Magruder Corridor

I’m going to take you guys back to October.  The weekend of Oct 9-10 to be exact.  This is the weekend the Hubs and I packed up and ventured off to the land of no cell service.  No convenience stores.  No grocery stores.  No nothing.  Seriously….nothing but wilderness and a really old dirt road.  The Magruder Corridor.

Never heard of it?  Yeah, I hadn’t either.  But apparently “traveling the Magruder Corridor” was on my husbands bucket list.  Good to know.

But let me just back up for a minute.  Remember how I said this trip happened in October?  Well that my friends is a big deal.  Huge.  You see, I married a hunter.  A serious hunter.  He basically heads out the door saying “Sianara Sista!” from September – November and never looks back.   You think I kid….but alas I do not.  I’m a bona-fide hunting widow for three months of the year which means I’m entertaining myself on the weekends.  I’m sure you’ll hear lots more about this little tidbit later, because by proxy, hunting has become a big part of MY life, even though I’m not the one with the passion.  I’m learning to be ok with that.  My point being….it was a huge deal that I got a weekend alone with the Hubs during hunting season.   

Back to my story.  So naturally, the first thing I do when the Hubs brings up some new idea (new place to hike, bike or raft for example) is search like mad on the Internet.  I like to do my own research so he doesn’t pull a fast one on me.  So here’s what I found out about Magruder:

The historic, 101-mile, single-lane, mostly-unimproved Magruder Corridor Road winds through a vast undeveloped area, offering solitude and pristine beauty as well as expansive mountain views. The corridor was created in 1980 leaving a unique road that enables a traveler to drive between two wildernesses: the 1.2 million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to the north, and the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to the South. The road itself has changed little since its construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Travel time varies, but it takes six to eight hours to travel from Red River to Darby without rest stops, at an average speed of 12-15 miles per hour. A two-day trip is ideal with an overnight stay at one of the dispersed or primitive campsite locations. The corridor was named for Elk City merchant Lloyd Magruder who, in 1863, along with four companions, was murdered near mile 44.2 westbound (near the Selway River). The murderers were pursued and brought back to Lewiston, Idaho, where they were tried, found guilty, and hanged; the first legal hanging in the Idaho territory.

Sounds interesting eh?  Filled with murder, mystery and intrigue!  The Corridor is basically the ONLY road that cuts through two of the most amazing Wilderness areas in Montana and Idaho.  For over one hundred miles!  It sounded fantastic.  Click on the image below for a bigger map.

Image: USDA Forest Service: Nez Perce National Forest

So we packed up all our gear and headed out Friday after work.  First stop was 30 miles down the road in Hamilton at the Bitterroot Brewery for dinner.  The Brewery is one of our favorite places to stop when we’re in Hamilton because they have great beer and really good food as well.  The Single Malt IPA is de-lish! 

After dinner and a quick growler-fill, we headed up the road to Darby, where we would hit the West Fork on 483.  We had planned on staying at Fales Flats that night, which is right at the base of Nez Perce pass on the Montana side.  We got there just in time to set up camp (which consisted of me assembling a bed in the back of the truck), start a fire and enjoy our growler.  Summit (our dog that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before….the horror!) thought she was in heaven because of the squirrel that made it his job to torture her all evening. 

I'll get you my pretty!

 The next morning we headed out with coffee in hand to explore the Corridor.   First we came upon Nez Perce Pass that takes us into Idaho.  We stopped at the top of the pass to enjoy the scenery and take a couple of pics.  Here I am thinking it’s pretty cool to be in Montana and Idaho at the same time!

This is a wood-carved sign that is also at the top of the pass.  I always wonder who makes these.  I mean, you KNOW you could just print a big map with a plotter and put it behind a protective covering, right?  But in some ways I think it’s really cool that someone still takes the time to make something like this that is going to withstand the elements.  Perhaps not a two ton truck that slides out of control and hits it….but no rain or snow will mess with it.

Another sign at the top of the pass.  Warning!  If you value your life, turn back now!

The road is actually known for year-round snowfall. Meaning, you could get stuck here in June in five feet of snow. And they aren't lying when they say it's not plowed and no one is going to save your ass!

And with that, we proceeded towards certain death.  Let me just say, that the first three hours of the trip in the car were pleasant.  It was fun to be cruising down the middle of nowhere, 25 miles an hour….windows rolled down….hanging out with my man and my dog.  Listening to music.  Checking out scenery (it was beautiful with all the fall colors!)  We hit up the Magruder Ranger station, which was pretty cool. No one was there because it was off-season, but it was still neat to walk around and check out the buildings.

View of the Ranger Station

We also took a short detour to check out the put-in for the Selway River.   The Selway is one of a few designated Wild and Scenic Rivers that goes through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.  The river is controlled by permit…meaning any Joe Blow can’t just toss his raft in and float.  We’ve never pulled a permit for it but we hear it is an amazing trip.  Hopefully someday we’ll be coming back this way with our raft in-tow for a multi-day trip.

Here's the put-in. You use this to bring your raft and gear down from the parking lot to the river.

This is actually a view upstream from the put-in, but it gives you an idea of what the Selway looks like. Beautiful!

One of my favorite parts of the trip was coming across the Magruder Massacre site.  Does that make me morbid?  I just thought it was totally eerie not only because of the events that took place, but because the area had a fire come through and littered the hills with burnt trees, stags, and ash.  It kinda looked like a cemetary!

Right about now is the time I start to wonder.  Hmmm.  I wonder how long it is until we get to Mountain Meadows (our next camp).  I look at the map and notice it’s about 4 inches away from where we are now.   Little did I know that four inches translated into about 6 hours of driving.  Slowwwwwwly.  If you think 25 mph  is slow, try 8 mph.  Yep, that was our average speed.  Up and down and around.  I mean the road IS really cool.  It works its way around mountains, valleys, rivers, rocks…you  name it.  But they aren’t kidding when they say it’s primitive.

Even Summit got bored of staring out the window. C-razy.

Here’s a picture of us from a place called “Overlook.”  I wonder why…

Picture from the overlook

You know…I’m really not a complainer.  I try not to complain about things because I’m uncomfortable or whatever.  But I was starting to be DONE with being in the car.  Eight hours later, all of the bumps and slow-going started to get on my nerves!  I was ready to get out of the car and WALK or something. 

Finally!

I have to say too…it never fails that after I complain, want to complain, or even THINK about complaining…I eat my words.  Because Mountain Meadows was so worth the wait!  It was a beautiful campground.  We were the only ones there (not surprisingly), and we got there right as the sun was going down, which cast the most beautiful colors across this meadow by our campsite.

View from my chair at the campground

Me playing with my camera settings. Fire! Fire!

Summit warming up our beds for us.

The next day we had a short 2 hour drive out of the Corridor.   It drops you off at the Red River, which just happens to have a developed Hot Spring just up the road.  Hello hot spring.  Yes we did visit and go for a dip! 

Next up was the long trek back home on a paved road, going 65 mph.  It felt like we were flying!  The hardest part of the trip was the drive home because we were in Idaho and a good 4 hours away from Missoula.  However it’s along Highway 12, up the Lochsa River which is an amazing drive in itself.  And with all the fall colors I can’t say it was awful…because it was actually quite beautiful!  We stopped at Lochsa Falls (one of the bigger rapids on the river during runoff) to stretch our legs. 

And just to come full circle and end the trip how it began:  we stopped at the Lochsa Lodge for a beer and some dinner.   The Lodge is one of our favorite places to visit, we’ve even been known to drive the hour (plus) after work for dinner on occasion. 

On the deck at Lochsa Lodge

So….with that our Magruder Corridor trip was over.  Despite the many hours in the car, it was a fantastic weekend.  Not only did we see some amazing places, but we got to spend some quality time together as a family.  Would I do it again?  Well, maybe not right away….but yes.  I would definitely do it again.  Perhaps drag another couple with us next time so that 4 hours in, when we’ve said everything we can think of to say, there are some reinforcements.   The best news of course, is that the Hubs got to cross something off his bucket list and I got to do it with him (during hunting season!).

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2 comments

  1. I remember you talking about this trip, it sounds amazing! Maybe you should be a travel writer because that, my friend, was a sweet write up about your trip! Loved it and made me miss the great outdoors.

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