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Elk City, Idaho, United States

Magruder Corridor Guide

The Magruder Corridor (Montana Road) from the Red River Ranger Station, Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho to Darby MT.

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 (8 votes, 3 reviews)
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 181 miles / 291 km
Duration: Multiple days
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: The Magruder Road Corridor extends 95 miles through a vast undeveloped area, offering solitude and pristine beauty, as well as expansive views of the Bitterroot and Clearwater Mountains. It has been known as the Southern Nez Perce Trail, Elk City to Darby Road, Montana Road, and the Parker Trail.

The road enables a traveler to drive along a corridor between Wildernesses nearly twice as large as the combined states of Delaware and Rhode Island. To the north is the 1.2 million acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and to the south the 2.2 million acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

This is probably one of the wildest roads in the United States. Its unspoiled beauty cannot be surpassed, as the landscape is much the same as when the Nez Perce Indians and early travelers crossed the area.

The Magruder Road (Forest Road #468) is a single-lane mostly unimproved road which is rocky, steep and winding, with few turnouts for passing oncoming vehicles. The road is not recommended for low-clearance vehicles, motor homes, or vehicles towing trailers. The video in POI #35 (Hell's Half Acre Lookout Road #224) shows typical road conditions that you may expect. The road traverses a vast, remote, and rugged area. Travelers should take adequate provisions and make sure their vehicles are in good condition. Don't run out of gas!

Options on how to visit this area will depend on your individual choices. Starting in either Idaho or Montana will be the first decision. Staying in a hotel, cabin, RV, or tent are all possible in this area. The type of vehicle or the amount of time you want to spend hiking trails into the Wildernesses will also be factors. Just driving the road in a high clearance vehicle will take 8 to 10 hours.

The mountain bikers we met on the trail were being followed by a 4X4 sag wagon carrying their camping gear. ATVs and motorcycles are limited by the amount of fuel and camping gear they can carry. The Burnt Knob LO will require a 4X4 or a willingness to hike uphill for about 1 1/2 miles.

The road from the Montana side is OK for ATV and horse trailers to the Magruder Ranger Station and Selway River and might be considered as part of your planning. RVs can access the Fales Flat Campground from the Montana side of the corridor.

Whatever your choices, this trip will require multiple days. Take your time and enjoy it.

There is no cell phone service in this area.

The mileage figures in the POIs from the Red River Ranger Station to Darby, MT do not include any side trips off FR 468. The mileage figures were obtained from the USFS.

Contact numbers are in the Elk City and West Fork Ranger Station POIs in this guide for current road conditions, weather, and other info.

Tips: Depending on the seasons' snowfall, the road is usually clear by July and open through September, sometimes a little longer. It gets cold in October. The elevations in the area vary from 3067' at Paradise Campground to 8196' at Burnt Knob Lookout.

Downed timber can block roads/trails at any time. Much of this area has been burned by forest fires and some type of saw might enable you to continue the trip.

Clothing depends on the weather, but it usually freezes at night all summer. Thunder storms are possible at any time.

Take drinking water with you as none of the ground water in this area is safe to drink without filtering or boiling.

Wild animals, including moose, elk, deer, bear, wolves, cougars, river otters, pine marten, and others are in the area.

Be aware that wolves are very territorial and may attack any dogs with you. Moose cows with calves may attack anything. Don't push your luck with moose! This is also "Bear Country".

Read and abide by the information at the trail heads on how to interact with horses and pack stock you may encounter.

There is no cell phone service in the area.

When we did the trip, we met mountain bikes, motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs, 4X4 trucks, trucks with stock trailers, and a loose string of pack stock. It still was not crowded.

Points of Interest


Junction Red River Road with Hwy. 14

This is the turn off from Hwy 14 to the old Red River Ranger Station in route from Grangeville, Idaho. It is about 10 miles to the Ranger Station and the road is paved.

Elk City & Ranger Station

This is the closest location for fuel and there is a hotel here. The Ranger Station is also here and is the contact for maps and the latest trail info.

Elk City Ranger Station
300 American River Road
Elk City, ID 83525
Office hours: 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Pacific Time), Monday - Friday


Junction FR 1818 with Red River Road

FR 1818 is gravel.

Red River Campground

Elevation: 4480'

It has 40 RV/Tent Sites with picnic tables and grills. No potable water.

This the closest campground to the beginning of the trip.

No horses!

The campground is composed of upper and lower camping areas and is pack it
in, pack it out. The Lower camping area is adjacent to the Red River with sites
overlooking the river or a meadow. The upper area is on a heavily wooded hillside.

It is a fee area and camping is restricted to 14 days.

There is also a hot springs several miles from this campground. It is the Red River Hot Springs. I have not been there.

Red River Ranger Station (Historic)

Mile:0.0 Elevation:4380

There are interpretive signs, restrooms, and an RV dump here. This is also the last place to get potable water for about 65 miles.

There is plenty of room for RVs and temporary parking here.

Intersection Montana (Magruder) Road (FR #468) & Dixie Road

This intersection is about 1/2 mile south of the old ranger Station.

Mountain Meadows

Mile: 9.5 Elevation:6400

The headwaters of Meadow Creek lie directly north of the road.

There is room for about three camps. No amenities.

There are several pull outs on the north side of the road before reaching 14 Mile Tree. Camping is allowed in them.

14 Mile Tree Trailhead

Mile: 14.4 Elevation: 7000

At 14-Mile Tree, the trailhead begins for Trails 501 and 580, which lead into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. There is an information board, registration box and toilet. Stock facilities include a feeding rack and hitching rails. No water.

The road to the 14 Mile Campground/Trailhead is graveled, crowned, and wide enough for RVs. At this point the road narrows and is not suitable for RVs.

Granite Springs

Mile: 18.1 Elevation: 6654

Granite Springs Campground lies on both sides of the road. It has pit toilets, picnic tables, stock facilities, and water for stock.

The printed USFS brochure says there is potable water here, but the location has a warning sign saying it is not potable. I would boil or filter drinking water here.

Elk Mountain Rd. #285

Mile:19.9 Elevation: 6764

Elk Mountain Road #285 branches to the northeast, a driveable 4 miles to the Green Mountain Lookout, with views of the Red River drainage.

When we were here the road was closed due to a forest fire. Video of the fire is in the Burnt Knob Lookout Video in POI #14.

Green Mountain Lookout

Elevation: 7227'

The first structure here was a 1930 vintage log cabin with cupola. The present 41' treated timber tower with L-4 cab was built in 1956. The tower is used for emergency detection throughout the summer, and is on the National Historic Lookout Register.

Poet Creek

Mile: 25.0 Elevation: 4973

Poet Creek Campground lies north of the Magruder Road. It has four camping units with tables, fireplaces, parking spurs, and pit toilets. There is no developed water source. Because stock is not permitted in the campground, four mangers are located south of the road.

Poet Creek joins Bargamin Creek here.

This is a very nice camping spot.

Burnt Knob Rd. #468C

Mile: 31.1 Elevation: 7200

Burnt Knob #468-C branches off to the north. This road is recommended for 4-wheel-drive only and ends at the historic Burnt Knob Lookout. Three Prong Trail #539, which starts in the saddle below the lookout, accesses McArthur, Stillman and Burnt Knob lakes.

This road looks rocky and bad at the beginning and gets worse as you travel up it.

Burnt Knob Lookout

Elevation: 8196'

This is a very scenic, must visit, site. The old lookout is abandoned and has been replaced with electronic sensors.

It is about 1 1/2 miles uphill from the Magruder Road.

Dry Saddle Trailhead

Mile: 32.6 Elevation: 7920

Dry Saddle Trailhead lies both north and south of the road and has pit toilets, a loading ramp and graveled parking area.

It provides access to many high mountain lakes along Sheep Hill Trail #575. It is a ten-mile hike to Sheep Hill fire lookout tower.

The worst section of the main road starts here.

Sabe Saddle

Mile: 35.8 Elevation: 6740

From Dry Saddle, the rough and winding road drops down to Sabe Saddle. This portion of the road to here is very rocky, narrow, and sometimes very steep. There are few places to pass another vehicle.

Sabe Vista Point

Mile: 38.3 Elevation: 7466

From Dry Saddle, the rough and winding road drops down to Sabe Saddle and then climbs back up again to Sabe Vista, which offers many scenic views. Elevation is 7490 feet at the vista. This portion of the road is very narrow and sometimes very steep. There are few places to pass another vehicle.

Horse Heaven Saddle, Trail #28

Mile: 41.6 Elevation: 7066

This is the turn off to the Horse Heaven Cabin.

Horse Heaven is named for its lush grazing grasses.

It is easy to miss this turn off to the south. It is marked by one small sign.

Horse Heaven Cabin

Elevation: 7100'

Horse Heaven Cabin was built in 1939 at a CCC Camp near Darby, MT. It was then dissassembled and transported more than 60 miles west where it once functioned as a firefighter's cabin.

The cabin is south of the road on the spur road marked for Trail #028. The one-room log cabin is on the Forest Service cabin rental program and will accommodate four people.

Reservations are made through Information is available at the West Fork Ranger Station.

When we were here the cabin was being renovated, new roof, ect., so we didn't get much of a look inside.

There is an outhouse here.

The water here should be boiled or filtered.


Salmon Mtn Base Camp

Mile: 46.3 Elevation: 7546

The Old Salmon Mountain Ranger Station site was established in 1911. Nearby is the Salmon Mountain base camp, a very popular trailhead during hunting season. It has stock facilities.

This area is one of the few places in America where you can see the subalpine larch. The larch is the only deciduous coniferous tree, meaning that its needles turn yellow and drop off in the fall.

"Ribbon forests" are visible on the slopes in this area. These are elongated narrow forest strips growing perpendicular to prevailing wind directions and alternating with narrow bands of moist-wet subalpine meadows called “snow glades.”

Also, you can find good examples of “ghost” trees on the mountain. These whitebark pines were killed by a combination of mountain pine beetle and blister rust attacks. They became bleached from the summer sun, giving them a ghost-white appearance.

Salmon Mtn Lookout Trail #705

Mile: 47.5 Elevation: 8030

A one-mile trail leads to the Salmon Mountain Lookout tower which is staffed by volunteers during fire season. The elevation is 8944 feet.

Mountain goats are often seen on the rocky crags and talus slopes of Salmon Mountain.

Observation Point

Mile: 50.2 Elevation:7585

Observation Point Campground has nice camping spots and toilet. Visitors can view the southern portion of the Bitterroot Mountain Range, especially El Capitan. The point also offers breathtaking vistas of subalpine/alpine wilderness

Flat Creek Trail #7 & Magruder Sign

Mile: 52.6 Elevation: 6562

Gold was discovered near Elk City, Idaho, in 1861 and near Bannack, Montana, in 1862. Many miners and traders used the Southern Nez Perce Trail as the most direct route from Elk City, Idaho, to Bannack or Virginia City, Montana.

In 1863 Lloyd Magruder and companions were returning along this route from Virginia City after making a handsome profit of gold dust from selling supplies to miners. Four other travelers joined the Magruder group.

A few days later, the travelers attacked, murdered and robbed Magruder and his companions in the dark of the night.

The murderers rolled the dead men over a cliff, burned and buried the remaining evidence of their crime and fled to San Francisco with their stolen booty. Hill Beachey, Magruder’s friend, pursued the murderers and brought them back to stand trial in Lewiston, Idaho. Three of the men were found guilty and were hung on the 4th of March, 1864. These were the first legal hangings in Idaho.

Lloyd Magruder had been a successful California merchant. He was a well respected man and had many friends. Prior to his ill-fated trip, he had agreed to represent the Idaho Territory in Congress.

As a result of this event, many places bear the name “Magruder,” among them the road on which you are traveling


Kim Creek Saddle & Trail Head

Mile: 55.0 Elevation: 5741

This is a nice level camping site. There are scenic views on the south side of the road.

Magruder Bridge & Campground

Mile: 61.6 Elevation: 3650'

The only place in the upper Selway drainage you can drive across the Selway River is at Magruder crossing. This steel pony-truss bridge was built by CCCs in 1935.

The campground has picnic tables, a toilet, stock facilities and water for stock.

My video at POI #29 (Selway River Raft Launch)shows views of the scenery of the bridge and along the road from the Paradise Campground.

Selway River Junction Rd. #6223

Mile: 61.6 Elevation: 3650'

Travelers on this narrow one-lane road will enjoy a pleasant 12-mile drive along the Wild and Scenic Selway River. The river flows through a deep, beautiful canyon with some stands of western red cedar along its banks.

There is a pack bridge for the trail to Spot Mountain Lookout.

This 12 miles of road is one long scenic POI.

Raven Creek Campground

Raven Creek is a primitive campground right along the road with two sites and a pit toilet.

Indian Creek Campground

Visitors at the primitive Indian Creek Campground may walk to the Indian Creek Hatchery site.

The Indian Creek hatching channel was constructed in 1964 so that spring chinook salmon eggs could be planted in the Selway River drainage. Fish had been unable to reach the Selway since the construction of the Lewiston Dam in 1929.

A total of approximately two million eggs were planted each year from 1965 to 1981 and again in 1985. In the spring the emerging fry were trapped and distributed in the upper Selway by vehicle, stock and aircraft.

This supplemented the naturally spawning chinook salmon in the Selway River.

Chinook salmon are found throughout the Selway River, however, they are usually seen during peak spawning activity in late August and early September

Selway River Raft Launch

Elevation: 3067'

A launch site for river rafting is located near the end of Paradise Road. Permits are required from May 15 to July 31 to float the 47-mile section of the Selway River from Paradise to Selway Falls. Information can be obtained from the West Fork Ranger Station.

Paradise Campground

Paradise Campground is 1/4 mile up White Cap Creek road from the raft launch site.

The campground has eleven sites, with toilets, picnic tables, stock facilities and meat racks. This is a very heavily used trailhead during hunting season.

A Forest Service administrative site is adjacent to the Paradise Campground with a cabin, barn and corrals.

Road to Magruder Ranger Station

Mile: 65.0 Elevation: 4100

The Deep Creek bridge is a beautiful example of arched native cut-stone construction. It was built by Lithuanian stone masons who were assisted by CCC enrollees in the 1930’s.

Magruder Ranger Station

Elevation: 4100'

The Magruder Ranger Station is located 1/2 mile from Road #468.

The stock facilities here are not for private use.

Potable water is available here, but no other services are available at the unstaffed remote station.

After the widespread forest fires of 1910 and 1919, the Forest Service built many low-standard roads into the area. The road along Deep Creek was first surveyed in 1919-1920 and the road was constructed to the newly established tent camp known as Deep Creek Ranger Station. The name was later changed to Magruder.

The CCC improved the original road in 1936 and finished constructing a one-lane road from the station to Elk City.

The office and residence and ranger's house were built by Ole Tangen, a forest Service employee. The CCC constructed the barn, corral and woodshed.

The station is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The structures are excellent examples of rustic log construction and interior craftsmanship.

The Ranger's House is on the Forest Service cabin rental program. It has hot/cold running water, a shower, indoor plumbing, stove, wood furnace, gas lights, and cooking and eating utensils. It has 4 double beds and 2 futons. You have to furnish your own bedding. Currently it rents for $50 per day.

More information about the house can be obtained from the West Fork Ranger Station, with reservations being made through


Deep Creek Campground

Mile: 65.1 Elevation: 4100

The campground has three sites with picnic tables, toilets and stock facilities.

Pavement Begins

Mile: 72.4 Elevation: 4950

Before the 1980 Central Idaho Wilderness Act was passed, some of the area was prepared for timber sales. This 14-mile section of the road was paved in the 1970’s in anticipation of those sales. If you are hiking in the area, you may notice trees marked for cutting. Timber harvest is not allowed in designated wilderness areas.

Hell's Half Acre Lookout Road #224

Mile: 72.8 Elevation: 4950

The road to Hells Half Acre Lookout is 11 miles long and extremely steep, narrow and rocky.

Hells Half Acre Lookout

Elevation: 8116'

The lookout is staffed during fire season. The West Fork and Red River Districts can contact the tower by radio for permission to visit.

This is a very scenic view. A must visit spot.

Nez Perce Pass

Mile: 81.0 Elevation: 6589

An information board at the pass interprets the history of the area and provides visitors with general information about this spectacular area. There is a large parking area, toilet and stock facilities.

A helicopter landing site is located at the pass. Please do not park on the landing zone.

The Idaho/Montana state line is here.

Fales Flat Group Campsite

This campground is named for Wesley Fales, a trapper, woodsman, and early Forest Service employee, who located a homestead on the flat around 1914. He built a cabin there which burned about 1940.

Since he did not complete the patent process on his homestead, the entry was cancelled in June, 1929. Fales Flat was also the site of a CCC camp in 1933.

There are 7 single space and one group camping area. The group area rents for $15 per day and needs to be reserved. It will accommodate 100 people.

The single camping spaces are free and there is also a no fee horse area.

Restrooms but no water.

Pavement Ends

Mile: 87.8

Little West Fork Campground

Elevation: 4580'

Segments of the original CCC road are often visible about 25 feet north of the present day road. Remnants of the historic bridges are visible at Watchtower Creek and Little West Fork Creek. In the winter, this is a parking lot for snowmobilers.

We did not visit this site.

Hwy. 473 & Nez Perce (Magruder) Road Junction

Mile: 97.7

Turning onto Hwy 473 starts you paralleling the beautiful Bitterroot River all the way to Connor. This is a very scenic area with a lot of summer homes.

West Fork Ranger Station

Mile: 98.5 Elevation: 4383

Visitors are encouraged to stop and ask questions about maps, road conditions, weather and any other concerns. After office hours, a map is available outside the office.

West Fork Ranger District
6735 West Fork Road
Darby, MT 59829
(406) 821-3269

West Fork Lodge

The lodge is a combination motel and restaurant. Tex, the owner, is a great cook and story teller. We stayed here.

There is more info here:

Conner, Montana

The Conner Grocery & Deli is located at 159 Conner Cutoff Rd, Conner, MT 59827-9703. Telephone #(406) 821-4122.

They sell non-ethanol gasoline, food, and sundries.

Darby, Montana

Mile: 116.9

Darby offers motels, gasoline, and food.
Pictures in this guide taken by: bedobe, Elindio42, gbraach, Moun10Bike
I soloed the Magruder in July 2015 on my fully loaded 2013 BMW R1200GS motorcycle. I completed the route from Elk City, ID to Conner, MT in about six hours. The portion from Dry Saddle to the Montana side was rough with three sections that had been washed out. The last 40 miles to Conner were in a cold downpour. Had the weather cooperated, I would've camped out one night. Instead I opted for a hotel room in Hamilton. A memoriable ride never the less.
Visited on Jul 12, 2015

by Blackrockrider777 on Feb 24, 2016
Great review, makes me want to do the next trip
Visited on Jan 29, 2012

by rickyphar on Jan 29, 2012
The best guide I have seen on Every Trail.
Great Job!

Visited on Jan 27, 2012

by kennymill on Jan 28, 2012

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About the Author

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Retired DEA Special Agent. Walk, Hike, Horseback, Dirt Bike, & ATV. Sulk in bad weather and plan outdoor...

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