Idaho Wilderness Areas
What is Wilderness?
Wilderness is a place where the federal government has protected natural environments, undeveloped landscapes, and primitive life for all future generations. Designating wilderness is one of the most beneficial and unanimously supported actions that our country has taken for the future of life on this planet. Wilderness areas can be anything from windswept deserts, impenetrable forests, ranges of high mountains, or labyrinths of deep river canyons. In the case of Idaho, it is all of these things.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
Wilderness Act, 1964
There are 4.7 million acres of designated wilderness in Idaho. Each has a rich history as well as unique and varied geography, ecosystems and recreation opportunities. Whitewater rafters have over 3,100 river miles of rapids to tackle, and fly fishermen will find their best catch on the top 3 fly fishing rivers in Idaho. The crown jewel of Idaho’s wilderness rivers is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It’s essentially a guarantee that you won’t run out of remote and glorious public wilderness to explore in our stunning state.
Idaho’s wilderness areas, ranked by size:
- Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness: 2,366,827 acres
- Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness: 1,340,460 acres
- Owyhee Canyon Lands Wilderness Areas (non-contiguous): 517,025 acres
- Craters of the Moon National Wilderness: 246, 826 acres
- Hells Canyon Wilderness (Oregon and Idaho): 217,927 acres (881.92 km2)
- Sawtooth Wilderness: 217,088 acres
- Gospel Hump Wilderness: 205,796 acres
- Jim McClure–Jerry Peak Wilderness: 116,898 acres
- Cecil D. Andrus–White Clouds Wilderness: 90,769 acres
- Hemingway–Boulders Wilderness: 67,998 acres
Our Top 3 Idaho Wilderness Areas
Two of the most famous rivers in the world flow through the Frank Church – River of No Return: The Middle Fork of the Salmon River and the Main Salmon River. The last 30 miles of the Middle Fork create The Impassable Canyon which is the 3rd deepest canyon in the county. The extreme vertical relief (7,000ft in places), from the bottom of the Middle Fork River to the high peaks of the Bighorn Crags and Salmon River Mountains, create one of the most spectacular and diverse natural landscapes in the world. The Middle Fork carves a dramatic cliff wall canyon through the Idaho Batholith granite. At the bottom of the canyon flows the Middle Fork which is one of the longest un-dammed wild and scenic rivers in the country, and an extremely important habitat for steelhead, salmon and three species of trout. Our Idaho whitewater rafting and Middle Fork Salmon River Fly Fishing trips are on this incredible wilderness river. From the remote solitude to the hot springs, fly fishing, whitewater rapids and beautiful campsites, the Frank Church and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is the pinnacle of Idaho’s wilderness areas.
Just south of the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness is one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the west: the Sawtooth Mountains. This famous wilderness area is one of the best places in the west for day hiking, through hiking and horse packing. The countless spires are one of the most photographed destinations in Idaho. The most popular place to access the hundreds of miles of wilderness trails is Redfish Lake near the town of Stanley where you can hire a boat to take you across the lake to the boundary of the wilderness. The Sawtooth Mountains are known for endless chains of clear, cold alpine lakes beneath dramatic mountain peaks.
The Owyhee Wilderness is actually a conglomeration of 6 different wilderness areas: Big & Little Jack’s Creek Wilderness, Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers Wilderness, North Fork Owyhee Wilderness, Owyhee River Wilderness, and Pole Creek Wilderness. These wilderness areas are defined by the rivers which cut a maze of slot canyons through the desert. The Owyhee, Jarbidge and Bruneau rivers are the most notable, however the countless tributaries and side creeks to these seasonal rivers have eroded an endless canyoneering playground into the expansive desert. These wilderness areas are home to some of the largest elk, deer and bighorn sheep in the state. When the snow begins to melt, the canyons fill up with water and the desert comes alive with stunning wildflowers and thousands of migrating birds.
Have a question about Idaho’s wilderness areas?
We look forward to getting you out on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness!
Contact us to learn more.