Explore the heart of Idaho for yourself!

The mountain ranges of the Salmon-Challis National Forest (SCNF) are chock-full of iconic adventures. Last summer, I drove towards the towering Lost River Range to get a taste of this vast landscape. My buddies and I began our journey on a blistering hot dirt road near Mackay surrounded by sagebrush and cactus. Over the course of our steep climb up into Idaho’s highest mountain range, we jumped over lush creeks, passed through whitebark pine forests, scrambled up pitches of scree above treeline, and reached a pass with soft alpine grasses adorned with tiny high-altitude wildflowers. Here at the pass, we encountered an impressive herd of bighorn sheep balanced on the loose rocks. With the wind howling, we held onto our hats as the herd made its way along the high ridges. 

This trip was classic Idaho, showcasing the wide range of landscapes and ecosystems that define the eastern and central region of the state. This trip showed me why the SCNF is the heart of Idaho, bestowed with incredible, rugged scenery, vast roadless areas, and immense value for our local communities and future generations.

The SCNF with its wild, roadless expanses is a treasure. The forest provides key habitat to precious wildlife including wolverine, bighorn sheep, bears, and elk (among others). The forest also supports Central Idaho’s economy, drawing visitors to hire outfitters and visit tourism-based businesses in towns like Salmon, Mackay, Challis, and other communities. Further, as the second-largest national forest in the lower 48, the Salmon-Challis is of national importance, providing wild beauty, solitude, and endless adventure to all who step foot on the forest. 

Getting out and responsibly enjoying Idaho’s special places is one of the best ways to celebrate, steward, and protect our public lands. We compiled a list of a few of our favorite adventures on the SCNF for you to explore and discover. 

Betty, Goat & Baptie Lakes

This challenging, 12-mile loop takes you to three high alpine lakes and offers great views of Standhope Peak and the Pioneers. Details and directions. 

Merriam Lake

This 3.7-mile out-and-back trail takes you to a stunning lake with views of the towering peaks of the Lost River Range, Idaho’s tallest mountain range. High clearance vehicle required to access the trailhead. Details and directions. 

Boulder Lake

We enjoy the hike to this classic alpine lake in the Pioneer Mountains for its diversity as well as its beauty.  The hike begins with a refreshing wade across Wildhorse Creek, continues with a climb through the woods and a traverse through beautiful meadows, and ends with a steep scramble up the rocky wall below Boulder Lake. Be sure to bring wading shoes for the creek crossing. Details and directions. 

Protecting the landscapes of the Salmon-Challis National Forest

We hope that these important places on the Salmon-Challis National Forest will inspire and sustain Idahoans for generations to come. For this to happen, we must advocate for proper management of these lands and resources. Unfortunately, the forest plans that provide crucial direction to the Forest Service regarding the management of the SCNF are over 30 years old – more than 15 years overdue for revision. While the agency acknowledges that the existing plans are outdated, ineffective, and need to be revised, it could be at least another year or two until the plan revision process restarts.

Despite these setbacks, a new forest plan for this special part of Central Idaho is inevitable. In anticipation of the Forest Service resuming forest plan revisions, ICL has been working collaboratively with other stakeholders to identify opportunities to protect large, connected landscapes in this region. We will also defend existing recommended wilderness areas in the Pioneer Mountains and around Idaho’s tallest peak – Mt. Borah. 

Get involved!

Become a Wilderness Steward and take a boots-on-the-ground approach to protecting the incredible landscapes of the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Our stewards explore the Lost River Range, Pioneer Mountains, Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, and other amazing locations in the Salmon-Challis. Get your name on the list by emailing Hannah Smay at hsmay@idahoconservation.org

Share why the Salmon-Challis National Forest matters to you! 

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