Thursday, April 28, 2011

Driving on National Forest Roads

Backroads Information--Driving on National Forest Roads

The state of Washington posts their county roads that have no warning signs.  I find it slightly amusing that they call them "primitive" roads.  The Forest Service goes one step further and removes the warning sign on their roads.  So Forest Service and BLM and other "primitive" roads require a different expectations than driving city or "modern" roads.  Your on your own.  You need to drive slow enough to avoid hazards such as rock, down trees, mud bogs, elk, and other interesting items along these roads.  One of my favorite memories was driving a Forest Service truck high in the mountains of Idaho and having the truck attacked by a badger.  Now there is road hazard never mentioned on a typical driving test.

For years in the Forest Service the Foresters designed and staked the roads.  They were generally then built by logging contractors.  Then somewhere in the 60's the Forest Service started hiring Civil Engineers to build their roads.  Now nature hates straight lines and most Foresters go along with that concept.  However, civil engineers love straight lines and assigning numbering systems to everything.

So the engineers grouped all the roads into three classes:  arterials, collectors, and locals.  Sometimes these are called primary, secondary and local routes.

Primary or arterial routes are assigned a two digit number by the Forest Service.  So Road 39 is primary route suitable for travel by passenger car.  Now these roads generally meet typical county road standards or a little less.  They might be paved, but your speed will still be fairly low compared to roads typically found in urban and rural areas.

Secondary or collector roads are assigned a four digit number.  Here is a picture of the Forest Service road close to my house.

Notice that the truck is parked in a inter-visible turnout.  Read this information on inter-visible turnouts.  Be careful when the sides of the road are wet or have snow on them.  The shoulders are soft and you can easily sink up to your hubcaps.  These roads are generally one lane and mostly gravel.  There is a LOT of variability to the quality of these roads.  So pay attention as you drive.  The road shown above is one of the better roads.

Last but, not least are the local roads.  Now these are generally short spur roads that were used for timber harvest or other management activities.  These are generally marked with a four digit collector number shown horizontally and then a three digit number shown vertically.  Get that.  The four digit number is the collector road from where the local leaves it.  The three digit number is the local road ID number.  These are usually posted on the local road just off the collector road.

These roads are not maintained for public travel and you should expect to encounter downed trees, rocks, washouts and other hazards.  These will also have boondocking sites.  Before I drive a local road I make sure my vehicle will make it out before I enter.  So walk these roads before pulling a trailer into them, unless your totally sure of your destination.

The Forest Service does NOT show all the roads on their recreation maps.  Just the ones they feel are suitable for recreational travel.  If you want a map with ALL the roads you will need to purchase a fireman's or district map.

The current Motor Vehicle Use Map which is free shows all the roads open to vehicle travel.  So it has the road numbers of the open roads.  You can read more on the Motor Vehicle Use Map by clicking HERE.  Be sure to click on the link if you are not familar with the Motor Vehicle Use Map.  It can save you writing a check to the Federal Treasury for using a motor vehicle in a closed area.

A lot of the romance of Forest Service travel went out the window with all those road numbers.  But at least now you know what they mean.  Keep looking for roads like this....they are out there.


giantspeckledchihuahua said...

Great information! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog. We were on a forest road yesterday and Iron Goat Trail. Much to our surpise we were at the top of a valley on a dirt road without any guard rails.
We were overlooking a valley that was so far we cannot imagine the elevation we were. We had no idea that there would be cars going on that road. It was a narrow road to say the least and in poor condition. We have learned a lesson to say the least. Happy Trailing!!