Tackling the Lolo Motorway
A motorcycle haven in North Idaho
by Andrew Mentzer
The Lolo Motorway provides the adventurous with access to countless mountain lakes and viewpoints.
From Boise, head north on Highway 55 through McCall. Continue on Highway 95 to Grangeville. Turn right toward the Harpster Grade and take Highway 13 to Kooskia to the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and Highway 12. You can head left to Kamiah or right toward Lolo, Mont. The Lolo Motorway (officially dubbed Road 500) runs parallel to the north of Highway 12, with a handful of steep, often rough, perpendicular access roads along the way.
Peering over the endless expanse of the Clearwater National Forest from my 7,000-foot perch above the Lochsa River, the realization that I had waited all these years to explore one of the coolest places in Idaho settled in. I have reported on dozens of epic stretches across the Gem State, but the Lolo Motorway might take the cake for scenery, solitude and sheer enjoyment.
It may have been the perfect weather that made the trip especially good, but most folks would feel a similar appreciation on their first trip out. Its rugged ascent from Highway 12 to countless mountain lakes and overlooks which provide a peace hard to find elsewhere. This is the backcountry, so staying aware amid the temptation to let your head float off your shoulders is paramount.
My early September run on the Lolo Motorway was with the folks from Happy Trails Products in Boise, a dual sport motorcycle gear company. The second installment of their annual Lolo Motorway Rally utilized the town of Kamiah as home base, which proved the perfect location for each evening’s meeting of the minds.
Each morning, dozens of hardcore dual-sport and enduro enthusiasts convened in small groups to decide which way to go. Some chose remote single-track routes. Others (like myself, coming off a recent knee surgery) chose one of myriad Forest Service roads to explore. While I only completed a roughly 50-mile segment of the Lolo Motorway, there are hundreds of miles of rides/drives in the area that are sure to adequately whet your adventure whistle.
A good orientation point is the Lochsa Lodge on Highway 12, just a stone’s throw from the route’s eastern origin. We accessed our route from Road 107, between Lowell and Lochsa Lodge, and came out at the Powell Junction. Side routes include scenic Horseshoe Lake and the overlook at Indian Post Office. The more adventurous can get off the Motorway and head toward Superior, Mont., from routes adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River. A long weekend is best to cover a respectable amount of ground, but you could spend a week in this region and not scratch the surface. Bring fishing gear. Lastly, be prepared for anything and make sure you have a back-up map in the event that your GPS leaves you hanging.