The Magruder Road Corridor (MRC) is a 101-mile gravel road through wilderness spanning the Idaho-Montana border. The road travels between the Selway-Bitterrot Wilderness in the north and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in the south. These two wilderness areas make up the largest block of land with no roads in the contiguous US. The actual road was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930's. The MRC was created when the Central Idaho Wilderness Act was passed in 1980 creating the corridor through the two wilderness areas.
The MRC spans from Elk City, Idaho to Darby, Montana. Along the way there are numerous campgrounds, lookout towers and other waypoints. The real draw of traveling this road is the difficulty is high enough most people either can't drive it or won't want to. The road is one-lane most of the way with limited turn outs for passing. You need a high clearance vehicle with 4WD, a dirt- or mountain bike or OHV. The average speed is 12-15 miles per hour in a vehicle.
Jon and I traveled the MRC late last August 2016 in our 1990 Toyota Land Cruiser HDJ81. From our home in Livingston, MT we traveled west on I-90 to MT-1 towards Anaconda. From here we connected to MT-38 to travel Skalkaho Pass which is pretty amazing. We found a great campsite off the highway which is probably one of the best on my list to-date. The spot was a peninsula surrounded on three sides by a clear creek. We definitely would have gone swimming, but late August in the mountains can be brisk!
Once we hit US-93 we headed south towards Darby, Montana. Just south of Darby we turned right onto State Highway 473 then turned right onto Nez Perce Road. The West Fork Ranger Station is the start of the MRC. From here follow the road until you reach Elk City, Idaho. Keep in mind there are not any services on the MRC so fill up your gas tank and water before heading out. At the end of the MRC we looped up to hit Lolo pass (100 miles of steep curves) and then headed home. You can see our entire route in the map below.
Along the way you will cross the Selway River on a bridge built by the CCC in 1935. The Selway is a Wild and Scenic River with some technical white water for boaters. Eventually it flows into the Lochsa and Clearwater Rivers.
One of the best side trips along the way is up to the Burnt Knob Lookout. The road is short, but it is slow going. Once you get to the top there is an old lookout with amazing views of the wilderness areas.
I would recommend downloading or picking up the US Forest Service MRC guide available online or at a local ranger station before traveling the MRC. The guide contains locations of historical points-of-interest, waypoints, camp grounds and gives tips about specific stretches of roads. It is also worth getting a US Forest Service map of the area so you don't miss any awesome side trips!
Amy Bowser is the co-owner of Paradise Overland with her husband Jon. In their free time they explore anywhere they can get to with their Toyota and roof top tent.