A rough ride into Idaho backcountry

This photo taken on July 20, 2014, shows a motorcycle rider on a backcountry road heading to Graham, about 45 miles northeast of Idaho City, Idaho. Getting to Graham means going through a long gravel road and over an 8,300-foot pass before descending into the headwaters of the North Fork of the Boise River. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Roger Phillips) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT (KTVB 7); MANDATORY CREDIT

This photo taken on July 20, 2014, shows that camping at Graham Bridge, about 45 miles northeast of Idaho City, Idaho, is rustic. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Roger Phillips) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT (KTVB 7); MANDATORY CREDIT

GRAHAM, Idaho (AP) — There’s a certain allure to the end of the road, especially when it takes a while to get there.

It makes you curious why there’s a road there in the first place, especially if it peters out miles from anyplace else.

The backcountry airstrip and guard station at Graham, northeast of Idaho City, is one of those places.

It’s an interesting day trip for motorcycle and ATV riders and other backroads explorers. It’s also a cool camping destination for those who want to get away from pavement.

Campers also have the option of renting old Graham Guard Station for $35 a night, so you can spend a night in an historic Forest Service building.

The Guard Station is near the end of the road — it’s about 53 miles northeast of Idaho City and about 90 miles from Boise.

The distance may not seem overwhelming, especially considering only about 35 miles of it is on dirt and gravel, when you throw in a side trip to the scenic Jackson Peak fire lookout.

But you will twice go above 8,000 feet in elevation through rugged backcountry, and if anything goes south, help is far away.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, just that you should be prepared.

DAY TRIPPING

It’s doable in a day from the Treasure Valley, but not recommended. If getting there is half the fun, you don’t want to rush it.

A better option is to go about 18 miles past Idaho City and camp at the Edna Creek Campground or one of many undeveloped camping spots off Forest Service Road 384 or Road 312.

You can set up a base camp, which puts you within 30 miles of Graham and about a 70-mile round trip when you add the side trip to Jackson Peak lookout.

That gets you in and out on a single tank of fuel for most motorcycles and ATVs.

The route is a beginner/intermediate ride for motorcycles and ATVs. There are steep sections, water bars and rough patches of road. The road is easy for dirt bikes, but is more of an intermediate ride for larger dual-sport and adventure bikes.

The Forest Service recommends that people driving Road 312 into Graham take high ground clearance vehicles. Passenger cars or small SUVs are discouraged.

All vehicles should have heavy-duty tires. There are lots of sharp rocks.

To get to the Graham Cabin, you will have to ford the North Fork of the Boise River. In late July, it was flowing deep and swift enough to make crossing on a motorcycle difficult, but most full-sized ATVs did not have a problem.

Most of the road is in fair-to-good condition, but beware — it gets more challenging the closer you get to Graham. Towing anything is discouraged.

You top out at about 8,300 feet in elevation about 6 miles from Graham Bridge. It’s spectacular scenery on a ridge between two basins with lots of jagged peaks in the background. The road then drops about 3,000 vertical feet in a few miles.

That section of the road is narrow, and steep, with lots of tight switchbacks and few turnouts if two vehicles meet. There’s also large, loose gravel that makes steering and braking tricky on a large motorcycle.

The road flattens and gets smoother as you get closer to the river.

CAMPING

If you plan to camp at Graham, there are two designated Forest Service campgrounds: Graham Bridge and Johnson Creek.

Graham Bridge is near the North Fork of the Boise River and does not require you to ford the river. There’s a washed-out bridge there with a gap too wide to cross.

The campground is a small loop with picnic tables, an outhouse and fire rings. There’s no water or fees.

Johnson Creek is another primitive campground with a few campsites near the creek it’s named after. There are fire rings and picnic tables, and an outhouse. You have to ford the North Fork of the Boise River to reach this campground, which is at the end of the road.

You must also ford the North Fork of the Boise River to get to Graham Cabin.

According to the Forest Service website:

. The cabin is two rooms with no indoor bathroom facilities or electricity. An outhouse is behind the cabin. There are two sets of bunk beds and a table in the front room, and a bunk bed and table in the kitchen.

. The kitchen also has a wood stove for cooking and heating, and a sink with running, but non-potable water.

. Because of the limited access and the possibility of an early freeze, non-potable water is available only from July 15 to Sept. 1.

. Bring your own drinking water or a water filter or purifier.

. The cabin is located near the airstrip, so you may have planes landing, which usually happens in mornings and late afternoons during the summer.

. To reserve it, go to recreation.gov and search for Graham Cabin.

JACKSON PEAK LOOKOUT

This is a 3-mile side trip to spectacular views (kind of expected for a fire lookout) into the South Fork of the Payette River and across to the Sawtooths and other mountain ranges.

The lookout is about 18 miles from Idaho 21 with a slight detour en route to Graham. The side road to the lookout is maintained and in good condition, but narrow, and two full-sized vehicles may not be able to pass each other in all places.

The road is gated about a quarter-mile from the fire lookout, so you will have to walk the rest of the way.

People are welcome to visit the lookout, but do not climb up it unless invited by the Forest Service employee. Remember, it’s fire season and they are working, so they may not have time for visitors.

But you will still have great views from the base of the lookout, and there’s also a picnic table there.

MORE STUFF TO DO

There are trailheads in the Graham area, but trail maintenance is sporadic. The terrain is fairly open and with plenty of room for off-trail hiking.

The area burned years ago, but is coming back nicely, and there are lush willows and young trees in the thick riparian area near the river.

There’s also fishing for trout in the North Fork of the Boise River.

CLIMATE

Graham is at about 5,600 feet in elevation, so expect mountain weather, which means hot days followed by cool nights. There was light frost in the mornings in late July.

Because the road tops out at 8,300 feet, it’s possible to encounter snow as early as September. The road becomes much more challenging when wet, and could be treacherous with a layer of snow, so pay attention to the weather.

GETTING THERE

Graham Cabin and airstrip are about 53 miles northeast of Idaho City.

From Idaho City, take Idaho 21 for 18 miles to the turn off to Edna Creek Campground on Forest Service Road 384.

Turn right and continue. All intersections to Graham and Jackson Peak are marked. Forest Service Road 312 will take you to Graham.

It’s always advised to bring a Boise National Forest map or Idaho atlas with you.

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The original story can be found on the Idaho Statesman’s website: http://bit.ly/1sl2LvM

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com

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