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Clearwater River Country

North Central Idaho

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Clearwater South Fork

 

Map of Clearwater River Region

Hwy. 14 to Elk City in purple; Harpster Grade in orange.

 

Hwy. 14 from near Harpster to Elk City

 

Perhaps the best thing about Hwy. 14 is the dearth of people...or maybe it’s all the curves...or maybe the fabulous scenery

Perhaps the best thing about Hwy. 14 is the dearth of people...or maybe it’s all the curves...or maybe the fabulous scenery...

 

Hwy. 14 to Elk City is worthy of a Top Five placement in our favorite Idaho routes.

Though it goes against our penchant for riding loops and avoiding backtracks, we have enjoyed Hwy. 14 at least a half-dozen times, once even in a compact sedan. That was fun, too!

There are a few services between Kooskia and Grangeville, but none from Hwy. 13 up Hwy. 14 until Elk City. The little “city” has lodging, prepared meals, groceries, fuel, gifts, packaged liquor and saloons – all the essentials.

If approaching from the north, look for an angling left just past Harpster that is marked “Elk City.” About a half-dozen miles in, you’ll come to a stop sign at a “T.” Bear left and remember the junction because on the way out, you should ride straight through the “T” and up the Mount Idaho Grade en route to Grangeville. More on that grade in a bit.

What a delightful ride up the South Fork! It is all turns as the narrow, shoulderless roadway winds in tandem with the river, usually in the bottom of a big canyon with towering mountains flanking the route. There aren’t a lot of elevation changes, just a gradual climb up the drainage bottom. But the serpentine river created a course like a 50-mile sidewinder.

The river is always in sight and nurtures dense undergrowth of willows, aspen and pine, including larch that burns bright yellow in the late fall before shedding its needles.

The best aspect of this route is its exceptionally low traffic volumes. The river gets well fished and there are a number of campgrounds along the way so a few recreationists may be out. The timber mill at Elk City closed awhile back so work commuters are mostly gone.

The first half-dozen miles have been repaved in the last several years so is smooth, while upper sections of asphalt are generally good though expect a few stretches with some substantial surface irregularities – nothing serious.

Hwy. 14 makes for a superb leisurely cruise or it can be run with the heat turned up and lean angles intensified. Most

curves are of constant radius so get your entry speed right and just rail through, though stay focused and alert for surprises such as critters, fallen rocks and other debris. Many of the turns are blind.

I remember our first run up Hwy. 14 quite well: it is a memorable piece of roadway, but also for another reason.

We were riding with some spirit, difficult to avoid on such a splendid sporting road. We came up on a cruiser putting along at 35 or 40 mph, evidently in a sedate mode. At first opportunity, we gassed it and pulled in front, leaving the cruiser in our wakes.

We’ll have to take the time to fish the South Fork; lots of others do.

We’ll have to take the time to fish the South Fork; lots of others do.

 

Riders R

After stripping off our protective riding gear in Elk City and stretching to work out some kinks, the cruiser rider pulled up. He fairly glowered at us, then said, “That road is too dangerous to ride like that. There’s a lot of deer along there.” Fair enough.

But this fellow was riding in jeans and a cut-off denim shirt, no helmet or anything else to save his hide, which made his safety lecture profoundly ironic.

You may be ready for refreshments, possibly sustenance, by the time you reach Elk City. Avail yourselves. We’ve found the locals to be very friendly and accommodating.

urc