Idaho Wildlands

Revised Sunday, January 4, 2009 6:03 PM

Sunrise near South Fork of the Clearwater
Sunrise near the South Fork of the Clearwater River in north central Idaho.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

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―Overall description of Idaho wild country―

Map of the Idaho national forest roadless areas. Forest Service web site.

There are five congressionally designated wilderness areas in Idaho -- The Frank Church, Selway/ Bitterroot, Sawtooth, Gospel Hump, part of the Hells Canyon Wilderness, and the Craters of the Moon National Monument Wilderness. These five areas are protected from development by Act of Congress. Unfortunately none of these five areas protect any of Idaho Yellowstone Country, nor have any areas in Idaho been added to the National Wilderness Preservation System since 1980.

Although Idaho does have these five designated (congressionally-protected) wilderness areas, Idaho has more acres of legally unprotected wild roadless public land than any of the other 48 contiguous states. In 1977, there was about 10 million acres of undeveloped, unprotected roadless land on the national forests in Idaho was identified and inventoried. Another name for such land is de facto wilderness. Since that time about a half million acres had been "developed" by the creation of informal roads, ways, and tracks by off-road vehicles and mostly below cost logging.

Idaho and Montana are the only two states of the United States that have never had Congress develop and pass a statewide wilderness protection bill, and they are the two states with the most unprotected wild country (with perhaps the exception of the red rock canyon country on our public lands in Utah).

I am not going to argue that all of these roadless areas need to be designated units of the National Wilderness Preservation System. I do argue that all American citizens should have access to this information. This is the purpose of this page -- Ralph Maughan.

Text of the Wilderness Act. If you spend some time reading and viewing this page, you will know more about Idaho roadless country than all but maybe two or three members of Congress.

What is the difference between "wilderness" "and roadless?"

All Wilderness areas designated by Congress must contain no roads and must be kept that way, but millions of additional acres of public land have no roads but no guarantee they will stay that way.  The roadless initiative by the President is an attempt to conserve these non-wilderness, but roadless lands.

Map of the designated wilderness areas and national forest roadless areas of Idaho (government graphic).

Rob and Kathleen Jones have produced a fine web page on their 55 days in the summer 2005 in the Frank Church Wilderness.

-The roadless areas of Idaho-

Below are photos and descriptions of many of the legally unprotected Idaho wild, roadless country. These lands, and roadless lands all over America, are those President Clinton tried to save in his "roadless area initiative." The Bush Administration instead has meticulously dismantled the roadless are protection rule. State governors can petition to protect or develop these areas. Otherwise it is now up to the Forest Service.
Here is a great web site with a lot of current information about Idaho and all the states with roadless areas.

Northern Idaho

-The Selkirk Mountains-

Selkirk Crest. © George Wuerthner

Selkirk Crest-Long Canyon roadless area. Rev. last 2-4-05
Salmo-Priest Wilderness and roadless area Rev. last 2-18-04

-The Purcell Mountains-
Scotchman Peak roadless area of the Idaho-Montana border. Rev. last 1-13-04

North central Idaho

-The Salmon River Mountains-
This is an ocean of mountains that covers most of central Idaho, and to the north of them the almost indistinguishable Clearwater Mountains. A fair portion of the Salmon River mountains are inside the 2.4-million acre Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness, but perhaps two times that area is outside -- quite a bit of it in smaller roadless areas.
Big Deer Creek roadless area This is adjacent to the Frank Church. The upper part of the Big Deer drainage is mostly inside of the Frank Church, but the scenic bottom, full of huge ponderosa pine and Douglas fir was excluded. Much of the roadless area, including some of the big old growth, burned in the incredible fire summer of 2000. Updated 7-10-2005.

Other unprotected roadless areas in the Salmon River Mountains.
Payette crest proposed wilderness

-The Clearwater Mountains-
The Clearwater mountains are but the northward extension of the Salmon River Mountains. The biggest difference the visitor will notice is that the area becomes wetter as they move northward. The Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness is the great protected area in the Clearwater Mountains, but there are more great roadless areas.  These are the "terrible mountains" crossed by Lewis and Clark in September 1805.
Bighorn/ Weitas  Updated 7-29-2006
Elk Summit Updated 2-12-2006
The Great Burn  Updated 3-12-20
Meadow Creek  Updated 4-15-2005
Weir/Post Office Creek New on 7-31-2006

The Clearwater Mountains
The Clearwater Mountains -- a vast expanse of North Central Idaho. Copyright © Ralph Maughan

South Central Idaho

-The Salmon River Mountains-
Lime Creek roadless area encloses some of the classic land forms of the south end of the great Idaho batholith (Salmon River Mountains). Updated 11-26-04
Red Mountain roadless area lies just to the NW of the Sawtooth Mountains and provides an undeveloped connection to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

-Other mountains of south central Idaho-   

Prairie Lake. Smoky Mountains
Prairie Lake. Smoky Mountains
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

The Boulder/White Clouds is one of the largest unprotected national forest roadless area in the 48 states -- about 500,000 acres! Of this, the Forest Service recommends only 225,000 acres for Wilderness designation, mostly the high rocks and ice -- scenic but so typical of units of the Wilderness system. Two wolf packs current roam the White Cloud area -- the Castle Peak Pack on the east side and the Galena Pack on the west side.
Idaho Representative Mike Simpson is trying to create a Boulder - White Clouds Wilderness and deal with related matters in a fashion to satisfy conservation and anti-conservation interests, not an easy task. The bill died in the last Congress, but will be reintroduced in the new 109th Congress (2007-8)

Here is the bill's text as of Oct. 2005-

Castle Peak from the west
Castle Peak, king of the White Clouds
from its backside. Copyright Lee Mercer  

East Central Idaho

-The Lost River Range-
Lost River Range pinnacle in Bear Creek
Pinnacle in Bear Creek. Borah Peak roadless
area. Lost River Range. © Ralph Maughan

-The Lemhi Range-
Lemhi Range (southern portion) has a large (160,000 acre), rugged roadless area with a considerable variety of wildlife. This area is also called "Diamond Peak."  Revised last 6-20-05

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Diamond Peak. Lemhi Range.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan


Lemhi Range (northern portion) Big, big wild country, over 300,000 acres! Revised last 6-6-2006

Peaks above the South Fork
of Big Creek. Northern Lemhis

-The White Knob Mountains-
White Knob roadless area is a small, but scenic area around the highest of these little-celebrated mountains on the west side of the Big Lost River Valley.
Porphyry Peak roadless area includes much of the northern end of the White Knobs. It is an area where the limestone core of the range is buried by the colorful Challis volcanics. There are numerous pillars, pinnacles, cliffs, springs, and high altitude rangeland that provides the few non-livestock related visitors dramatic views of the nearby Pioneer and Lost River ranges. Updated 1-19-06

-Salmon River Mountains-
Squaw Creek roadless area is on the far southeast corner of the vast Salmon River Mountains (discussed in greater detail above). This roadless area and adjacent country has turned to be important wolf country. Updated 5-9-06

The Snake River Plain

Winter clouds over Pillar Butte, a shield
volcano on the Snake River Plain

Hells Half Acre lava flow . A big, rough, but partially vegetated lava flow only ten miles from the city of Idaho Falls. Updated 5-27-2006. Now. May through early June is the best time to visit this area. There are wildflowers and moss in the basalt cracks.

Gooding City of Rocks. Beautiful and strange hoodoos of welded volcanic tuff in the Mt. Bennett hills on the north edge of the Snake River Plain. Updated 3-12-2006

The Idaho/Montana border

-The Beaverhead Range- This is the Continental Divide and the state boundary for many miles; also the state boundary.

The Beaverhead Range from the Lemhi
Valley, SE of Salmon, ID. Copyright ©
Ralph Maughan

The Italian Peaks, a large and diverse roadless area on the Targhee, Beaverhead, and Salmon National Forests (plus BLM land).

The West Big Hole roadless area is a scenic and rugged piece of the Bitterroot Mountains of the Beaverhead Range on the Continental Divide, Idaho/Montana. Revised last 10-14-05

Garfield Mountain, a.k.a., the "Lima Peaks" roadless area. This is a high, bare, and open 90,000 acre roadless area at the southern end of the Beaverhead Mountains. Rev. last 7-29-06.

The Thumb. Garfield Mountain roadless area
The Thumb. Garfield Mountain roadless.
Copyright ©

-The Bitterroot Mountains- Not to be confused with the Bitterroot Range of the Beaverheads  (above)
The Great Burn

-The Centennial Mountains-

Highest part of the Centennial Mountains from Squaw Pass
Centennial Mountains roadless area,

Centennial roadless area (a.k.a. "Mt. Jefferson") of the Centennial Mountains, Idaho/Montana. Rev. last 1-20-06

-Henry's Lake Mountains- Idaho/Montana
The Lionhead roadless area. A new area Added 8-20-04

On the Targhee Cr. Trail. Lionhead roadless area
© Ralph Maughan

The Idaho/Wyoming border

Red Peak, Palisades roadless area
Red Peak, deep in the Palisades
Backcountry. © Ralph Maughan

-The Snake River Range- Rugged mountains just to the south of the famous Teton Range, east of Palisades Reservoir, and also south of the Big Hole Mountains

-The Caribou Range -  A long range that parallels the Snake River Range.

-The Webster Range-

Sage Creek roadless area is highly endangered by potential open pit mining, but very important for fish and wildlife. Revised last on 3-24-2006.

-The Gannett Hills-

The Gannett Hills roadless area is part of this scenic area of high steep hills, aspen filled glades, and intricate topography on the SE Idaho/SW Wyoming border. Revised last on Oct. 25, 2005

The Idaho/Utah border

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Cache Peak from the Silent
City of Rocks. © Ralph Maughan

Mt. Naomi roadless area in Idaho adjoins the designated Mt. Naomi Wilderness in Utah. The Mt. Naomi Wilderness/roadless area covers much of the bold front of the Bear River Range of the Wasatch which rises on the east side of pastoral Cache Valley. Revised 7-8-2005

Sherman Peak roadless area is on the northeast side of the Bear River Range near Soda Springs. It consists mostly of one prominent peak, Sherman Peak, over 9600 feet elevation, and some surrounding uplands that have escaped logging. A new area added 7-10-2005

Cache Crest (Worm Creek) roadless area is on the east side of the Bear River Range, separated by a mere dirt road from the Mt. Naomi wilderness/roadless area. Revised last 10-24-2005

Cache Peak roadless area is in the Albion Range, close not to just to the Utah border, by to the Nevada as well. This mountain range begins near the Idaho-Utah-Nevada border and extends northward for 25 miles. Do not confuse this area with the Cache Crest roadless area above. Updated 4-3-2005

- The minor roadless areas of the Caribou National forest. All of these are in SE Idaho. Some are Great Basin areas and some are in the Middle Rocky Mountain physiographic province. Last revisions 1-21 and 3-24-2006.

Links to other wilderness and roadless area resources: Interactive. Upload your photos and comments.

Wilderness Information Network
A site with a great deal of information about wilderness areas and wilderness issues and news

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Copyright © 2009 Ralph Maughan