Travel Time: Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route

The Backcountry Discovery Routes team was on the road again – this time in Idaho. As with previous projects, the aim was to unlock the potential of a US state for adventure bike riders. The result was a fully documented route across some of the most beautiful off-road sections of the Rocky Mountains.                                                                                                                        Story by Paul Guillien. Photos by Jon Beck.

We begin the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route (IDBDR) in the tiny mining town of Jarbidge, NV. This Wild West town was the site of the last reported stage coach robbery in America and it still has a dirt main street. Jarbidge has 22 full-time residents and they welcome us like old friends. They are hearty folk who live 100 miles from the nearest grocery store. They do have a tiny ‘trading post’ where you can find a few essentials, but it’s about the size of a small bedroom. Tom inquires about the price of an antique but the old timer at the counter shakes his head suggesting that some things are not for sale. We’re invited to have a ‘cold one’ with them at the trading post during the daily social hour they call ‘beer-thirty.’

We find ourselves on a twisty two track road with large water-bars. I launch the F800GS dozens of times and enjoy the plush feel of the Touratech Fork Cartridge system and the Extreme shock. With the weight of all my camping gear, a full gas tank, groceries for the night and 3 liters of wine on board it was a serious test of the suspension setup. Twisty curves, great traction and perfectly shaped water-bars make this one of the most fun BDR roads I can remember.

Arriving in Yellow Pine, a tiny town which is comprised of a few historic wood buildings along a dirt road, we fuel the bikes from a small above-ground tank next to the general store. This is the second time we’ve gotten gas without leaving dirt roads. There is something so laid-back about a town with no pavement. This is uniquely Idaho and we love it.

Forest roads lead us to Burgdorf Hotsprings which date back to 1870 and are listed on the National Historic Register. Here, things have not changed much over the years. The hosts make us bratwurst for dinner and we retire to the large hotspring for a relaxing soak in the log-lined pool with a sandy gravel bottom. We sleep in rustic one-room cabins that have no water or electricity. This place has so much character we struggle to find the motivation to leave.

It’s not uncommon to find trees across the road in Idaho, but by late summer the Forest Service and local residents have most of it cleared up. We come across a fallen tree and have to stack logs and branches on both sides to create a ramp. With a bit of teamwork we get all the bikes through. Our photographer, Jon Beck, has a press bike from BMW and notes that it has no skid plate installed. To ensure no impact to the engine or exhaust, he launches the R1200GSA off the log and keeps the big beemer in perfect condition.

We begin a 117-mile stretch that follows a trail used by the Nez Perce Indians who travelled to Montana to hunt Buffalo. It’s named after Lloyd Macgruder who was murdered by a few guys he hired to help deliver goods to Montana.

We’ve learned from locals that the corridor is closed to repair damage from a recent storm. If we can’t get through, some of us won’t have enough fuel to get back to Elk City. We decide to ‘go for it’ noting that adventure motorcycles usually find a way to get through. Twelve hours later we are face-to-face with a road grater and he isn’t going to let us by. After a frustrating hand signal exchange we are forced to turn around and wait. At 4pm the workers leave for the day and we get the bikes through the mud slide and cross into Montana.

The next morning we head back west over the Lolo Mo- torway. We stop to read the signs along the way and learn about the expedition of Lewis & Clark who explored this area in the 1860’s. Reading their tale makes us feel fortunate to be traveling with ease and in relative luxury compared to challenges they faced. The riding is exceptionally good on this remote dirt road that crosses between two wilderness areas.

A sign posted along the route tells us we are in bear country. Both black bear and grizzly bears live in the area so we make sure to clean our camp at night and hang our food in a tree some distance from our camp. The bears don’t visit us that night, but a small critter gets into one of the tank bags and devours the nuts and trail mix. We gas up near Sandpoint, ID and wind up the River toward Canada. Green farmlands and a wildlife refuge fill the narrow valley which is contained by steep foothills with dense forest. We reach the Canadian border and stop to celebrate with a cold beverage on the deck of the bar & grill, gazing out over the Kootenai River, taking in the sites and toasting the forest curves that are the IDBDR. 

To find out where you can see the IDBDR documentary at a venue near you click here!

Read more about the Backcountry Discovery Routes click here.