Featured Activity: Motorcycle adventurers explore Idaho’s dirt roads

The Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route runs for 1,250 miles.
The Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route runs for 1,250 miles. Courtesy of BDR

Motorcyclists from as far away as the United Kingdom and Germany have been traveling to Idaho in recent years specifically to ride the scenic, backcountry dirt roads that connect some of the state’s smallest towns.

The Idaho Backcountry Discovery Route is one of six such routes mapped and filmed by a non-profit organization that seeks to preserve backcountry motorcycle opportunities. The other states with completed routes are Utah, Washington, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Oregon has a route that pre-dates the BDR program.

A Nevada route is scheduled for release in 2017 and will end in Jarbidge, where Idaho’s route begins.

The Idaho route goes through Glenns Ferry, Pine, Lowman, Yellow Pine, Burgdorf Hot Springs, Elk City, Pierce, Avery, Wallace, Clark Fork, Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry. It dips briefly into Montana on pavement because of issues with Idaho’s wilderness areas.

“Idaho has kind of been slated as one of the less technical rides, so there are not a lot of super-rough sections in it,” said Lance Gines of Into the Horizon Adventure Motorcycle Tours and Rentals in Boise. “But it’s also known as the most scenic as well. That draws a lot of people — the fact that it’s such a beautiful state and there’s so many beautiful vistas.”

A gas station manager in Yellow Pine told Gines he sold gas to 1,000 motorcycle riders last year. Gines hopes that number doubles this year.

Most riders camp and try to complete the journey in seven days, Gines said. Many skip the southern section (Jarbidge to Glenns Ferry) because of the heat unless they try in the fall.

Adventure motorcycling soared in popularity 12 years ago, Gines said, after actor Ewan McGregor and entertainer Charley Boorman rode from London to New York through Europe, Russia, Alaska and Canada. Their journey was the subject of a documentary titled “Long Way Round.”

“That just set the whole adventure market on fire,” Gines said. “... I don’t know if it’s a trend or if it’s going to stay that way, but more and more people are getting into motorcycling and wanting to get on the dirt roads away from traffic. They put (the BDRs) on their bucket list.”

Each BDR is highlighted in a filmed ride, which helps spread the word internationally.

“I like the fact that I can show people the beauty of our state,” Gines said. “For me, it’s pretty mellow riding. It probably isn’t my favorite riding. ... I’m into the little more technical stuff, where it’s more of a challenge. But I like the fact that anybody with a moderate amount of experience can ride it.”

The BDR has been highlighted at the Boise Airport, just inside the security checkpoint, in an advertisement for Big Twin Motorcycles in Boise. The display includes a 40-inch screen that has been showing the trailer for the film about the Idaho BDR (the display is about to change, though).

“The dealerships are pretty excited about (the BDRs),” said Kevin Werre, the general manager at Big Twin. “Just the idea of getting that vibe in your shop — travelers are usually pretty enjoyable to be around.”