Author Topic: 2013 Fall Idaho Trip - Weiser River Trail, Magruder, Custer Motorway and More  (Read 1959 times)

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Offline two_wheel_tim

A buddy and myself recently completed a 20 day, 770 mile, 54,000 vertical feet trip from Sept 7-20 that took us on some of Idaho's premier back country roads.  I set up the route and could find very little information, so I thought I'd post a trip report here in the ACA Forums for reference by others. 

We began the trip in Council Idaho and took the Weiser River Trail (WRT) to New Meadows.  From there we went to Riggins, Idaho and then up the Salmon River Road to Allison Creek and FR-221 to Florence, Idaho.  From Florence we took Hungry Ridge Road to the S.F. Clearwater and then up to Elk City for our entrance to The Magruder Corridor.  We spent three days on the Magruder, camping at Meadow Creek, Poet Creek and Observation Point.  From the Magruder we went to Conner, Montana to pick up our resupply packages and then headed back towards Idaho past Painted Rocks Reservoir and up the W.F. Bitteroot Road over the Continental Divide and down Spring Creek Road to the Salmon River.  From there we went up Panther Creek and down Morgan Creek.  A little bit of road riding led us to Challis so we could get back on dirt at the Custer Motorway.  The Custer took us up Mill Creek and then down into the S.F. Boise drainage to Featherville.  From there it was one final climb past Rocky Bar and up and over to Phifer Creek and the M.F. Boise.  A terrible wash board road brought us back home to Boise.

My riding partner had two weeks off from work so to save a couple riding days, we had our wives drop us off in Council, Idaho  which is where we could jump on the Weiser River Trail.  Neither one of us had trained much and we're no spring chickens anymore, late 40s for both of us, so a few days of moderate climbing would give a chance to warm up.  Besides, we were both riding bikes that had recently been built up and we needed a little bit of a shakedown to work out the kinks.

The WRT is a nice ride out of Council.  It's a rails to trails route so the climbing/descending is never excessive.  One thing neither one of us foresaw was all the goat heads/puncture vine we'd encounter.  We each had a flat on the first day and dealt with the remnants of the busted off thorns in our tires for the next four or five days.  So, if you are going to ride this trail, some type of sealant is mandatory.  The trail spits you out a couple miles short of New Meadows but it's nice descent into town.  Warm Springs Road is a nice way to stay off Hwy 95 and dumps you out at Zim's Hot Springs which is a great place to camp and soak a weary body.

The ride from Zim's down to Riggins is a nice descent on pavement with a descent shoulder most of the way.  We would've made really good time but had to buck a stiff headwind.  The ride up the Salmon River Road used to be dirt but is paved now and was a pleasant climb.  We came to Allison Creek (FR 221) and knew this would be the first test of the trip.  Like I said, neither one of had trained like we should have and I was riding a ridiculously heavy and over packed Surly Big Dummy, the first time I'd used this bike on a tour, and I knew we had around 4 to 5k of elevation to gain in the next 10 or so miles.  So, I had a little apprehension.  We made it about six miles up Allison Creek before we camped and the entire time was spent in granny gear at around 3-4 mph, but I knew we'd be okay because although the going was slow, my heart rate never spiked and my legs felt pretty good.

The next day we finished the climb and were rewarded with some killer views of the Salmon River and Seven Devils.  We stopped at the ghost town of Florence but were both disappointed there wasn't much there but a cemetery and some signs.  The pamphlet we had kind of led us to believe there were buildings.  Oh, well a nice romping descent to Rocky Bluff CG and some cleaning up in the icy cold Slate Creek.

My riding partner miscalculated his fuel supply and had to make a quick diversion into Grangeville to so I headed up to Hungry Ridge Road towards the S.F. Clearwater where we'd rendezvous.  Hungry Ridge was nice but not spectacular but it kept me off pavement which was one of the main goals of our route selection.

The ride up the S.F. Clearwater to Elk City is pleasant and we passed quite a few spawning Chinook which was good to see.  They definitely are single minded at this stage and didn't pay any attention to us gawkers.

Elk City is a funky Idaho town with gas, post office, restaurant, bar and eccentric locals.

The ride up the American River to get to the Magruder was also nice with more spawning Chinook and an informative walking tour at Red River Fish Hatchery.
 
The Magruder Corridor was the focus of our trip and judging by what I saw on google maps, we'd have some climbing to do.  I was surprised at the absence of information on the web about bike touring this road.  I found one blog and it was a guy that took a Bob Trailer on it and had to abandon the ride when it broke.  I attempted to contact one other guy who had posted some GPS info about the ride, but he never responded.  So, we went into it pretty much blind which made for a little more excitement.

Our main concern was water.  Actually, my partner's main concern was water.  He could carry about a gallon and I could carry 1.7 gallons with an option of adding another half if needed.  I always had plenty, but he was stopping regularly to refill.  There were always plenty of streams and creeks, so even in the hottest of trips, I think water is a non-issue as long as you can carry around 1 to 1.5 gallons.

Meadow Creek was our first camp and it was pretty nice.  Pretty views of the meadow which we thought for sure we'd see an elk running through at anytime with a wolf not far behind.  But they never materialized.

The descent from Meadow to Poet Creek camp is fast and steep.  I have 203mm rotors front and back and I had those things stinking.  It was the first time in my biking life that I'd got my brakes hot enough to smell - I smelled like a triple rig coming down I-80 of the Continental Divide.  Which brings me to my first lesson learned.  When you're bike touring on roads, you get to enjoy the fruits of your climbing labor by a romping descent down most roads.  But back country roads don't afford you that reward - you spend a lot of your descent controlling speed so as not to shake your cargo off or smash into a pothole hiding in the shadows.  Poet Creek is a nice campground and another good spot for bathing in icy cold waters. 

The climb from Poet is scenic but a long continuous grunt all the way to Dry Saddle.  It starts as soon as you leave camp and doesn't let up until you reach the pass, so prepare yourself mentally.  The scenery does its best to distract you but it isn't the prettiest part of the trip so you just try to think happy thoughts.  Once at Dry Saddle, you're rewarded with a nice view of a stark landscape looking over towards your destination of Sabe Vista.  The descent off Dry Saddle is chunky and steep and I remember thinking it's much better that we are descending this rather than climbing.  Which brings me to my second lesson learned - west to east is probably best for a Magruder bike trip.

Storm clouds were beginning to build when were around Horse Heaven so we pushed hard to make it to our camp at Observation Point.  Lightning and thunder accompanied us for the rest of the day and we made it to camp just in time to setup before rain began to fall.  Shortly after that, the skies opened up in a downpour of rain, lightning, thunder and hail that only happens in the mountains.  We had good dry gear so we both enjoyed our whiskey with a front row seat to Mother Nature's awesome power.  As quick as it started, it stopped and we were treated to a brilliant sunset of the day's last light turning the storm clouds to bright red.  This was the best part of the trip...hands down.

The descent from Observation to the Selway River was speedy romp down a nice grade and well packed out road.  A little too speedy for my partner who had his front tire wash out and ended up going for a tumble.  From the Selway it's a climb on an easy grade to Nez Perce Pass.  And then a speedy descent on pavement to our camp at Fale's Flat - a huge campground with nice facilities and another chilly splash bath.

From Fale's to Conner it was a quick descent and as luck and lack of planning would have it, we arrived on a Sunday and so would have to wait until the following day to pick up our supply packages.  The folks at Two River Bar and Casino were very nice and let us camp out back.  We jumped at the offer with ideas of beer, burgers and football floating through our heads.  After about five beers and four hours on a bar stool, we both agreed we'd had enough civilization and wished we were back on the road.

We awoke the next day more hungover than refreshed from what should've been a rest day.  Got our packages and happily back in the saddle.  The ride up the W.F. Bitteroot is paved quite a distance past Painted Rocks and there's plenty of camping around the reservoir.  When you pass the junction with Wood Cr Rd, the camping options decrease the more you climb.  We ended up finding an adequate spot with water access but probably should've stopped earlier.  We also saw more bear scat in this area than on any other part of the trip.  We were good about hanging our food as much for rodents and for bear and only had one break in when some type of rodent chewed threw my partners pannier even though it was hanging in a tree.  I didn't know mice could climb trees.

We continued on the next day and made a stop at Blue Nose lookout.  There are plenty of opportunities on this trip to take side hikes or rides to forest lookouts.  When we had the option to ride, we'd dump our bags by the side of the road and fly up on unladen steeds.  We didn't so much fly up to Blue Nose because even though it was only a mile, it was rocky and steep.  But the rewards were worth it.  The descent down Spring Creek Rd was nice and it was good to see my old friend, the Salmon River.  We stayed at Booker's Retreat and Mother Chukar Cafe at the confluence of the Salmon and Panther Creek.  Nice folks.  Nice place with food, showers and good camping.  The guys even invited us to the campfire and filled us with more beer than we could drink.

The ride up Panther Creek is scenic and the creek a nice distraction.  The gradient is mellow for almost the entire way and only gets steepish for the last five miles or so.  The romp down the other side to Morgan Creek is fast but washboard in some spots.  The canyon gets narrow and scenic towards the end.  We spooked a family of Big Horns and they showed their displeasure at having their afternoon drink interrupted by giving us a talus shower as they adroitly and seemingly effortlessly made their way up the rock slope.  The ride on Hwy 95 to Challis is only 8 miles but after so much time spent on back roads, the traffic is a little unnerving even though the shoulder is adequate.

My riding partner only had two weeks to ride so Challis would be the end for him.  He had a friend pick him up and I finished the rest of the trip solo.  The Custer Motorway is a nice ride.  It begins out of Challis and climbs gradually past houses and farms.  Once civilization is left behind, the climb steepens for a few miles to a saddle with nice view.  It's devoid of trees but pretty in that western US kind of way.  You have a descent and then meet up with Mill Creek which you'll follow all the way to to Mill Creek Pass at 8800'.  The ride up Mill Creek was really nice.  It was good to be alone and other humans respected my wish for solitude - I didn't see a single soul that day.  After Mill Creek CG, the climb gets steeper and had my heart pounding and legs aching.  But it's kind of stair-stepped and so you get a little recovery.  If you get to Mill Creek and you're tired, camp and finish the pass the next day, it's pretty tough.

The descent down into the Yankee Fork is steep and chunky at the top but mellows after 3-4 miles.  I was going to camp at Custer 1 camp but it's high on a bluff with no water and no access to water so I pushed on even though it was late.  I made it into the ghost town of Custer and decided I'd camp there even though there was no official campsite.  That's the beauty of traveling in September, the crowds are gone and it's a lot easier to stealth camp.  I set up camp near a couple picnic tables with trees all around for seclusion.  Dinner and some whiskey was all I needed to imagine what this mining town was like in its heyday. 

The next day, the ride out down the Yankee was depressing.  For one I knew I had my biggest stretch of road on the entire trip was coming up and secondly all the piles of rubble from the mining operations make for a less than scenic ride.  Plenty of campgrounds though.  I made it to Stanley and then headed out to what I thought would be a quick ride to Sun Valley but I ran into a headwind more common to the open Plains of the Midwest.  So, rather than push on, I stayed at Smiley Creek Lodge (the campground).  The place was okay and the staff nice, but I wished I was someplace else.  The final nail in the coffin for this place was the shepherds were bringing their flock through the area and rather than bring their dogs in at night, they let them roam and they barked ALL NIGHT LONG.  Even the people I talked to in the restaurant complained.  So, it wasn't just me.

The next day dawned bright and wind free and the ride up to Galena was an easy get.  The shoulder is narrow or non-existent here so I had to battle traffic.  I did a little non-scientific study - when I'd hear a car coming, I'd decide if I was going to move over as far right as possible even though there wasn't much shoulder or stand my ground and remain to the left of the painted line.  When I moved over, the traffic seemed to cut in close and when I stood my ground, they gave me wide berth.  Unofficial, but interesting.  The descent down into the Wood River Valley is beautiful.  Hardly touched my pedals and plenty of shoulder to enjoy the views.  Restocked on coffee and whiskey in Sun Valley and then up Warm Springs to find a home for the night.  This section of Idaho was hit hard but fires this summer and it showed - Warm Springs was flowing a silty black and the a lot of sludgy, silt on the banks.  I found an okay campsite and caught up on some news via a Boise Weekly.

The next day was cool but dry and the climb up Warm Springs gradual.  Matter of fact, the entire grade up Warm Springs to Dollarhide Pass is very gradual even though you get up to a good elevation in the 8000' range.  It's almost too gradual - I could see the pass but it seemed like forever before I got there.  Again, the descent down into the S.F. Boise drainage was steep at the top and then mellowed to a cruisy, big ring pedal push.  Baumgartner was my camp for the night.  I couldn't find the hot springs but I did see lots of Kokanee spawning in the S.F. Boise and was awakened quite a few times by a overly verbose owl.  Who?  Me, that's who.  I'm the one you're waking up at 3:30 in the morning.  Take your inquisition elsewhere, I want to sleep.

Rode into Featherville and had a cinnamon roll as big as my head and a ton of coffee before I headed out for the last climb of the trip past Rocky Bar and down into the M.F. Boise.  The road up to Phifer Creek was nice, with average scenery.  Rocky Bar is cool and I added my tally to the population counter for the day.  With myself, the population was five.  The descent down Phifer is steep and as luck had it, it started to sleet and snow.  The moisture made the decomposed granite, it's what makes up most of the dirt roads here in Idaho, stick to everything - panniers, chain, frame, forks, and unbeknownst to me, my brake rotors.  So, when I hauled on the brakes, I felt a sticky moment and then heard a screech coming from front and back.  It seems the granite ripped the spring out of the front brake so they were toast and did a number on the rear.  Fingers numb, I fixed the rear enough to finish the descent.  Luckily the M.F. Boise has plenty of hot springs, so I found the nearest one and camped. 

The ride out on the M.F. Boise road is heinous and the only portion of the trip that I wouldn't do again.  It's continuous washboard for 50+ miles.  I'm sure this section is very scenic but I didn't notice because I was busy picking my way through and around washboard as big as haystacks...well, maybe not that big but it felt like it.  Once I reached the beginning of  Lucky Peak and pavement, I turned and gave that road a middle finger salute, vowing to never set foot or tire on it again.

The rest of the ride into Boise was pavement and uneventful.  So, that's it.  I hope this trip report either helps or inspires others to see Idaho on a bike, especially our back roads.  It's a beautiful state with plenty of nice people.

Enjoy,

TWT
« Last Edit: October 06, 2013, 07:54:55 pm by two_wheel_tim »


Offline westrid_dad

t_w_t, thanks for posting this.  I'm in Boise and my wife and I have done a fair amount of self-contained (road) touring in the past, what seems like a previous life now.  We've both thought about getting back into it, but after reading your post and looking through the pics I'm wondering about getting off the beaten path.  Just not sure I could talk my wife into it, she swears she'd never get on a mountain bike.  But, the Weiser River Trail has interested her.

Thanks again!

Offline bogiesan

Tim, many thanks for your contribution to the discourse here on Adventure Cycling. You said "back home to Boise" so I assume Idaho is not new territory for you.

Traveling the backroads of a sparsely populated, fiercely independent and weirdly diverse geographical region is fraught with risk from the first pedal stroke: weather, animals, ignorant motorists, mechanicals, and you may not see another human on some of those primitive roads for several days. But you and your bike may also be intruding. Folks have been exploiting and extracting Idaho for a l-o-n-g time. Hunting, logging and mining are well-established industries and they enjoy protection and favor. The shepherds have been moving their flocks through the Stanley Basin for 100 years. No one blades the old mining and logging roads. Springs vanish in the summer. Severe thunderstorms kick up out of nowhere and, while they rarely last more than a few hours in the mountains, they can really mess stuff up, testing you and your gear. Roads wash out. Trees fall down and landslides can change the courses of streams.

Self-contained mountain bike touring is easily researched and there are a few books available. A few backpacking weekends in the mountains you plan to ride over will prepare you for your bike journey and give you practical experience with your camping equipment. Idaho has many thousands of miles of single track and jeep trails you can ride.

Thanks again, Tim, nice work.
I play go. I use Macintosh. Of course I ride a recumbent

Offline bong_crosby

Tim, many thanks for your contribution to the discourse here on Adventure Cycling. You said "back home to Boise" so I assume Idaho is not new territory for you.

Traveling the backroads of a sparsely populated, fiercely independent and weirdly diverse geographical region is fraught with risk from the first pedal stroke: weather, animals, ignorant motorists, mechanicals, and you may not see another human on some of those primitive roads for several days. But you and your bike may also be intruding. Folks have been exploiting and extracting Idaho for a l-o-n-g time. Hunting, logging and mining are well-established industries and they enjoy protection and favor. The shepherds have been moving their flocks through the Stanley Basin for 100 years. No one blades the old mining and logging roads. Springs vanish in the summer. Severe thunderstorms kick up out of nowhere and, while they rarely last more than a few hours in the mountains, they can really mess stuff up, testing you and your gear. Roads wash out. Trees fall down and landslides can change the courses of streams.

Self-contained mountain bike touring is easily researched and there are a few books available. A few backpacking weekends in the mountains you plan to ride over will prepare you for your bike journey and give you practical experience with your camping equipment. Idaho has many thousands of miles of single track and jeep trails you can ride.

Thanks again, Tim, nice work.

I don't understand your reply.  I can't tell if you're chastising me, patronizing me, or praising me.