Lookout told us there was a prescribed burn scheduled for that day, and it really filled the air with smoke.
We only made 85 miles on day three, but it was nice to stop for camp at about 5:00 PM.
Day 3 video:
Day 4: Horseshoe Lake to North Fork
As we were packing our bikes in the morning, a cold front came through and the temperature started to drop. It was also getting cloudy.
The eastern portion of the Lolo is the smoothest. There were a few rocky parts, but most of it was pretty smooth flowing trail.
We stopped to talk to two guys riding the IDBDR. They said that they got about 2” of snow on Wednesday night at Trinity Lakes. We were glad we didn’t have to camp in snow because we weren’t prepared for that extreme of weather.
We stopped at Lochsa Lodge to get gas (208 miles) and air up our tires. Our original plan was to ride the Elk Meadows dirt road, but since we were behind schedule we just rode the pavement all the way back to our car in North Fork – approximately 160 miles of pavement.
The others are quite used to riding pavement, but my bike is geared so low that it really buzzes if I push it above 60 mph. The ride up and over Lolo Pass wasn’t bad since the speed limit was only 50 mph, but the last portion, heading towards the town of Lolo jumps up to 70 mph. I pushed it to 70 mph for a few seconds, but I didn’t like it so I backed off. Luckily the traffic was really light.
The long, straight stretches of Hwy 93 through Montana were the most stressful for me on my small bike. We skipped portions of Hwy 93 by taking the East Side Highway – that really helped.
The last portion goes up over Lost Trail Pass. This wasn’t bad because I could keep up with the traffic – and I even passed an old Subaru that was burning oil. And twisty roads are fun on a bike.
We got back to the car at about 4:00 PM, loaded up, and started for home just as it started to rain – again. We lucked out by beating the storm, but we did have a really stiff side wind as we rode along Hwy 93.
Day 4 video:
All in all it was an extremely enjoyable trip. Even Scott enjoyed it in spite of his pain. We were all glad he was able to complete the trip with his injuries.
Our total mileage for the trip came in at around 588 miles, which includes the time Ross and I spent looking for a place to camp on day two. My only disappointment was that my children were not there to enjoy it with me. Maybe next year.