Nez Perce Trail, FS-468 Update

This entry updates the Nez Perce Trail entry (G) found on page 80. To reach the start of this road see (F)(1) Elk City and Dixie Access.


Background

The Nez Perce Trail, FST-468, is part of a backcountry road system designated as the Magruder Corridor by the Forest Service. The Magruder Corridor is a remote road that passes through the southern Clearwater Mountains between the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness to the north and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the south.

This Forest Service map provides an overview of the entire route.

This Forest Service map provides an overview of the entire route.

The Forest Service officially designates the Magruder Corridor as the route between the former Red River Guard Station and Darby, Montana. For the purposes of this update, the relevant part of the corridor is the Nez Perce Trail Road, FS-468, which encompasses 61.6 miles of the corridor between the old ranger station and the Selway River. This article updates the entry in Idaho A Climbing Guide, which is found on page 80. Additional information for trails leaving this road are found on pages 80 and 81.


Current Conditions and Recommendations (2017)

The Forest Service accurately describes the FS-468 as a “primitive one-lane road [that] is rough, steep and winding, with few turnouts for passing oncoming vehicles.” High clearance and “good” tires, which have strong, multiply sidewalls, are a must. There are plenty of places where, without extra care, rocks can cut into your sidewalls. Make sure you have a fully inflated spare tire, a shovel, and plenty of water. Four-wheel drive is an extra security measure that I also recommend. Travelers need to be self-sufficient and ready to face obstacles like downed trees, washouts, flat tires, and hot conditions. A strong wind storm could easily knock hundreds of dead trees across the road. A chainsaw, or at least an axe, would not be extravagant extra to include in your travel kit.

Although the Forest Service claims that, “The landscape is much the same as when the Nez Perce Indians and other early travelers crossed the area,” the area has been significantly changed by large forest fires in 1996, 2000, 2005, and 2007. In fact, these fires have destroyed huge swaths of forest, leaving only dead trees and fireweed in their wake. In my opinion, the Forest Service have overstated the benefits of these fires and needs to strike a balance between natural fire progression and common sense.

The new normal along the Magruder Corridor courtesy of climate change.

The new normal along the Magruder Corridor courtesy of climate change.

After seeing all the destroyed forests along the Magruder Corridor, I am convinced that climate change has already reached the tipping point for Idaho’s forests. It will take a while, but most of our forests are going to be destroyed by fire because the temperatures today are too warm for the existing forest ecosystem. Simply put, the Forests Service can no longer stop the burning cycle but only slow it a bit. In August, it was 95 degrees in Grangeville, Moscow, Kellogg, and Coeur d’Alene. When I lived in Moscow in the mid-80s, it never got close to those temperatures.

The burned forest is measured in square miles, not acres. When I drove the road in 1985 there were view vistas because the thick forest hid the road. Now you can see the road stretching out ahead of you for miles.

The burned forest is measured in square miles, not acres. When I drove the road in 1985, there were view vistas because the thick forest hid the road. Now, you can see the road stretching out ahead of you for miles.


Peakbagger Points of Interest

The remainder of this article focuses on spots along the road that are of interest to peakbaggers. Elk City, Idaho, is the last place you may be able to pick up supplies and current information on conditions. I recommend stopping at the Elk City Forest Service Ranger Station to get the latest updates, especially if there are active fires. The staff was friendly and helpful when we visited.

Note: Mileages from the start of the route are provided in parenthesis.

(0.0) Former Red River Ranger Station. This is the beginning of FS-468. This station is closed to the public but has a few information signs. Follow FS-222 south a short distance to a well signed junction which is the start of FS-468.

Turn here.

Turn here.

A few more signs at the start.

A few more signs at the start.

The first 14 miles are by far in the best condition of the entire FS-468 route. The following are the points of interest along this section.

(1.8) North Soda Creek Road FST-1172.

(5.2) Trapper Creek North Road, FS-9560. This road leads north and provides access to a large swath of the Clearwater Mountains.

The first 14 miles are smooth in a relative sense and still forested.

The first 14 miles are smooth, in a relative sense, and still forested.

(7.5) Trapper Creek Crossing.

(8.1) Divide Trail #502.

(9.5) Mountain Meadows. The first available camping is nearby this spot.

(14.4) 14—Mile Tree Trailhead, elevation 7000 feet. As you reach this point along the road, you enter into an extensive and relatively recent burn zone. There is a toilet and trailhead facilities. There are two trails that leave this spot. FST-501 and FST-580 lead south into the Frank Chrurch River of No Return Wilderness. FST-580 takes you to Boston Mountain (page 73 in the book), and FST-501 takes you to Peak 7390, as well as Sheep Hill Lookout and Bear Point Lookout.

The sign for the FST-501 trail at the 14-Mile Trailhead. This trail leads to Peak 7390.

The sign for the FST-501 trail at the 14-Mile Trailhead. This trail leads to Peak 7390.

The road becomes progressively rougher from this point on.

(18.1) Granite Springs Campground, elevation 6654 feet. There are camping spots but because of the extensive fire damage extensive rehabilitation is needed to make the campground attractive to campers.

(19.9) Elk Mountain Road, FS-285, Junction, elevation 6764 feet. The Elk Mountain Road leads north to the slopes of Elk Mountain in 14.0 miles. This road is passable to the junction with the short side road that leads to the summit of Green Mountain. I am not sure of the condition of the road past Green Mountain.

Green Mountain and its tall, nearly abandoned lookout.

Green Mountain and its tall, nearly abandoned lookout.

(24.9) Bargamin Creek Trail, FST-502, elevation 5000 feet.

(25.0) Poet Creek Campground, elevation 4973 feet. This is one of the lowest destinations along the road. The area directly around the campground has not burned. However, the campground is not very attractive and there is no potable water. When we passed by, it was 88 degrees and all the campsites were full.

(31.1) Burnt Knob Road #453c, elevation 7200 feet. This road leads to the summit of Burnt Knob, the most spectacular peak along the road. It is a difficult road that unquestionably is still difficult to drive even with a 4WD or ATV. The trailhead for Three Prong Mountain Trail, FST-539, is located 1.1 miles up the road and the summit is another 0.4 miles from the trailhead. See the Burnt Knob page for additional details. FST-539, as its name implies, eventually leads to Three Prong Mountain.

Burnt Knob.

Burnt Knob.

(32.5) Dry Saddle Trailhead/Campground, elevation 7920 feet. This saddle is located at the base of Peak 8040 (Dry Saddle Peak). You will find another toilet at this stop. A nice camping area is found nearby. The campground was fully occupied during our mid-week visit. The Sheep Hill Trail, FST-575, leaves from the saddle.

Dry Saddle. Mike Hays Photo

Dry Saddle. Mike Hays Photo

(38.3) Sabe Vista Point, elevation 7476 feet. A short road leads from FS-468 to the viewpoint. Dry camping is possible here.

(38.8) Sabe Mountain Trail FST-61, elevation 7620 feet. There was no sign marking the start of the trail and no dedicated parking. However there is room for a vehicle or two to park along the side of the road. See the Sabe Mountain page for additional information.

Sabe Mountain from the west.

Sabe Mountain from the west.

(41.6) Horse Heaven Saddle, elevation 7066 feet. This broad saddle has some camping spots. Additionally, a short spur road, signed for FST-028, leads to the Horse Heaven Cabin. The cabin can be rented through www.recreation.gov.

(44.0) Salamander Creek/Slide Creek Pass, elevation 7382 feet.

(45.1) Salamander Ridge Trail, FST-027, elevation 7546 feet.

(45.9) The site of the former Salmon Mountain Ranger Station, which was established in 1911.

(46.3) Salmon Base Camp, elevation 7546 feet. FST-019 heads south from this spot. This trail provides the best access for those looking to climb Stripe Mountain, the highest point in the Clearwater Mountains. The camping potential has been degraded by fire damage. According to the Forest Service, this is a popular spot with hunters.

(47.5) Salmon Mountain Lookout Trail, FST-705, elevation 8030 feet. A wide spot in the road provides parking for three or four vehicles. The trail to the lookout is 1.3 miles long and gains just under 700 feet of elevation. See the Salmon Mountain page for additional details.

Salmon Mountain's northeast face.

Salmon Mountain’s northeast face.

(50.2) Observation Point/Campground, elevation 7620 feet. There are several camping spots and great views of the Bitterroot Mountains to the east.

(51.6) Magruder Saddle, elevation 7055 feet. In my opinion, this is a better starting point for climbing Magruder Mountain (than originally reported in the book, page 73) because you are 500 feet higher and much closer to the summit than you are at the Magruder Mountain Trailhead.

(52.6) Trailhead for the Magruder Mountain Trail, FST-007, elevation 6552 feet. This trailhead has limited off-the-road parking.

The remainder of the road weaves, seemingly endlessly, in and out of drainages and their associated saddles, Kim Creek Saddle and Haystack Saddle, before arriving at a the Selway River and FS-6223 at 61.6 miles. The primitive road ends at this point and improved roads take you upstream along the Selway River and then over Nez Perce Pass and out to US-93.

If you are still up for remote country, you can follow FS-6223 downstream along the Selway River to Paradise. You will find three campgrounds along the road and several trailheads.