Best Of Montana 2016
Dates: July 16 through July 24
This Year’s Ride (subject to updates as time rolls on)
Update 7/2/2016 : Day 2 campground - No Water at Gypsy Lake.
Update 6/22/2016:The day you're waiting for. The GPX file is posted over in the LINKS section. Also updated the Google Maps version. Minor change bypassing East Helena for gas (you can still go in for gas, but you can get gas at Kin's Marina - near the docks - on the route before ascending Magpie Gulch).
I also added Resqdoc's reference to "Montana's Dry Niagara Falls" near Fort Benton. Made it a Side Trip that will bypass a bit of pavement just out of Fort Benton.
I completed a pre-run of the Whole BOM Thing last week 6-11 thru 6-19. Now I'll edit the narrative to include any changes/additions/deletions. I've "truthed" the GPX file. This is the first time the entire route has been field tested prior to the actual ride.
The GPX file should be ready for download the last week of June. I'm testing it with some loco locals now. It will include a bunch of waypoints for gas etc. along with the main tracks and side trip and bypass tracks.
I was accompanied on the pre-ride by Bob from Ketchum on his 690 for the first half of the ride. Bob had commitments that came up mid ride so he headed south on his own adventure from Havre. The rest, I ran solo. The route capture worked great. I'd say 90% of my original "virtual" tracks were pretty spot on. Just followed the purple line for 1700 miles. But you will only have to ride about 1500 miles (plus for some suggested small side trips.)
My impression: This won't be no woosy ride. My experience was from the seat of my 2010 KTM 690 fully loaded for touring/camping. The final main track count is 1459 miles. Not counting several Side Trips, some of which I highly recommend. Individual days range from 184 to 126 and average 166 miles per day. No big marathons, but then the first couple days have some rough, slow roads so the average moving speed will be low - like sub 25 mph slow. You'll have opportunities to pick that up later in the ride.
So, you think the Magruder/Lolo Motorway are remote? Wait until you hit central Montana. Better roads and more people (ranches/farms), but you will travel farther. Help can be even further away. We're talking about some big empty here. But the locals you will encounter are some of the best. DO respect the private property and there is a lot of it out of the mountain areas. You shouldn't encounter any gates so no problem there (can't say that for the pre-ride!) If you get lost, pick the best roads and you will eventually run into a ranch or main road somewhere. A Montana Benchmark Atlas and/or an official State DOT Highway map are a must.
The weather was great for the pre-ride. Perhaps a bit on the cool side. I guarantee it will be the opposite for July. Investigate a cool vest for riding. Thunderstorms danced around us on the pre-ride but never really got caught. There could be afternoon thunderstorms in July as well, but less so. BUT such storms can be severe, especially out where you have very little cover. A tornado hit the Roy area the day before we went through. They hadn't found any sign of the 300 foot long calving shed yet. Only the concrete foundation was left. Keep telling yourself "this is an adventure!" Needless to say, keep up on your water supply and keep hydrated.
Mud....it shouldn't be a problem in July, but any of the Central Montana area can become impassible when it gets wet. AND watch for the ruts that turned into concrete troughs from the last rain. I have included a few "mud bailout" tracks for a few critical areas should they be needed. I tried some of the mud and it didn't take very far to hit the "oh s%$#, I think I've gone too far!" point. The chain was the first BAD sign when it starts to snap and pop. Also, if you get into this stuff, try to find a place to rinse it off before it sets into hardened plaster.
The first day has more rugged miles than any of the previous rides did in their entirety. But don't fret none. I created big bike friendly bypasses and in some cases altered the route keeping some of the rougher sections as "small bike challenge" sections so there will be something for everyone.
Since this is "dirt" oriented ride and this year's track reflects that well. Minor relatively short pavement connectors. The scenery doesn't stop. Plan for photo ops. There will be water crossings. Always shut down and eyeball the route before tackling these obstacles. Polaroid sunglass help identify the rocks you want to avoid.
Camping: Mostly more remote public camp grounds. Minimal service (include a sh*&^%# and table, but not for all. The scene usually makes up for minimal services. Nothing we need to reserve, but first come, first serve, but pretty flexible in the occupancy rules.
First night, Whitehouse expect a lot of locals with ATVs. Plenty of space, but the ground is pretty sparse. Plenty of dispersed potential (check up the road a ways opposite the camp entrance...hint). Water pump in the first camp. No fee, pack in, pack out.
Second night, Gypsy Lake, typical USFS amenities, but not on the lake. Lotsa dispersed camping potential. NOTE: *Per Phil, the USFS site for Gypsy Lake says "NO WATER". It is near, but not adjacent to Gypsy Lake. As a general note - pick up water when you gas or be prepared to filter water as needed.
Third night, Timber Ck No water, but gorgeous setting. Set your tent anywhere! (Water can be had back down the road a bit at a stock tank.) NOTE: a water filter system is HIGHLY suggested on this trip. No fee, pack in, pack out. Also, the lake is swimmable.
Fourth night, Missouri River James Kipp Rec area. Lots of spaces, all amenities. BLM operated. Might have Wi-Fi near office trailer.
Fifth night, Beaver Ck Fish & Game campground. Gorgeous setting on the lake, sppots for grouping, Talk to the Host.
Sixth night, Thain Ck USFS fee campground (take a pre-run a mile up the next day's route if you need to wash your bike!) There are a ton of legal two wheel trails in the area.
Seventh night, Vigilante USFS fee campground. Could be filled with locals, but working on getting local inmates to "early acquire" a group area. Just up the road from the York Bar - famous burgers.
Eighth night, Big Larch USFS fee campground on the north edge of Seeley Lake. Group area was already reserved several months back, so find your own site. There are a bunch. If nothing, the next day's route has some dispersed potential.
USFS rules on dispersed camping - anywhere within a couple hundred yards of a road. Use sense with fire ring, keep away from streams. Use a site with previous use if you can.
Gas: Don't pass up any opportunity. Only had to tap the Rotopak once and that was between Boulder and East Helena over the Elkhorns. I added a few new gas locations that really helped. Removed one that was closed.
This ride has always attracted a lot of return riders. We’ve covered many of the best routes in Montana and Idaho (some several times) in the previous year’s rides. Last summer after the 2015 ride, there was discussion about “where to ride next year?” What I heard was stay all in Montana this time and let's visit places further East and new places. Ok, I can live with that. Just how many times can you ride the Gravellies, the Magruder, the Lolo Motorway anyway?
So a little background to the route I assembled. Back in the ‘70s I worked for the State Department of Transportation as a radio technician. I spent 2-3 years stationed and living in Lewistown and traveled the roads less traveled maintaining and developing some of the more remote mountain top radio sites in central (and Eastern) Montana. Plus, even off work, I always had the wanderlust for the back roads. An inherited trait I, I guess. I definitely wouldn’t mind revisiting some of those remote, long ago locations (which poses some planning problems as those days where 30-40 years ago.) But that’s what makes it fun and adventuresome.
This part of Montana is ripe with history, so keep your eyes peeled for the remnants of years gone by. We will transect several historic ghost towns. We will follow historic trails forged by Indians, trappers, miners, explorers, and ultimately homesteaders. Although you might think that part of Montana isn’t covered with mountains and streams, you’ll be surprised just how many mountain ranges we will cross.
Ride Logistics As it has always been, this year will follow the format of the MT1000 series. That means informal. No promises, no guarantees, no fees, no signing on any dotted lines and no responsibilities. Just fun times meeting new friends and cementing old friendships. Previous ride have always seen close to 25 and occasionally more than 35 riders. The number is really not an issue as while the route is intended to coalesce everyone together every night, the ride always splits up every day into smaller sub-groups ranging from solo (be that way) to two, three or seven or whatever. Just find a group you relate to and enjoy. There are those riders that prefer the hard’n fast and those that like to smell the roses. Something for everyone.
Be prepared No matter your level of experience, you will learn new things on this ride from co-riders. Which brings us up to the NOOBS, those riders that are new to the sport. This is not a ride upon which to cut your new teeth. It is a long, multi day, long day's ride. Please do us all a favor and sort your gear, your bike, your skills, and yourself by going on some shorter, closer rides of one or two nights so you know basically what you have and what you are will work. The rest of the riders ,who all love to help new adventure riders enjoy their sport, will go to extremes to help with any problems, questions, and support you may need. Just don't abuse this fantastic resource. Try your best and you’ll get more support than you could ever imagine. But if you don’t pay attention and repeatedly ignore solid advice, you may become a pain-in-the-ass and could be subject to an assisted visit to an old mine shaft scheduled to be sealed by the EPA in the very near future.
And just what is needed to run this ride? Well it is unsupported so you will be responsible for ALL of your own equipment. That goes for your entire kit including any camping gear as well as any maintenance on your ride. If things break, you will get some of the best support in the world from your co-riders, Just don’t abuse that support and enter this ride with that expectation in mind. It will show through (see last sentence of the previous paragraph). If you don’t know how to fix a flat entering this ride, make sure you ride in a sub-group with someone that does and expect to know how yourself by the end of the ride.
This is a ride at your own pace. Don’t push beyond your comfort zone. Enjoy your ride. We will supply a ride GPX file for your GPS, but we can’t guarantee how well it performs both as a ride guide nor how it performs on your particular GPS unit. A Montana Benchmark Atlas will help when things go downhill.
The route is intended to be ride-able by a reasonably experienced rider on a larger ADV bike loaded with luggage. I’ve tried to really minimize paved sections to transition connectors for dirt roads and I think with good results this year. There may be segments that could be questionable for larger bikes and we will note those as well as suggest a work around. I doubt bears will be a concern on this particular route, range cattle may be and we will be traversing historic mosquito country. Gas should relatively accessible throughout the trip.
Basic statistics A This trip will be close to 1500 miles starting Saturday July 16 for nine days ending on Sunday the following weekend. All in Montana this year. This year we will cover mostly new roads. The word after last year’s ride was to go East so that is what we have done although not much further than the center of the state, but we will travel within 30 miles of the Canadian Border. I’ve counted off hand that we will be traversing at least 13-14 named mountain ranges. I know the mileage has crept up some form the original “1,000” miles of the early rides.. Sorry. (Not that I’ve ever heard any complaints.)
None of the classic Western Montana/Idaho runs, but new country with a new perspective. And yes, history galore. We will be going past the haunts of explorers, trappers, traders, Indians, and homesteaders. We will be hitting high vistas with long views that I guarantee will be new. From one vista, I think you can see the end of the real earth, as we know it anyway.
We’ll begin this year’s ride from the Bitterroot Valley in Western Montana. Near Stevensville to be precise - about 30 miles south of Missoula, MT.
Track Pictures Updated 6/22/2016
The ride officially starts on Saturday morning and will commence travelling north on the East Side Highway State 203 turning east near Florence moving quickly onto two track rugged dirt minimally maintained up over top the Sapphire Mountains catching the Swartz Ck road on down the other side until just off of I 90. East again to the Rock Ck Exit. South on Rock Ck. While this stretch is back country paved, watch your speed. They like you to travel at 35. About 8 or 9 miles south and we again turn East on dirt, essentially two track minimal maintained for the most part. Out on the Willow Ck Rd. Take the paved County Road East to Phillipsburg.
Travel through Phillipsburg and up towards the old Ghost town of Granite. Update: Granite is now a side trip as the run up past Fred Burr lake is beyond a dirt road ride. Highway up over the Flint Ck Hill to George Town Lake then up over the mountains to Race Track Ck and down through Galen and under the Interstate.
From here you climb up over the Continental Divide and descend on Boulder River. the first night’s stop will be on the Boulder River at a primitive campground, Whitehouse Campground which is about seven miles west of what is called Bernice, an access to I 15.
Sunday the route runs to Boulder by traveling under I 15 and taking a combination of frontage road, old railroad bed, etc. to Boulder. From Boulder the route works its way on dirt roads to the old town of Radersburg. Remember Myrna Loy from B&W movie days? This was her home town. People still live here and there are some old interesting buildings to see so take your time, but no goods or gas are available. If you are desperate for a classic ghost town, you will have an opportunity for a side trip to Elkhorn just out of Boulder. Stop off at the OHV Park just before Radersburg and try your skills. Choice time. Small bike with good off road skills, take the Elkhorn Mountains Track, if not, continue on with the daily track.
Small bike track from Radersburg, we turn north up along Crow Ck into the Elkhorn Mountains. There was a lot of mining in this range. The road varies from good dirt to rugged two track washed out with rocks and ruts in spots. The track eventually comes down the Weasel Ck road to Winston on US 12.
Main Track runs on the Old Woman's Grave Road skirting the Elkhorns to Townsend. Turn left NW on US 12 to East Helena. If gas is needed, now is the time to run into East Helena. Turn right (North) on to the Spokane Ck road which turns East up a long paved hill finally descending down to Canyon Ferry Lake where you will cross the dam continuing east where you will hit Magpie Gulch and get back to dirt. Look for the DAM Cafe for good eats and Kim's Marina for gas.
The Magpie road travels up the bottom where it then turns toward the east and up a series of scenic switchbacks. Once up top, there are scenic long views off to the south. Continuing on, you turn south down Avalanche Gulch. This was part of the 2011 MT1000, but was blocked off then due to a washout further down Avalanche. Now is your chance to ride it out to the bottom if you missed it then. You will be riding through a narrow canyon near the bottom with beautiful tall limestone cliffs on both sides. You exit the canyon and travel across the flats a bit hitting paved highway 284 East to the Duck Ck Road. You will be climbing to the top of the Big Belt Mountains for the second time in one day.
The view on top near Duck Ck Pass is, to say the least, extensive to the south. Continue on down the other side to Gypsy Lake, but the turn to the campground is BEFORE you get to the lake. This is the campground for the night. The campground is located back in the trees on the far side of the lake. According to the USFS website, there is no potable water at the campground. Bring your supply or be prepared to filter. The lake is not right adjacent to the campground, but is available and swimmable.
Monday the route runs on down the Duck Ck Rd and the Birch Ck road to White Sulphur Springs - 17 miles. Gas and supplies in White Sulphur Springs..
South of White Sulphur Springs on US 89 then State 294 to Lennep. Back to dirt up through the Castle Mountains passing through the ghost town of Castle. - look for Minnie's Sporting House. Most of the standing buildings are up to the left over the bank. Continuing north hitting US12 at Checkerboard and a few miles East before turning north again up through the Little Belt Mountains via the Spring Creek Road. The track continues on north to Utica, the original Montana country of Charlie Russell. From here, the track runs East to Judith Gap (gas and dinner) then across the highway and up into the Big Snowy Mountains to the Timber Creek Campground for the night.
Tuesday, from Timber Creek CG, the route continues on east at the base of the Big Snowies circling them on the East traveling north to Lewistown. There is a side trip track to Swimming Woman Canyon with a couple of water crossings doable on big bike, but a challenge worth the view. Gas and supplies in Lewistwon. Next, the route continues on North into the Judith Mountains past what was an old mining town of Maiden, more lately a support establishment for the Air Force and later, bible institute (and I know not what as of now). I have routed across the Judiths to the East with a side trip to the top of Judith Peak which was at one time an early warning radar base (early cold war days). Worth the trip to the top for the view. The road is well maintained but gets wash boardy with loose gravel. There were several radomes at one time (I used to service state radios in those domes after the Air Force abandoned the site back in the mid 1970s.) From here we drop down to the East and work our way North towards Roy past Black Butte (no not that Black Butte, another Black Butte.)
There is gas in Roy then it's off north to the Missouri River and the night’s campsite at James Kipp Recreation area.
Wednesday sees us West along the Missouri River Breaks on the South side of the Missouri River. We follow the Knox Ridge Road and the Two Calf Trail part of the Missouri River Breaks Scenic Byway. You have a choice. The Knox Ridge Road is farther inland from the Missouri but less rugged than the Two Calf which goes up and down the coolies with some steeper grades. The Knox Ridge road is an alternate track section with the Two Calf being on the main daily track. Coming out at Winifred for gas/supplies. Now North crossing the Missouri on the Stafford Ferry and continuing on north to the Bear Paw Battlefield where the Nez Perce surrendered after their flight from Idaho (remember the Big Hole Battlefield from previous years?) Next stop, Havre for gas/supplies then south into the Bear Paw Mountains via Spring Creek where we will camp for the night. I never thought I’d see these rides going through Havre! (I went to school at Northern Montana College and this is where we lived the first couple years of our marriage. (Rode our BSA Victor to see “On Any Sunday” in Havre when it first came out.)
Thursday, South then West over the Bear Paw Mountains to Big Sandy (gas) then south and down to Fort Benton, the furthest reaches of the old steamboats from the pioneer days. The route continues on south up into the Highwood Mountains for the night camping at Thain Creek Campground.
Friday, we drop out of the Highwoods with nine water crossings right at the start then to Geyser (no services) up into the Little Belts on over to Monarch (gas and eats) eventually crossing the Smith River then back up into the Big Belt Mountains. There are several good roads across the Belts and we only covered three on the first trip through. Now we make it four as come across and down the Confederate Gulch Road. We will pass through the placer mining remains where the Diamond City once thrived (but later washed away by the placer mining.) Once noted as the “Richest Half Acre on Earth”.
Back down to the county highway and back west along Canyon Ferry Reservoir . Stop at Kim's Marina for gas (and a shower if needed). Continue West turning off at Canyon Ferry Village coming out at York Bar (good burgers) before running up Trout Creek to Vigilante Campground for the night.
Saturday, we return back through York dropping through the narrow canyon (twisty - paved) to the Missouri River and then West again on dirt from Lakeside (gas) over towards I15 (another gas) where we cross over continuing on West. Continuing on through Silver City on the Lincoln Road - CR279 - and then left towards Marysville and up across the divide cross country coming out on Marsh Creek and Stemple Pass Roads exiting in Lincoln on US 200. Gas/supplies in Lincoln then west on 200 a bit turning off on the right on the North Beaver Creek Road. We cross Huckleberry Pass dropping briefly back on US200 turning off to the right again on the Monture Creek Road and Cottonwood Lakes Roads coming out in Seeley Lake and hitting the Big Larch campground for the night.
Sunday, the route continues up MT83 a bit and turns West on the Fawn Creek Road catching the Jocko Road over to Arlee. Through Arlee then West on the Valley Creek Road. The route continues up over the mountains dropping down to the Nine Mile drainage (past the Nine Mile USFS Remount station - national packing wintering/training facility) continuing on down to I90 taking the frontage road West to Petty Creek. Up Petty Creek (watch for bighorn sheep on the road.) Across the mountains coming down Graves Creek past the Jack Saloon, burger and beer time, US12 and East to Lolo and the end of the route.