Idaho Wilderness Trail
Explore the Wildest Path
Wilderness is more than a place-it’s an experience. It’s rugged and breathtaking mountains and canyons that inspire awe. It’s alpine lakes and trout-filled creeks. It’s apex predators like wolves, mountain lions and bears. It’s solitude so deep that you stop expecting to encounter another person.
The Idaho Wilderness Trail is that kind of experience. Extending for nearly 300 miles, it connects the second-largest federal wilderness area in the contiguous United States-the 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness-with the Sawtooth Wilderness to its south and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to its north, creating the most remote and wild long-distance trail in the Lower 48.
The Sawtooth Wilderness – 52.6 Miles
With national park-caliber scenery, dozens of jagged peaks rising above 10,000 feet, and hundreds of alpine lakes reminiscent of the High Sierra, the Sawtooth Wilderness never fails to inspire awe in backpackers and climbers. The 52.6 miles of the Idaho Wilderness Trail (IWT) that traverse the Sawtooths crest passes over 9,000 feet, thread deep valleys flanked by towering granite walls, and hit many of the most beautiful lakes you’ll ever dip a fishing line or a toe in. Looking for one section of the IWT to sample? Idaho’s beloved Sawtooths will win your heart and convince you to finish the IWT.
The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness – 168.2 Miles
If the IWT has a soul, you’ll find it in the 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. A vast realm of deep canyons, wild rivers with world-class whitewater and trout fishing, and more wolves than Yellowstone (the Frank was the “other place” wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s), the second-largest federal wilderness in the contiguous United States embodies the essence of remote, wild backcountry like few places outside Alaska. The IWT’s longest section at 131.4 miles follows one of the West’s premier wilderness rivers, the Middle Fork of the Salmon, before making a huge climb to cross the Bighorn Crags, a haunting area of pointy rock spires looming above lake-filled cirques.
Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness – 64.8 Miles
In many respects, the 64.8 miles of the IWT through the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness feels like the loneliest and most remote. Following the wild Selway River through a forest resembling those of the Pacific Northwest more than it does the drier forests of Central Idaho, the IWT snakes for 64.8 rugged, hard-earned miles from the river canyon up through the alpine country of the Selway Crags before reaching its northern terminus-appropriately-at the Wilderness Gateway campground on Highway 12.
Into the Wild
Venture into wilderness requires us to carry more than our packs. A thoughtful frame of mind, an understanding of backcountry guidelines and an understanding of outdoor ethics are essential.
Ethical questions are raised at all outdoor recreational activities, yet we would not know the value of protecting our wild places without experiencing them first. Getting personally involved in the outdoors is a time that is cherished. It’s respite from the day-to-day grind, a moment with grandchildren, or a time for reflection.
Therefore we all need bits of guiding wisdom about wilderness conservation. With increasing pressures from things like climate change and more recreation users of our public lands, at ICL we encourage going above and beyond the Leave No Trace guidelines. Find opportunities to partner with organizations and agencies that help manage the places we find important, discover the IWT or volunteer as a wilderness steward. Become a true steward for Wilderness so you can take care of your own wild Idaho for today and all those that come after you.
The Idaho Wilderness Trail is a project of Idaho Conservation League in cooperation with The Big Outside.
Selway, Bitterroot, Frank Church and the Sawtooth wIldernesses
3 sections areas of varying length through three wildernesses. Total length is 285.6 miles.