Postcards from Roads Less Traveled - The Magruder Trail
story by Martin Hackworth, Photograph by Martin Hackworth, Created Apr. 12, 2005
You, the MO faithful, have no idea what you are missing behind the scenes here at the epicenter of motojournalism, but persistent abuse is a big part of it.
Me - I get hassled about my gray ponytail, lack of lane-splitting prowess (I call it insanity!), and being a hick from the woods. But every time I suffer an attempted tune up by Sean, Ebass and the rest of my LA friends over mi casa in the sticks, I just send `em a postcard or two from one of my favorite rides. This one I thought I'd share with all of you.
The 101-mile Magruder Corridor Road is a primitive dirt road that serves as the only passage for motorized vehicles through the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 US States. The Frank Church River of No Return/Selway Bitterroot Wilderness is situated along the Idaho-Montana border just
north of the 45th parallel. At almost 5 million acres this is a stretch of contiguous wilderness almost the size of New Jersey. The Magruder Road follows an old path used by the Nez Perce Indians to move seasonally from the Camas Prairie in Idaho to the Bitterroot valley in Montana. After the arrival of European settlers, miners used this path during a brief post-Civil War gold rush in north-central Idaho. The present road was constructed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) during the 1930's and has not changed in any significant manner since then. I like to start from Shoup, Idaho on the Salmon River, ride north over the mountains to Alta, Montana and pick up the trail at the West Fork Ranger Station. From there the road runs 101 miles almost due west traversing some of the most breathtaking wilderness anywhere. The trail ends near the west boundary of the wilderness area at Elk City, Idaho. Traveled in this fashion the ride is a total of about 150 miles of mostly dirt road. Since the road is largely hard-packed dirt you can fly on a dirtbike (I use my XR600R and hard knobbies) but I've encountered all manner of big-bore dual sports, UJM's and even a plush BMW R1150GS on the way back over on one day (although the owner seemed concerned about the amount of dust on his tank bra). You can ride almost any motorcycle with sufficient ground clearance over the route with little difficulty as long as you are careful not to override your tires in the numerous switchbacks.
While traversing this route you will have chances to encounter a variety of wildlife: moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, dall sheep, black bear, eagles, and mountain lions, to name a few. The route traverses the headwaters of several wilderness rivers and climbs over three spectacular passes (one of which, oddly, is a paved supermotard heaven for 12 miles!). What you will not encounter are other roads, any airplanes flying overhead, many other people, or any gas should you run out (from my experience an XR600R makes a piss-poor wheelbarrow when it's out of fuel). My time for the round trip is about 12 hours with an overnight in Elk City.
If you are out touring this summer and pass through Northern Idaho or Western Montana and have a yen for a relatively easy but spectacular offroad adventure I highly recommend the Magruder Corridor Road. You'll be chased by moose, see scenery that'll burn your eyes out and worry about your gas situation but you'll not be disappointed over the adventure.
Me - I'm back on the road!