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Idaho’s Lolo Pass
Seven reasons to ride it - and Lolo is just one of them
Perhaps you’ve heard of Lolo Pass that sits atop the Bitterroot Range as a dividing line between Idaho and Montana. Perhaps you’ve even ridden up to it. But do you know about the six other twisties that are on the way to and from the pass on the Idaho side? It’s time for you to meet Lolo and the Boys.
The origin on the name Lolo is one to ponder. The official word is it is a native American interpretation of the French name Laurent. Other meanings include "Low Rider" and "Crazy." The later becomes a possibility when you consider Lewis and Clark’s dislike of having to cross the pass on two separate occasions.
But in 1960 that all got a lot easier when the US HighwayDepartment completed a riverside route along the Clearwater River up to Powell and then 13 miles to the top of the pass. On a bike this is considered to be a must-do ride and the teaser lies just outside of Kooskia (koos-kee) with the infamous "Winding Road Next 99 Miles."
That number alone should get you thinking about fuel, an issue easily resolved, even for low range bikes like a Sportster. Gas up in Kamiah (kam-ee-eye) or Lowell and then in Powell at Lochsa (lawk-saw) Lodge.
The ride up to the pass is a never ending series of twisties. While fun, you won’t find much rhythm to them. The good news is there are plenty of broken yellow lines which provide ample passing zones for the times you come upon a slow RV or other vehicle.
Many riders hit the pass and simply turn the bike around – thus missing the best part of the trip – the Montana side! It’s not often you get to ride a motorcycle at 75 mph legally on corners that were made to be taken at 75 mph, so this section is not to be missed. You can ride all the way down to the town of Lolo and continue into Missoula for lunch. A tasty sandwich at Cafe Dolce does the trick.
For the return trip, consider a stop at the Lolo Hot Springs Resort and take a dip in the domesticated hot springs for less than the price of a movie theater ticket. For a few bucks more you can rent a towel and swim suit, too!
On the way back, gassing up at Lochsa again may not be a bad idea before heading down the Idaho side. As long as you’re there, a nice slice of cheesecake at the lodge makes the afternoon that much nicer as you sit on the outdoor deck and look across the range.
As you can imagine, this becomes an all-day trip. That’s why we suggest you consider a few days in a nearby locale like Kamiah. There you will find the humble Lewis & Clark Resort which offers motel rooms, cabins, tent camping options, as well as a restaurant that’s open for three meals a day. As a base camp, it’s perfect since it puts you in the middle between Lolo Pass and the six boys.
Keep in mind the speed limit on Lolo/US 12 is dumbed down to 50 mph and law enforcement never seems to be far away. Not really as fun as that 'next 99 miles' sign looks.
So let’s talk about the other six reasons to ride Lolo Pass – those six boys! Take the next six sections, piece them together and you’ve got yet another fantastic day ride. Grab an atlas and follow along.
Greer Grade/SR 11
On the west end of SR 11 lies a sweet 8 miles of twisties that take you up to the small farming area of Fraser. Corner after corner of tight twisties ascend. At Fraser you can work your way back down to US 12, or continue east and north, connecting with SR 7 and riding west to Orofino.
The map of the Greer Grade at right tells the tale of what lies ahead for a day of nothin' but great twisties!
Ahsahka Grade/P1 – Southwick Rd/215
From US 12, cross east over the Clearwater River into Orofino and turn left immediately. Continue up the Ahsahka Grade on P1. What Lolo lacks, this grade provides in the way of corners that turn left and right with rhythm. And it continues as you descend down toward Cavendish. The road swings a hard left and becomes County 215 taking you out to SR 3. Turn left and ride south back to US 12, then head west on US 12 for the next boy…
The Spiral Highway
It’s a legendary series of twisties that take you up above the Lewiston/Clarkston valley looking across to where the Clearwater merges into the Snake River. Such a road is worthy of a few passes. We like the up direction rather than the down which can be so scenic you take your eyes off the road at the wrong times. The quick way down is to use US 95 to the east. Skirt the downtown Lewiston crawl by using 128 west and 193 south to get into Clarkston to take the back way to the next boy…
Tammany Creek Rd
Roll into Clarkston, ride SR 216 south and ride east across the Southway Bridge back into Idaho. Immediately exit after crossing, onto Snake River Road and ride south. Keep left as the road becomes Tammany Creek Road and ascends up the plain using a nice series of sweepers. Eventually the road makes a hard right and takes you south, then east out to US 95 along Webb Rd. At US 95, turn right and ride south to the next boy…
Before the advent of US 95, there were various connectors to get from town to town. Many originated as foot and, later, wagon trails. The Spiral Highway was one such connector providing access between Clarkston/Lewiston and Moscow. The Winchester Grade was another providing access to the south of the region. This road takes you upward several thousand feet onto the high prairie of Winchester. It involves a nice 8 mile section of well-maintained pavement full of twists and turns and an ever-expanding view the higher you climb. At the top of the grade, the road levels out and carries you to Winchester along a patchwork of hot tar band aids. Somewhere this section of road must be on a schedule for repaving. Hey – those first 8 miles were worth it! At Winchester reconnect with US 95 and ride south toward Cottonwood for the final boy…
To the north of Cottonwood, turn eastward onto Greencreek Road and wind your way across this dreamy landscape of America’s heartland. At the junction with SR 7, ride north and then west onto SR 162. Here you’ll descend back into the Clearwater Valley along a nice set of corners and be deposited into Kamiah where a toast to a perfect day of riding is in order!
But wait. You say you still have more time. For day three of your extravaganza, go explore the roads out to Elk City and White Bird. The fun never seems to end!
Insight and assistance with this article was provided by Steve Schiller.
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