Coeur d' Alene National Forest

(photos just in case you don’t have flash)
John, Larry, and I all wanted to get in a good ride this summer, but didn’t have a week to dedicate to something like our 2007 Gifford Pinchot tour. We decided that a long weekend ride would be a good idea. We always make John come west, so this time we headed east and picked the CdA National Forest as our target. John invited Pat along too, bringing the group size to 4.
Way back in March or April we got a personal guarantee of good weather from John with our mid-June riding date. Last week it became obvious that this wasn’t going to happen and that rain was likely. The rain changed our parking location from being the corner of the forest to one of the central campgrounds. That made our first evening’s ride to our campsite much shorter.

On Friday morning we woke up to light rain, but as we ate lunch it began to clear and dry out. When I told John that we’d be ending the day about 5 miles from the car again he asked about just ditching the camping gear and turning it into a slightly longer day ride. That seemed like a good idea, so we rode back to the car, ditched gear,and started the loop.

We started near Huckleberry Campground right in the middle of the CdA National Forest. Pat really liked how Spyglass Peak looked on the map,so we concentrated on that part of the original route. The highlight there was a short but steep climb (seen on the map above between miles 25 and 30) followed by a long ridgeline descent.

Getting to Spyglass Peak meant riding to Magee first. The route to Magee is over an easy saddle (Leiberg Saddle) followed by a really nice descent through Tepee Creek and the meadows along it. This creek runs through a narrow valley with a wide meadow that must flood every year. The road is above the meadow and creek, giving you very nice views into the area below. It really reminded me of areas of Yellowstone National Park,only this valley wasn’t overrun with tourists.

We reached Magee around lunch time. Magee consists of 4 historic buildings and a backcountry airport where a ranger office used to be. We enjoyed a nice lunch there before heading uphill towards Spyglass Peak. The climb up towards Spyglass was almost perfect and a marvel of good surveying. It was steep,but not too steep (around 9% grade). The gradient was consistent and the road conditions were excellent. We saw a few moose on the way up. At the top we got to a ridgeline with good views in all directions.

The descent down the ridgeline was fun. The descent was a much lighter grade and just felt like it went on forever (if you look on the map above it looks like we were descending for about 20 miles before the next major climb). Once in a while there would be a half mile climb or so to get some more altitude. Since we were riding along the ridgeline we’d get views to the east, then cross over and get some views to the west. The weather was dynamic up there with areas of rain, sun, and sometimes both at once. The roads were a little damp (good for keeping the dust down) and had no washboard. It really made for some fun riding.

CdA National Forest is a maze. Every few miles we’d come to a N-way intersection and have to figure out our next turn. At Stull Saddle we ran into one thing that really threw us off. Pat looked at his paper map and said “we want to take 812 back to Leiberg Creek”. I looked at my GPS and said “I drew out this red line that we should follow”. It looked like the line might also follow 812, so we trusted Pat’s map and headed down 812. A mile or so down I kept slowing down and looking at the GPS and John asked me what was wrong. We weren’t on the red line, but I decided to trust the map more than the line.

We knew that we made a wrong turn when we got to a sign that said “Magee, 3 miles”. Oops! We turned uphill and did the climb up to Leiberg saddle again. There we found 260 which connected back to Stull Saddle. On the descent down from Leiberg Saddle we found the other 812. That mistake cost us 10+ miles, but they were enjoyable. If you go to the CdA National Forest I’d bring a GPS and the forest map, and still give yourself a little time to get lost.

The road back to our campsite seemed a lot longer on the way out than the way in. We made it back to our car and the camp area around 7pm, 10 hours or so after we left. A good long day on the road: roughly 65 miles and somewhere between 7,500 feet and 11,000 feet of climbing depending on which mapping software you trust. I think the 7,500 number is probably about right.

Saturday morning on the drive out we took some other very minor roads and saw more areas which are ripe for exploring. I really get the impression that you could park somewhere central and setup a base camp and find a new excellent loop every day for a week without duplicating much scenery. That would all be while staying on the labeled roads and ignoring the dozens of unmarked side roads and singletrack that we saw on our route. We made future plans to do exactly that. John and Pat are very lucky to have all of this great riding only a bit over an hour away.

Appendix A: Water Filters
This what water filtering looked like for us in 2007:

Roughly 3 minutes of annoying pumping for every 1 liter of water that you want.

This is what it looks like now:

30 seconds of going by the river to fill a bladder full of water. 5 minutes of waiting for gravity to do it’s work and filter 4 liters of water for you, during which time you can eat lunch, chat, or just enjoy the sun. It is a huge improvement. We brought along MSR and Platypus gravity water filters. Both use the same filter cartridge and technology. The MSR one has a nicer “dirty water” bladder, but doesn’t come with a “clean water” bladder (so it is $20 more expensive once you buy one of those). Either option is great.

Appendix B: CdA vs Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot has better scenery. We didn’t see anything like this, this, or this in CdA. The volcanic backdrop of Gifford Pinchot just adds more dynamic scenery to the picture.

Gifford Pinchot has more pavement.

CdA has more roads. It is a real maze in there, and you can pretty easily build loop routes of almost any length that you’d want. Our route had more out and back than we planned due to taking the “wrong” 812.

CdA seemed to have more wildlife. We saw many moose, a coyote, a few deers, and tons of birds.

Both are great and neither had much traffic.

Appendix C: Making a fender with campground materials

  • Reverse the dummy bolts in the rack mounting bosses on your seatstays so that they stick out a little bit.
  • Tie sticks to those bolts and the seattube.
  • Cut a few holes in a tyvek envelope (I brought this as a saddle cover), freeze dried food bag, or other trash and tie it to the sticks.

Appendix D: We need a name…

This isn’t touring, because we didn’t carry our gear. It isn’t mountain biking because the terrain wasn’t that technical and we went more miles. I guess some people call it “Adventure Cycling”, but to me that is the name of a magazine about bicycle touring. This is my favorite style of riding, and there isn’t a name for it.

Appendex E: Other links


  1. Jimmy says:

    Looks like a fun ride, thanks for sharing.

    I like Appendix C. I have quite a lot of scrap coroplast from work, if you”d like to make a couple of fenderlets for this sort of riding.

    The more I see about gravity filters, in-bottle straw filters, and in-line hydration pack filters, the more I”m convinced to ditch our pumper. Just hurts to sell something so new (xmas gift 2008).

    In an odd way it sort of is mountain biking, in the original fire-road sense of it. Adventurecorps is trying to use the name “Rough Riders” for this sort of thing (

    How about Gravel-Ramble?

  2. AlexWetmore says:

    Jimmy: I also replaced a pretty new pump filter (Summer 2008) with this gravity one. It was sad to do so, but I really like the replacement.

    My current favorite term is “Backcountry Cycling”. I think it covers the idea better than Allroad. “Rough Riders” seems popular, but it doesn”t really resonate with me.

  3. doug in seattle says:

    Boy, that looks like a great ride. Your report of your 2007 GPNF trip encouraged me to do one myself next month. I am over-brimming with excitement.

    When I try to get my friends to come on trips like these I always say, “Let’’s ride like it’’s 1925!” but of course, only a certain type of person is excited by something like that, and none of them are my friends, unfortunately.

  4. Apertome says:

    Absolutely beautiful and inspiring trip. Really loved the photos, and the writeup.

    I guess you could call it “light touring” or “day touring” or something. I usually just call rides like this one “mixed-terrain rides.” Not sure if that fully captures it though.

    Did a similar trip in Hoosier National Forest here in Indiana, only with mountain bikes, and we hit some trails as well. We set up a base camp and rode from there.

    Here’’s my trip report. We certainly don”t have scenery like that around here though … wow!

  5. FrankCrusader says:

    Great trip! As for the category, I prefer Velo Exploring, or VX for those in the know…