Pinyon Peak and Custer

Below is an updated report I originally wrote about a year ago on an excellent ride into the clouds near Stanley.

When discussing recreational opportunities in and around the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, many people’s immediate impressions include “inaccessible,” “extremely remote,” or “permit only.” While this is an accurate description of much of the Central Idaho wilderness, some of the best kept secrets abound just outside of the heavily regulated areas.

Last fall, a friend and I headed north from Boise on a Honda Transalp and a BMW Dakar to do a little exploring around the Stanley area. Fishing poles and camping gear in tow we headed northeast from Stanley towards Sunbeam Dam on Highway 75. At Yankee Fork we veered north towards Custer in search of a camping spot with decent fishing nearby.

As each mile passed, we encountered fewer people and more impressive scenery. Shortly after the road turned to dirt, we began exploring every intersecting access road and trail we came across while looking for the ideal spot. It wasn’t long before we stumbled upon a spacious treed creekside flat just north of Custer.

Custer is a wonderful little historic mining ghost town that has been largely abandoned, with the exception of some seasonal tourism functions. Founded in 1877, it was an operational hub for the Yankee Fork gold dredge well into the 1950’s. Its frozen in time feel and historic vibe make it a great spot to visit, even if its just on a summer day trip from Stanley. There is a mining museum with some cool artifacts, and there are tons of hiking and fishing opportunities in this area.

After an evening of fishing and motorcycling around the area, we hit the hay–eager to see how much ground we could cover the next day. The next morning, we cooked up a quick breakfast and loaded up the bikes with the intention of doing some bushwhacking. Leafing through some old Forest Service maps, we found a less traveled series of unimproved roads that connect the Custer area to near Banner Summit, by way of the Pinyon Peak lookout.

From just south of Custer, we headed northwest on Loon Creek Road.  As we ascended the summit adjacent to Loon Creek, the road transitioned from well kept to occasionally very rough, making for some fun technical riding, at speed.

The scenery from Upper Loon Creek up to the Pinyon Peak lookout is extraordinary. 360-degree panoramas from this 10,000 foot perch are what make this ride particularly good. You can see to the White Clouds in the distance, across the tops of the Sawtooths, and down into the Salmon River Drainage, depending on which direction you point your beak.

The long ridge to valley traverse from Pinyon Peak Loop Road to Seafoam Road–back down to Highway 21–is peppered with endless wildlife and crystal clear high mountain lakes.

From Lower Stanley to Banner is approximately 80-miles on primarily dirt roads. You’ll have to either go back to Stanley, or on to Lowman if you run low on fuel so pack for ALL possible conditions. Always check to make sure roads are open, and in passable condition.

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