The Magruder Corridor is a 113-mile OHV road connecting Idaho and Montana. The trail starts from Elk City in Idaho, goes through a vast, undeveloped area, and ends in Darby, Montana. It is the only route that goes through the Nez Perce-Clearwater and Bitterroot federal forest areas. So, what can you expect on the Magruder Corridor?
Towering pine trees and majestic mountain views welcome you as you navigate the Magruder Corridor. This backcountry route is winding and steep, with a few turnouts, and assures hours of bumpy driving and grand views of idyllic nature. It is fit for Jeeps, pickups, motorcycles, and mountain bikes.
This one-lane road will test your off-roading prowess and resourcefulness in the wild. It will also make you appreciate simple living and the outdoors. There are lots of campgrounds to rest from a full day of driving and hiking. It may not be the Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route, but this 113-mile dirt road is second to none with the wealth of culture and history it provides. Let this trail guide enlighten you about the Magruder OHV Road and why off-roading enthusiasts choose to frequent the quaint little towns that border this corridor.
A Historic Off-Roading Trail
Before it became a popular Jeep and motorcycle trail, this historic route was used by early Indians and merchants to travel between Idaho and Montana. Since the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed it in the 1930s, the trail went through several different names before becoming the Magruder Corridor. It was called Southern Nez Perce Trail, Elk City to Darby Road, Montana Road, and the Parker Trail. It did not officially become the Magruder Corridor until the Central Idaho Wilderness Act passed in 1980.
The official name of the corridor came from the tragic massacre of Lloyd Magruder. He was a successful merchant in the 1860s from Virginia City, Montana, who sold supplies to miners in exchange for gold. During a trip, he came across four strangers who robbed him, killed him, and threw him off a cliff before heading for San Francisco. Eventually, one of Magruder’s friends bounty-hunted the murderers and brought them back to Idaho to stand trial in Lewiston. They were hung in the capital in 1864.
How Long is the Magruder Corridor OHV Road?
This trail’s overall length is 113 miles if you begin in Elk City and end in Darby Road. Otherwise, the backroad is 101 miles long, which features the Frank Church and Selway-Clearwater wilderness areas. It takes about 8 hours to complete. At the beginning, signage cautious off-roaders that they are about to take on a narrow mountain road with no services. It also advises bringing an ax, shovel, and bucket.
Magruder Corridor road conditions range from paved to moderately rocky. Some sections are wide enough to allow two-way riding, but many are narrow and barely allow a 4×4 and a dirt bike to ride side-by-side. You get to do cliff-side driving most of the time while on the Corridor, except in areas with paved roads.
How Long Does the Magruder Corridor Take to Drive?
If you are traveling by motorcycle, ATV, or Jeep, a day is more than enough to cover the corridor. It takes 8-10 hours to travel from Red River to Darby, with an average 12-15 mph speed without rest stops. However, travel time varies. A two-day trip is ideal with an overnight stay at one of the dispersed camping locations. If you’re with family, you may need to camp more often and take longer to finish the entire OHV road.
Landmarks and Interest Points
The Magruder Corridor is a reasonably straightforward forest service road initially, but it narrows down 16 miles in and gets rockier after the first 25-30 miles. You get to see an abundance of green, lots of huckleberries, and colorful wildflowers along the way. You will even see deer, squirrel, and chipmunk if you’re lucky.
Directions in passing through the Magruder Corridor road are pretty straightforward as well. From Grangeville, Idaho, take State Highway 14 toward Elk City. Then, make a right turn onto Red River Road toward the old Red River Ranger Station. The west end of the Magruder Corridor intersects Forest Road, south of the Ranger Station. The east end is 0.8 miles south of West Fork Ranger Station. From State Highway 14, go south onto Red River-Dixie Road.
You can stick to the directions above if you aim to complete the Magruder Corridor in one day. But if you want to explore the wilderness further, then check out these landmarks and interest points that you will find along the route:
Red River Ranger Station to Granite Springs
Adventurers usually start from Elk City, a small town that features a deli and an ice cream parlor. They also have fuel stations with regular gas (no premium available). Visitors are encouraged to stop by the Ranger Station on the Red River Ranger District to inquire about a Magruder Corridor map, road conditions, weather, and other concerns. From Elk City, the first eight miles are a steady climb leading to a view of Oregon Butte Lookout and Buffalo Hump to the west.
Close by is Bridge Creek, which is an excellent side trip for a morning hike. Then you reach Green Mountain Lookout, with a 7,150-feet elevation. Here, you will see stretches of green and lots of pine trees. It’s a picturesque spot where you can take photos with your family and friends. Granite Springs Campground is on both sides of the road and has drinking water, pit toilets, picnic tables, stock facilities, and water.
Elk Mountain Road to Burnt Knob Lookout
From Green Mountain Lookout, pine trees surround you as you drive along Elk Mountain. You can stop for an afternoon hike and take some pictures. The hiking trails here are not regularly maintained, which helps retain its rustic charm. At one section of the hike, you will see an expansive view of the forest and a beautiful lake below.
Pass through Poet Creek Campground, which lies north of the Magruder Road. From here, the road climbs steeply for eight miles with a few sharp curves until it reaches Burnt Knob Lookout. The peak of the lookout is one of the best spots in this section of the route. Likewise, it is a bucket-list item for many Jeep enthusiasts due to its 360° breathtaking views of the forest. There’s a small parking space here that can fit 3-4 Jeeps at most, and a beautiful cabin on top of the lookout. There are a lot of slow-crawling sections to and from the Burnt Knob.
Dry Saddle Trailhead to Horse Heaven Saddle
Elevation at the Dry Saddle Trailhead is 7,920 feet and is a 10-mile hike to Sheep Hill fire lookout tower. The road drops down to Sabe Saddle and then climbs back up again to Sabe Vista, which offers many panoramic views. Remnants of the 1988 forest fire are visible. This portion of the road is relatively narrow and sometimes very steep, being 7,490 feet. There are few opportunities to pass another vehicle in this area. The last part of this section is the Horse Heaven Saddle, named for its lush grazing grasses. It is currently part of the Forest Service cabin rental program and can accommodate four people.
Salmon Mountain Area to Observation Point
The Salmon Mountain Area houses the old ranger station and lookout tower staffed by volunteers during the fire season. You can see ribbon forests, ghost trees, and an abundance of fire weeds on its slopes. Further along is the Observation Point Campground, a nice camping spot that offers breathtaking vistas of alpine wilderness. The elevation here is 7,620 feet, where visitors can view the southern portion of the Bitterroot Mountain Range.
You will start seeing wildlife hiding under mid-size rocks or boulders beyond Burnt Knob Road. In a section of the road beyond this point, you will also be driving alongside a creek. This is true until you come across the Magruder Crossing, the only place in the upper Selway drainage where you can go across the Selway River. The CCC built this steel bridge in 1935. Close by is the infamous Magruder massacre site.
Once you reach the Magruder Road Corridor’s higher sections, you will get majestic views of the forest as you ride along the ridgeline. Be sure to keep your focus as the stunning scenery can be distracting. You get the best views in the most taxing sections of the corridor. There is a clearing beside Selway River in the forest that makes an excellent campground where you can build a fire and have smores while looking at the starry night sky.
Paradise Road to Paradise
Jeepers and OHV riders enjoy this narrow 12-mile road along the stunning Selway River. The river flows through a canyon with western red cedar along its banks. Here, you can find a pack bridge leading to Spot Mountain Lookout. Three campgrounds are also available in this area: Raven Creek, Indian Creek, and Paradise. All three sites are primitive campgrounds, with a river rafting site near Paradise Road. This side trip requires permits, which you can obtain from the West Fork Ranger Station. Note that this trailhead is heavily used during hunting season.
Magruder Ranger Station to Hells Half Acre
Located here is the unstaffed remote Magruder Ranger Station, where you can take photos and find potable water. The office, residence, and ranger’s house were built by Ole Tangen, while CCC built the one-lane road from the station to Elk City, along with the barn, corral, and woodshed. The Deep Creek Bridge is also in this section with the Deep Creek Campground. This campground has three sites with toilets and stock facilities. Remnants of the spike camp used by the CCC enrollees are still visible along both sides of the creek.
The trail to Hells Half Acre Lookout is around 10 miles long and dangerously steep, narrow, and rocky. Overall, the structures found in this area – from Magruder Ranger Station to Hells Half Acre – showcase rustic beauty and interior craftsmanship. You can find the ranger’s house in the Forest Service cabin rental program, and obtain more information from the West Fork Ranger Station through www.recreation.gov.
Nez Perce Pass to West Fork Ranger Station
This 14-mile part of the road was paved in the 1970s in anticipation of timber sales, long before the 1980 Central Idaho Wilderness Act. It starts with Nez Perce Pass at 6,598-feet elevation. There is an information board providing visitors with the history of the area and general information. Parking your Jeep or 4×4 is prohibited. The section continues to Fales Flat Campground, named after Wesley Fales. He was a woodsman and early Forest Service employee, who located a homestead on the flat around 1914. The section ends at West Fork Ranger Station, where remnants of the historic bridges are visible at Watchtower Creek and Little West Fork Creek.
Since the government does not permit timber harvest in designated wilderness areas, you may notice that only individual trees are marked for cutting (if you do a side trip and hike in the area). This portion of the road probably holds the most CCC history in the entire 101-mile stretch of Magruder Corridor. It is the last set of landmarks you see before you approach the Montana-Idaho border. Visitors are encouraged to stop by West Fork Ranger Station and ask questions about maps, road conditions, and even weather. After office hours, the ranger station is unstaffed, but a map is still available outside the office.
Setting out for the Magruder between mid-September through mid-November will coincide with Idaho’s hunting season. During this period, lots of ATVs/UTVs are on the road, some of which are being used by hunters. It is always nice to plan your trip between July and early September. But if you want the Corridor all to yourself, then schedule your off-roading adventure outside of the hunting season.
Check weather forecasts in the area when planning your drive on the Magruder. Snow begins to fall early in October and continues through to July. Additionally, expect changeable weather during August. If there is impending inclement weather, you can skip Burnt Knob Road as it can be quite troublesome if you get stuck in that area.
The best way to go through the Magruder Corridor is to take your time relishing the remoteness and solitude of the forest. This option is especially true if you are traveling with family. Here are a few more interest points along the Magruder Corridor with beautiful scenery and spectacular hiking trails that you and your entire family can enjoy:
- Bear Creek Pass – This is near Lost Horse Creek Road and another side trip where you can go for a hike. Hiking trails here are narrower than other hiking spots along the Magruder route. The trail goes steadily up, strewn with rock boulders and lots of greenery.
- Shumaker Campground – Here, you will see the beautiful Twin Lakes up close. The water and surrounding areas of the Lower Twin Lake are pristine, and the scenery becomes even more awe-inspiring at sunset. The view of the Upper Twin Lake is just majestic in the mornings. You can do a quick segue here from hours of tedious driving, or spend the night.
- Wahoo Pass – This is a rocky hiking trail on the Montana-Idaho border. From here, you can still see the Twin Lakes and another unmarked lake very clearly. Shortly before you hit the Montana-Idaho border, the road turns back into the pavement, which will be a welcome surprise for off-road riders and Magruder Corridor ATV adventurers. Beyond the Montana-Idaho border, there is one more tiny dirt road section before you hit the slab again to Darby.
Magruder Crossing has many activities, such as camping, fishing, hiking, rafting, and nature viewing. In exchange for spending time and having fun in the wilderness, we must pay it forward by preserving the natural state of the wilderness areas that envelop the Corridor and following these guidelines:
When planning for your trip:
- Plan well by researching the route before driving to Magruder Crossing. Information is available on the USDA website.
- Secure a Magruder Corridor map from either Red River or West Fork ranger stations. You may also obtain it online.
When riding the Magruder Corridor:
- The Forest Service forbids towing trailers and motor homes with low clearance to travel the road due to several hairpin turns.
- Stay on the road as travel by motorized/mechanized equipment or vehicles is not permitted in designated wilderness.
- Use a 4WD vehicle, especially when the road is snow-covered or muddy.
- Be sure to ride in a vehicle that is in good working condition, has a full gas tank, and a spare tire. Stay alert for other traffic, washouts, fallen trees, and other debris on the road.
- Bring more than two liters of water with you, especially if you are riding a bike. Plus, this 8-hour drive can become exhausting.
When camping at primitive locations:
- Choose a site that is 200 feet from trails and water.
- When going to the bathroom, dig a hole, and bury human waste.
- Use existing fire grates and fire rings when building campfires.
- Make sure your campfire is entirely out when you leave.
- Pack out all trash, both yours and that of others.
- Practice Leave No Trace techniques to ensure that the place you came to enjoy will remain intact for future generations.
Magruder Corridor – A Quest Through Borders
The Magruder Corridor lets you experience one of the wildest roads in the United States. This OHV road has an unsurpassed rustic charm winding through over one million acres of fascinating wilderness. It is much the same as when the Nez Perce Indians and merchants of old crossed the area. The summits in proximity to the route capture sprawling views of pristine lakes and undeveloped regions.
This trail is a generally hassle-free ride, except for a few bumps, steep dropoffs, and a few turnouts. It is not as tough as the Idaho BDR, but it more than compensates for its lack of challenges with its breathtaking views and renowned breakthroughs. So ready your Jeep and set for the Magruder Corridor.