The Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Fern Falls. So. Fk. Payette. Sawtooth Wilderness

Fern Falls near the headwaters of the South Fork of
the Payette River. Sawtooth Wilderness.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

The Sawtooth mountain range is perhaps the best known in Idaho. Rising up directly from the floor of the Sawtooth Valley, they resemble the Tetons of Wyoming, even down to the large lakes impounded by glacial moraines at their foot. The Sawtooths are strikingly obvious to any traveler, so it is fortunate, but not surprising, that they were long ago protected from development, first as the Sawtooth Primitive Area, and then by Act of Congress in 1972 as a slightly enlarged (217,088 acre) Sawtooth Wilderness.

There is a potential addition of about 200,000 acres of roadless area which is contiguous to the designated Wilderness. A portion of this is in the "Hanson Lakes" recommended wilderness addition on the north end of the range, but more lies to the west of the range. Idaho conservationists would like what is left added to the wilderness as the "Sawtooth Completion."

Most of this additional acreage was pretty well protected from development until the the big Idaho fires of 1994, 2000, and 2003, which resulted in some salvage logging roads into the burns.

The 1972 legislation also created the Sawtooth National Recreation Area which gave some limited protection from development to the Sawtooth Valley and the mountains on its east side, the White Cloud Mountains.

The Sawtooths were uplifted and their present form carved by glaciers out of the generally pink igneous rock of the Sawtooth Batholith, providing beauty and fine rock-climbing. Numerous alpine cirque lakes provide fishing for small trout.

Wildlife is diverse but not especially abundant in the Sawtooth Range. Present are mountain goats, elk, mule deer, cougar, black bear, bobcats, coyotes, and now wolves in the lower canyons, and especially in the foothills. Recent studies have also tracked a surprising number of wolverine. 

Most of the wildlife, other than the mountain goats and wolverine, are more numerous in the lower and less rocky parts of the area such as the western fringes of the wilderness. The roadless portions of this high quality habitat need to be added to the Sawtooth Wilderness.

Sawtooth Lake and Mt. Regan.
Sawtooth Lake is the largest lake inside 
the Sawtooth Range
© Ralph Maughan

Sawtooth Lake and Mt. Regan. Copyright Ralph Maughan

Forest fire plume over the Sawtooth Range
Not a thundercloud, but rather the plume of the Hot Creek Fire over the
Sawtooths in the summer of 2003. Copyright © Ralph Maughan

More photos of the Sawtooth Range

The Sawtooth Wilderness/   July 29, 2006