Salmon-Challis National Forests Activity Guides:
Salmon-Challis National Forests Trails:
Salmon-Challis National Forests
Salmon-Challis National Forests Overview
Although east-central Idaho's Salmon-Challis sustained some major burns during the fire season of 2000, the forest is big enough to simply swallow the inevitable infernos as an essential means of clearing the forest of dead and shrubby wood. This is wild, untamed country, where wolf packs roam the range and hunt in the 1.3-million-acre region of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wildernessthe second largest wilderness area in the contiguous United Statesthat lies within the boundaries of Salmon-Challis.
In all, Salmon-Challis covers 4.3 million acres of forest, canyons, and mountains. The Salmon River continues to carve deeper into the rock, creating canyons with abyss-like depths of 5,000 feet. The whitewater power that rages within beckons rafters from all over the world to descend these untamed waters.
The erosion and exposure of Idaho Batholith formed the unforgiving ridges of the Lost River Range. Rock climbers can scale an intricate labyrinth of sheer rock walls and crags. Hikers can explore over 1,200 miles of trails, half of which penetrate remote reaches of wilderness beneath a canopy of ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir, western larch, grand fir, and alpine larch.
Expect to encounter a critter or two, as the wilderness areas are teeming with wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mountain goat, elk, mule, white-tailed deer, moose, marten, lynx, coyote, and wolverine. And don't forget to check the skies for soaring raptors in search of prey.
Climb Idaho's Highest Peak
The 12,662-foot Borah Peak in the Lost River Range is a no-joke climb for the advanced hiker. Vertical exposure along a knife ridge scares off lots of summit seekers, hence the name Chicken-out Ridge. And so the question remains, will you chicken out? Talus slopes require lots of scrambling as you ascend the mountain. Keep in mind that the snow-covered saddle is a slippery slope and lets up only during the summer months. At other times of the year you'll need an ice axe and crampons. You can gain access to the trailhead from U.S. 93 between mileage markers 129 and 130. Once there, drive to the end of a dirt road marked "Birch Springs Road." The trailhead is 33 miles south of Challis and 21 miles north of Mackay.
Retrace the Steps of Lewis and Clark
That shiny new dollar coin in your pocket features Sacagawea with her newborn son, Jean-Baptiste. This legendary Shoshoni woman, with papoose strapped to her back, served as a guide to Lewis and Clark on their expedition to explore the American west. They reached the area that is now the Salmon-Challis National Forest in August of 1805. Sacagawea helped negotiate a successful trade for horses with the Shoshoni. The expedition desperately needed horses to cross the Bitteroot Mountains. Today, visitors can retrace the route along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail established by Congress in 1976.
More on the history of Salmon-Challis National Forest
Trek into Remote Wilderness
As the largest wilderness in the Lower 48, the River of No Return Wilderness is home to areas so remote that you'll need to trek for four days to reach them. Twenty-eight trailheads penetrate the forest, and unless you're hiking the popular Bighorn Crags, it's unlikely you'll encounter another soul. Another option, if you've got the big bucks, is to hire an Idaho bush pilot to fly you and your gear to a makeshift runway hidden deep within the woods.
Raft the River of No Return
Idaho has more floatable whitewater than any other state, and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of its most legendary challenges, ranging from floatable Class I water to foaming Class IV. The Salmon—otherwise known as the River of No Return—received one of the first Wild and Scenic Designations in 1969. Fret not, whitewater newbies—this ominous nickname comes from the days when wooden scows were piloted one-way down its course and sold for scrap lumber at trip's end, whereupon the pilot would return home to Salmon City by an overland route. During the long, warm days of summer (expect highs in the 80s and lows in the 50s), rafters enjoy 16 hours of daylight on the longest (400 miles) undammed river in the United States.
Hook a Chinook
It should come as no surprise that there are salmon in the Salmon River. After one to three years at sea, chinook salmon return to their native river to spawn. Juveniles migrate to the ocean after 18 months in streams, eventually returning as adults that measure anywhere from 18 to 40 inches. The river's Middle Fork also offers a variety of trout including bull, cutthroat, rainbow, and steelhead. But you don't have to fish in the mainstream—hundreds of mountain lakes, creeks, and streams offer alternative venues where it's just you, the fish, rod, and reel. Consider Quaking Aspen Creek, Fourth of July Creek, Iron Creek, and Wagonhammer Creek.
Ski Lost Trail
Situated on the Montana-Idaho border, Lost Trail Powder Mountain offers affordable skiing on 23 runs that receive lots of powder—300 inches on average. What's cool about skiing Lost Trail is that no one's heard of it. It's Rocky Mountain skiing without the Rocky Mountain prices or the Rocky Mountain crowds. The ski area sits on top of Lost Trail Pass, at the head of the Bitteroot Valley, and is just off of State Highway 93 south of Darby.
- Big Hole National Battlefield,MT (35 mi.)
- Main Salmon River,ID (41 mi.)
- Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area,ID (43 mi.)