Idaho Back Country Route Jul 2019

While racing sailboats we use to say that the race was won or lost before you even left the dock.  Meaning preparation is extremely important.  In the case of a BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route) it is the same.  Preparation for an event like this takes a tremendous amount of time and research.  Where to stay and what routes to take even what BDR to run.

There are many BDRs now in several states including Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  This year I chose Idaho mainly because I did not know a single person who had been on it.  I did internet research and joined several Facebook groups in an attempt to know which places would be best to drive and visit.  Once I joined these groups I asked a general question about the Idaho BDR and what was good and what was not.  This was very successful when I planned a trip to Wyoming to run the Morrison Jeep Trail.  The local clubs were very helpful in passing on information on the trail and what I should expect.  This did not work for Idaho.  I did not get much in the way of direct information.  So I waited and reviewed the posts from each group taking notes along the way.  This seemed to work ok and it is where I learned about some of the sites along the way.

Before leaving each rig had to pass a check.   Nothing major just a look around the rig to make sure that it was ready for over 1000 miles of driving.  This yielded several issues that needed to be fixed before the trip.  I too had a bent track bar that had to be fixed.  A wheeling trip to Walker Valley ORV had caused a very mild bend to increase to a worse but still manageable bend.  My friend Shan generously offered to give me one he purchased but ended up not needing.  It was a Rock Krawler Drag link.   I called Rock Krawler to make sure that it would work well with our overlander AEV 2.5 inch lift.  They told me  it would not be a problem and would work great.  More on that later.

On Wednesday morning we headed out to the meeting location in Northbend.  With us for this trip would be Tom and Marry in their TJ, Terry and Pam in a TK (TJ with JK axles) Shawn and Justin in a TJ, Ryan and Cheryl in a JKU, Joe, Lisa and Dedrick in a TJ, Pat and Pat and Angela in a two door and finally Wendy Emily and I in our Jeep JKU. Six more had planned to come but could not make it.  All of them had good reasons related to family, medical or their rig not being ready.  Out of Northbend we headed east toward Spokane were Tom would drop off his tow rig and trailer.  Being that we had a tow rig and several jeeps that are not as highway friendly we stuck to 60 MPH.  Only one issue along the way.  The Tow rig would not start when it was hot.  Something that would have to be fixed once it got home. 

That night I hit a speed bump and heard a hard contact with the frame.  I guess the advice from Rock Krawler was not so good.  The track bar was making hard contact with the frame when both sides of the suspension were compressed.  I talked with Joe and he was able to come up with a workable plan.  Thank god for Joe as I was very stressed out at this time.  More than a few people were counting on me to lead them for the next few days.  Joe’s Idea was to stick spring spacers in the coils which would make it harder for the track bar to contact.  It helped a lot.  I would still need to be careful but at least I could still make it onto and off the trail.

Trail Day 1

We met up at the local grocery store and headed out at about 7:30. We headed north through Naples and Bonners Ferry all the way to Pothill at the Canadian border.  We topped off the tanks at the local gas station where Ryan had an issue with a gas pump.  I guess the pump said that he had $5 of gas yet he was pretty sure he did not get any.   From here would be the start of the IBDR.  The road was gravel with only a  few pot holes.  This made for quick travel as we headed down the valley.   The valley is a flat bottom with Mountains on the sides.  We did move on and off paved roads and stopped at a bridge to take a few pictures.  After several miles we turned on to the road up the side of the mountains.  We all aired down a little to make the road a little smoother.  Most of us picked a tire pressure that would work for both on and off road. While airing down a work truck pulled up and tried to convince me that we really needed to hit some trail he knew about near Naples.   I thanked him and told him that we were here to run the IBDR.  I guess he did not take no for an answer and tried to convince Joe the same thing.  We continued to climb.  Soon we came to a large rock mountain visible from the road.

This seemed like a good place to take a picture. So we lined up the rigs and took a group photo.   Lucky for us the dust was not too bad at all.  Two days before our trip there was a good sized storm that rolled through and dropped a good deal of rain.  It was enough rain where there were small branches down on the road.   Then onto Roman Nose.

Roman Nose is a breath taking alpine lake that is a very short walk from a parking area.  This is where we had lunch for the day.

After Lunch I looked for the road to the top of roman Nose but it quickly became clear that we would not be able to make it with all the brush growing across the road.  We turned around and took the next road down the mountain.  This road did have some growth and we added some new pin striping.  The road was rocky but still no issue for a stock Jeep.   A little ways down we were stopped by a side by side who claimed the road was blocked by trees ahead and there was no way around it for a full sized rig.  I checked with the group.  Tom’s answer was priceless.  “ I think we all agreed to the unexpected nature of this trail.  I think we should keep going”.   I was glad to hear this and we moved on.  Not too long after that we ran into a 6 wheel quad type ATV.  This guy aslo said that we would not be able to make it.  He said that there was no way and he had the same Jeep that we did.  He said the first tree had a path cut for an ATV but we would not fit.  Then there were several trees across the road that we would not be able to get under.  I thanked him and said we would check it out.   We moved on and then came to the first tree which did have a opening cut through.  As we came closer I told Wendy that we would not have an issue driving past it and we all passed easily.  Next we came to the unpassable trees.    It turned into more of a car wash than a real obstacle.  Other than having to close the roof and drive up on the bank a little there was no problem at all.  I don’t even think anyone used 4 wheel drive.  Mary’s advise is to not believe it unless someone who is build like you says you can’t make it to look for yourself.  Look with your own eyes.  After another break I talked the group.  We decided to head back to have dinner then head out at 6:30 for a run up Lunch Peak.

Night run Day 1

We met up at 6:30.  On the way up the mountain there is a cool water fall called Char falls.   There is a smaller upper falls and larger but harder to see lower falls.  The second falls were maybe a 40 foot drop.

With the sun setting we headed for Lunch Peak.  It would turn out that we would just miss the sun set but the views would still be outstanding.  As we crested the top near the look out was a guy all by himself.  Little did he know that we were going to invade.  He was a pretty nice guy who had booked the lookout for a few days.    We all setup to watch the light fade and the stars come out.  Tom laid down for a while to look at the stars but decided that was not such a great idea when a critter of some type ran across him.  Ryan and some others spotted some odd lights that were not moving as we would expect.  I also saw what looked like a bright star that quickly faded into view and then faded again.   The stars were not yet fully out but the crew was getting sleepy so we headed back to town.   It was pretty enjoyable  drive down with the driving lights on and the roof open.   I was just thankful that Terry was not behind me.  In the last BDR Shawn’s annoying headlights filled my rear view mirror.  I gladly gave him a different set and was happy to see his old lights go.  Little did I know that the lights would come back in Terry’s jeep.  I heard more than once the suggestion to make Shawn drive in front of Terry at night but I am not sure if that happened.

Day 2  (Sandpoint to Wallace)

The night before I was asked to change the meeting time by an hour.  After consulting with the group I agreed.  Somehow Cheryl and Ryan did not get the message and ended up getting up an hour early.  This is exactly why I am not a fan of changing times.  Somehow it always turns into an issue.    We headed out again and drove along the road and followed the north end of the lake.  The trail was what you would expect,  deer, trees, wild turkeys, streams, road and more road.   We found a nice spot near the river for lunch.  At this time I was noticing that we were falling behind and after about another few hours on the trail I could see that everyone was getting pretty tired.  While everyone else was stretching I went to work trying to find a way to drastically shorten the run to Wallace.  I thought I found a way to cut across paved roads and out to Wallace.  I checked with everyone and from the sounds of it they were very willing to try the short cut.  It worked well and I figured that it cut the more than 4 hours to a more manageable hour.  Back in Wallace we all had dinner than I went to work trying to figure out what we would do the next day.  After day two everyone seemed really beat.  Out of the 100 mile route that day we maybe only covered 2/3rd of it.  The next day would be much longer at 136 miles to the end of the trail plus another hour and a half to Lewiston.  At the rate we had traveled on day to it would mean that we would be on the trail for at least 12 hours.  I have a new respect for the guys who do this day after day on their motor cycles.  I downloaded google maps for the area and did as much research as I could.  It looks like we had two options after the town of Avery which I will cover below.  Regardless I needed to find a way to shorten the drive time.

Day 3 (Wallace to Pierce)

After a few wrong turns we made it out of Wallace. Again the road was in very good condition which made for faster travel.  We climbed up a pass next to a nice little river.   Along the route we ran into a truck full of dogs.  One of them jumped out in front of the Jeep.  Lucky we were not going very fast.  Wendy asked if they were raccoon hunting  they said no bear.  Black bear hunting with dogs is legal in the state of Idaho.   The next valley was full of old trees stands.  Some of the trees must have died on there own and others had to have been cut.  What I did not expect was the massive size of these dead trees.  Many of them would rival the trees you would find on the Washington coast.

Along this route there are fords across the creeks.  The bridges are not strong enough to support  trucks and they have to cross the ford.  We all cross the ford making very sure not to disrupt the creek.

Next we came to probably one of my favorite parts of the trip.  The trail started down the North St Joe River. The trail follows down both sides of the river which was part of the Milwaukee Rail Road.  The passenger train was called the Hiawatha route.  My family goes back 4 generations working on the Milwaukee.  My grandfather would have driven trains down the very same valley.    The road from here was only single lane as it followed the old rail road grade.  We crossed several rail bridges.  Wendy spotted some motorcycle coming when a moose suddenly appeared.  He was caught between us and the motorbikes.  He kind of went back and forth a few times.  We started to back up not wanting him to charge the motorbikes but he started back to the river.  The motor bikes did not seem to care and drove on.  I am guessing they see this type of thing all the time.  The moose started walking up the river I moved forward in hopes that the rest of the group could see him too but he moved into the woods.   I captured some of it below on our dash cam.

Moose in the river

After a few miles we climbed to the higher road and stopped at a high bridge.  This was a great spot to take some pictures.  We moved back to the low road and down the river. We came across a gate keeper gate with a narrow path along the right side of the gate.  After looking everywhere for a sign we decided to drive around it and down the single lane road.  There were many tracks made by non ATV so we figured it would be fine.  This continued down the river for several miles until we got to another gate and the end of the trail.  This gate keeper was much easier and we all drove around.  At this point someone read one of the signs that said the trail was not for 4x4s.  Bikes and ATV only.  Whoops!  I guess we will not drive that trail again.   This is where we pulled into the town of Avery and some of us topped off our tanks.  Since the group had been so drained the day before I walked around and asked which route they wanted to take to Lewiston.  Option one would take the main roads.  It would be much less travel time but the views would not be as good.  Option two would be to take the Discovery route.  I would try to shorten the travel time by taking different roads after we crossed the bridge at the lake but once we headed down this route there was no easy way out.  I was pretty happy when the majority of the group wanted to continue on the discovery route.

After missing the turn for the bridge we had to back track a little.  Back on track we drove over another small bridge and past some houses and a small school before heading up yet another river canyon.  This one had a cool tunnel to pass through.

This road like the day before went on and on and on. Right turn left turn right turn left turn……….   I did find a side track to the top of a mountain and we drove up it to break for lunch in an incredible meadow with about 180 degree views.  Way in the distance we could see the head of the lake that we would be driving to.  We would be crossing at a bridge half way down the lake.  The road here was full of mountain views meadows and wild flowers.  I think it was about this point someone came on the radio and commented that they were glad we were coming through on the discovery route.   We passed a few ATV and a truck.  One of the ATVs drivers even had a beer in his hand.  I guess we were in Idaho. It is here I like to stick something off the wall to see who actually reads through this whole thing.  Just remember Erin go bragh!  We started noticing some massive cedar trees.  And I mean massive.  Not the type of tree I would have expected.  A short time later we came to a whole grove of massive trees and the sign said they were estimated to be over 1000 years old and one of them had a 17 foot circumference.  We dropped in altitude until we were only a 100 feet or so above the lake.  The road then continued with some ups and downs until finally we dropped onto the bridge.  I am not sure what I expected but this amazing bridge in the middle of no where was not it.  We pulled over pretty much in the middle of the bridge and enjoyed the wind blowing off the lake.   After the break, we would follow the BDR to the top of the hills and then navigate to what looked to be straighter roads.  Straight roads normally mean faster and more improved.  I was able to find several roads that were quicker and before long we had reached paved roads again.  The rest of the drive was nice and we all made it to Lewiston without issue.

We kept the highway speeds low on the way back home.    Most of us headed north to stay with Tom and to pick up the tow rig in Spokane.  I personally wanted to make sure that his tow rig was going to start and this way I could help if there was any issues.  Lucky it started and we now headed west back home.  The road was not fully done with us and we ran into a major backup near Cle Elum.   This meant sitting in traffic for a few hours.  The traffic separated us as a group so once back home I did a quick check to make sure that everyone made it back.

All in all it was long trip but that is what we expected. The views were amazing and I enjoy seeing parts of the country that I have not been to.  My favorite part may have been Justin and his never ending search for bigfoot.  Or maybe just spending some time with Wendy and Emily.

Curt Brady

Senior Vice president of Idaho trip planning