Idaho Batholith, Part C

Idaho Batholith, Part C

The concluding entry on the Idaho Batholith includes wild rivers, wilderness areas, state parks, and other natural lands. The complete entry will be posted as one article at

The Wild and Scenic River system in the South Central Rockies forests, Idaho Batholith section, includes three rivers. The wild and scenic river designation for the Middle Fork Clearwater River, Idaho, includes two tributaries of the Clearwater, the Selway and Lochsa. The Middle Fork and Lochsa are in the North Central Rockies forests ecoregion. In the South Central Rockies, the Selway River, Idaho is a wild and scenic river from its origin (N45˚30’ W114˚45’) almost 200 miles downstream to Lowell (N46˚9’ W115˚36’) on US 12. This includes the section in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in the South Central Rockies forests ecoregion.

The Salmon River, Idaho, is a wild and scenic river for 125 miles from the junction with North Fork Salmon on US 93 (N45˚24’ W113˚59’) downstream to near the Vinegar Creek boat ramp (N45˚28’ W115˚54’). The river drops 1,000 feet in elevation in 79 miles and passes numerous hot springs while traversing the 5,000-foot-deep canyon. It was known to pioneers as the river of no return, and even today, the return shuttle is 385 miles. Deadwater Slough (N45˚24’ W114˚2’) is an Important Bird Area for bald eagle, Lewis’s woodpecker, and willow flycatcher.

The Middle Fork Salmon River, Idaho, is a 104-mile designation within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness; all but one mile is designated as a wild river. The river begins in alpine forests and ends in dry canyons with sheer rock walls. Float trips launch from Dagger Falls (N44˚32’ W115˚17’) north of Bear Valley. The upper end of the wild river is at the junction of Bear Valley Creek and Marsh Creek (N44˚27’ W115˚14’) and the lower end is the confluence with the Salmon River (N45˚17’ W114˚36’).

Wilderness areas in the Idaho Batholith section of the South-Central Rockies Forests include five designations, with the largest being the immense Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness, carved out of parts of the Bitterroot, Beaverhead, and Deerlodge NFs in Montana, is 159,000 acres in the Anaconda Range, including peaks, cirques, glaciated valleys, snowfields, and pine-fir-spruce forests. West Goat Peak (N45˚58’ W113˚24’) rises to 10,800 feet, and much of the crest of the range is above 9,000 feet in elevation. From a trailhead in Deerlodge NF west of Anaconda at Carpp Creek on Forest Road 5105 (N46˚2’ W113˚30’), a 33-mile multi-day backpacking tour of the northern portions of the wilderness can be conducted, passing Carpp Lake, Johnson Lake, and Warren Pass (Howe 2013). Other Deerlodge NF north side accesses are at East Fork Reservoir (N46˚6’ W113˚22’) and Rock Creek (N46˚0’ W113˚32’). The wilderness also includes a 45-mile section of the Continental Divide NST, which enters in the southwest near Surprise Lake (N45˚50’ W113˚42’), passes Johnson Lake at its midpoint (N45˚58’ W113˚29’) and exits at Lower Seymour Lake (N45˚59’ W113˚11’) in the east. Trailheads on the south side of the wilderness in Beaverhead NF include Mussibrod Lake (N45˚48’ W113˚37’) and Pintler Lake (N45˚50’ W113˚26’). The East Fork Bitterroot RNA (N45˚53’ W113˚41’) is in the wilderness and is a low-gradient river bottom with beaverponds and wetlands, just inside the wilderness via the East Fork trailhead on Forest Route 724 in the Bitterroot NF.

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness encompasses portions of the Bitterroot, Boise, Challis, Nez Perce, Payette, and Salmon NFs; the administrative lead office is Salmon-Challis NF in Idaho. The second largest wilderness in the U.S. at 2.4 million acres, this tract includes canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, all of the Middle Fork Salmon Wild River, and parts of the Salmon and Selway Wild Rivers. It is larger than Yellowstone National Park in size. The Salmon River Mountains dominate the wilderness, with the highest point at Bighorn Crag, more than 10,000 feet. The Bighorn Crags surround 14 scenic lakes.

The northern boundary is the Magruder Corridor (Forest Highway 468) which crosses the Selway Wild River.  To the south, bisecting the wilderness from east to west is the Salmon River. The Middle Fork Salmon joins the Salmon from the south on the east side of the wilderness. It is a south-north flowing stream. Moving upstream, its major tributaries in the wilderness are Big Creek from the west, Camas Creek from the east, and Loon Creek from the east. It is formed by the confluence of the Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks.

There are 2,400 miles of trails, but most of the area is trail-less. There are 66 trailheads around the periphery. The area is also served by landing strips. Mackay Bar Outfitters and Ranch (N45˚23’ W115˚30’) is located on the Salmon Wild River at the junction with the South Fork Salmon River. It provides lodging and is accessible by jetboat on the Salmon River or by four-wheel drive vehicle from Dixie, Idaho. The University of Idaho maintains a research facility in the center of the wilderness at Taylor Ranch (N45˚6’ W114˚51’) on Big Creek, mile 7. Vegetation is Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine, with some sagebrush-steppe and grassland along the deep river canyon bottoms. Corridors were excluded from the wilderness boundary to allow roads; much of the wilderness is accessible from primitive roads.  Float trips launch from Dagger Falls (N44˚32’ W115˚17’), north of Bear Valley on the Middle Fork Salmon River. Porter Creek (N44˚27’ W115˚30’) and Elk Creek (N44˚28’ W115˚27’) in the Middle Fork Salmon watershed are considered eligible for the wild and scenic river system.

There are nine research natural areas in the wilderness.  Along the western boundary in the Payette NF section is Belvidere Creek RNA (N45˚3’ W115˚22’), a high-elevation glacial cirque and chain of glacial lakes in a U-shaped valley, forested with subalpine fir, located on Big Creek near Profile Gap. Also on the western boundary, but in the Boise NF section, Chilcoot Peak RNA (N44˚47’ W115˚26’) contains three subalpine glaciated basins with lakes and meadows.

In the southern Challis NF section of the wilderness, Soldier Lakes RNA (N44˚32’ W115˚12’) contains two lakes in a high elevation cirque basin, one with fish and one without fish.  It is on a tributary to the Middle Fork Salmon River. Mystery Lake RNA (N44˚29’ W114˚48’), in the Salmon River Mountains north of Bonanza Ghost Town, is a glaciated basin at the foot of 10,000-foot The General. Also in the Challis NF section, Cache Creek Lakes RNA (N44˚47’ W114˚41’) is a cirque on the slopes of Sleeping Deer Mountain, noted for subalpine fir, cliffs, talus slopes, and rock outcrops.

To the east, in the Salmon NF section, is Dry Gulch-Forge Creek RNA (N44˚54’ W114˚34’), with hot springs on Forge Creek, a 75-foot waterfall, and forests of Douglas-fir, aspen, mountain mahogany, and sagebrush-grasslands. Frog Meadows RNA (N45˚5’ W114˚32’) is old growth lodgepole pine and wet meadows at the head of Yellowjacket Creek near Hoodoo Meadows airstrip. Dome Lake RNA (N45˚16’ W114˚31’) is a moraine-dammed lake on Lake Creek upstream from its confluence with the Salmon River. The RNA is dominated by Douglas-fir and subalpine fir but contains 4,614 of relief, making for diverse vegetation. Gunbarrel Creek RNA (N45˚24’ W114˚41’) is on the north bank of the Salmon River at mile 189 and is an area of shrubland and grassland created by a fire in 1961.

Gospel Hump Wilderness, Idaho, is 206,000 acres. The northern portion of the wilderness is densely forested while the southern slopes down to the Salmon River are more arid. The wilderness includes the watershed of the Wind River, Crooked Creek, Tenmile Creek, Johns Creek, along with Quartzite Butte, Pyramid Peak, Marion Hill, and Oregon Butte. The Orogrande Summit trailhead (N45˚38’ W115˚37’) is accessible by taking the Crooked River Road south from the junction with State Route 14 (N45˚49’ W115˚32’) west of Elk City. At Old Orogrande, Forest Road 233 climbs to the summit. Another access is at Wind River Bridge (N45˚27’ W115˚57’) on the Salmon River on Forest Road 103. Rocky Bluff Campground (N45˚38’ W116˚1’) and Square Mountain (N45˚37’ W115˚52’) are accesses on the northwest. The Elk Creek RNA (N45˚29’ W115˚47’) is on the north side of the Salmon River within the Wilderness, rising to 8,371 feet.  It contains xeric forest and grassland. Fish Lake RNA (N45˚37’ W115˚37’) is a glaciated valley (Calendar Canyon) with a lake and wet meadows which drains south to the Salmon River. The Square Mountain RNA (N45˚37’ W115˚52’) is a glaciated cirque with cliffs and talus slopes. Rare plants are in the subalpine fir and meadow area.

Sawtooth Wilderness, Sawtooth NRA, Idaho, is 217,000 acres and includes the 30-mile-long Sawtooth Range, an area of bare rocks, cirques, and razorback ridges with 400 alpine lakes. There are 40 peaks over 10,000 feet elevation and 350 miles of trails. There are 17 trailheads. A five-mile trail extends from the upper end of Redfish Lake to Alpine Lake (N44˚4’ W115˚1’) at the base of Packrat Peak. There are 14 streams eligible for the wild and scenic river system. The wilderness includes the headwaters of the South Fork Payette River (N44˚2’ W115˚5’), which is eligible, along with tributaries Goat Creek (N44˚6’ W115˚6’) and Baron Creek (N44˚7’ W115˚5’). The North Fork Boise River (N44˚3’ W115˚13’) is eligible, as is the Middle Fork Boise River (N43˚54’ W115˚3’). On the east side of the Sawtooth Range, the streams drain to the Salmon River, with eligible streams Stanley Lake Creek (N44˚12’ W115˚6’), Goat Creek (N44˚11’ W115˚1’), Fishhook Creek (N44˚7’ W115˚0’), Redfish Lake Creek (N44˚4’ W115˚0’), Hell Roaring Creek (N44˚2’ W114˚55’), Yellow Belly Lake Creek (N43˚59’ W114˚55’), Pettit Lake Creek (N43˚57’ W114˚55’), and Alpine Creek (N43˚54’ W114˚57’). Other features are the Queens River (N43˚52’ W115˚7’), Little Queens River (N43˚55’ W115˚11’), Leggit Lake (N43˚46’ W115˚2’), Snowyside Peak and Twin Lakes  (N43˚56’ W114˚57’), Finger of Fate (N44˚1’ W114˚58’), Thompson Peak (N44˚8’ W115˚1’), Sawtooth Lake (N44˚10’ W115˚3’), McGown Peak (N44˚13’ W115˚5’) , and Big Meadows (N44˚6’ W115˚9’).

Welcome Creek Wilderness, Lolo NF, Montana, is southeast of Missoula off I-90 on Rock Creek Road (Forest Road 102).  There are 28,000 acres in the Sapphire Mountains, with 25 miles of trails. Trailhead accesses along Rock Creek Road include Cinnamon Bear (N46˚31’ W113˚46’), Dalles Campground-Welcome Creek Trail (N46˚34’ W113˚42’), which leads seven miles to Cleveland Mountain, Sawmill Gulch (N46˚37’ W113˚39’), and Solomon Ridge (N46˚39’ W113˚39’). To the east of Rock Creek Road is Grizzly Trailhead (N46˚34’ W113˚40’), which provides access to trails in the Sandstone Ridge and Hogback Ridge areas in the John Long Mountains to the east of Rock Creek.

The National Wildlife Refuge system in the Idaho Batholith section of the South Central Rockies forests is represented by the Blackfoot Valley Conservation Area, Montana. This conservation easement area of up to 103,000 acres includes wetland complexes along State Route 200 from Bonner (N46˚52’ W113˚52’) east over 100 miles to Rogers Pass (N47˚5’ W112˚22’), Route 141 in the Nevada Creek watershed (N46˚42’ W112˚40’), and Route 83 in the Clearwater River valley (N47˚23’ W113˚38’). The northern Garnet Range in the South Central Rockies forests is included in the easement acquisition area.

Other federal sites in Idaho Batholith section of the South Central Rockies forests involve ghost towns, river recreation sites, and geological sites.  In the Garnet Mountains is Garnet Ghost Town, BLM, Montana (N46˚50’ W113˚20’), a former gold mining town north of Exit 138 on I-90 east of Missoula. An alternate access is the Garnet Back Country Byway which leads south from Route 200. There is a visitor center and access to 30 miles of hiking trails in the Wales Creek area.

In the Boulder Mountains south of Challis, Idaho, is Herd Creek and Lake, BLM, Idaho. This recreation site includes a trail to 50 million-year-old giant sequoia petrified wood (N44˚6’ W114˚15’) and trails to isolated evergreen forests located at 9,000-foot elevation (N44˚5’ W114˚10’).  Just to the south at Mackay, Mine Hill, BLM, Idaho (N43˚54’ W113˚40’) features a self-guided tour of the former copper mine, including historic structures and a restored railroad trestle.

In the Beaverhead Mountains, Sharkey Hot Spring, BLM, Idaho (N45˚1’ W113˚37’) is five miles north of Tendoy, Idaho, offering pools for soaking. Tower Creek Pyramids, BLM, Idaho (N45˚20’ W113˚52’) is ten miles north of Salmon. These formations were noted by William Clark in his journal from 1805.  At the south end of the Beaverhead Mountains, the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, Agricultural Research Service, Idaho-Montana, is a facility focusing on sheep breeding and the sustainability of grazing land ecosystems of the shrub-steppe and Rocky Mountains. Other research focuses on sheep management, vegetation dynamics following fire, and sage grouse population trends. One tract in the Idaho Batholith section of the South Central Rockies Forests is used as part of the experiment station, Snaky-Kelly Canyons (N44˚7’ W112˚43’).

Three rivers in the western Salmon River Mountains offer recreational floating. Payette River and South Fork Payette River, BLM, Idaho (N44˚5’ W116˚7’) are managed by BLM for boating and rafting from Garden Valley (N44˚4’ W115˚57’) downstream to Gardena (N43˚59’ W116˚11’). Lower Salmon River, BLM, Idaho, extends from Vinegar Creek east of Riggins downstream to the Snake River and is managed for whitewater rafting.  The Salmon River east of Riggins (N45˚25’ W116˚19’) is an Important Bird area for Lewis’s woodpecker due to the dry, open ponderosa pine forest habitat.

State and local sites in the Idaho Batholith section of the South Central Rockies forests include parks, forests, and wildlife management areas.

In the Garnet Range east of Missoula, Lubrecht Experimental Forest, Montana (N46˚54’ W113˚27’), is a 28,000-acre site is located on both sides of State Route 200 about 30 miles east of Missoula in the Blackfoot River drainage. It is an outdoor classroom and research area in forest ecology, and watershed management of the University of Montana.  There are hiking and cross-country ski trails. To the south, Beavertail Hill State Park, Montana (N46˚43’ W113˚35’) is a hiking and camping site  on I-90 south of the Clark Fork River, providing fishing and floating opportunities.

In the Anaconda Mountains, Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park, Montana (N46˚7’ W112˚56’) commemorates the largest free-standing brick structure in the world, at 585 feet, on a hill overlooking Anaconda.  It is part of the Butte-Anaconda National Historic Landmark. Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area, Montana (N46˚0’ W113˚0’), is a 58,000-acre area straddling the Continental Divide south of Anaconda. Blue-Eyed Nellie Wildlife Management Area, Montana, (N46˚10’ W113˚5’), is 164 acres of bighorn sheep winter range on State Route 1 west of Anaconda. Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Montana (N46˚8’ W113˚6’) is 5,900 acres off of Route 1 west of Anaconda.

In the Flint Creek Range north of Anaconda, Lost Creek State Park, Montana (N46˚13’ W113˚0’) contains a 50-foot waterfall and viewing of bighorn sheep and mountain goats, off route 273 west of I-90, exit 197. Lost Creek Wildlife Management Area, Montana (N46˚12’ W112˚56’), is 1,600 acres in a checkerboard pattern with Deerlodge NF lands near Lost Creek State Park. Stucky Ridge Wildlife Management Area, Montana (N46˚10’ W113˚1’) is 300 acres northwest of Anaconda off of State Route 1 in the Flint Creek Range. Granite Ghost Town State Park, Montana (N46˚19’ W113˚15’) is just east of Phillipsburg in the Flint Creek Range. The town is the remnant of an 1890s boomtown which contained a silver mine. The superintendent’s house and union hall are protected in the state park.

In the Sapphire Mountains south of Missoula, Calf Creek Wildlife Management Area, Montana (N46˚17’ W113˚59’) is a 2,000-acre site southeast of Corvallis adjoining the Bitterroot NF. Threemile Wildlife Management Area, Montana (N46˚35’ W113˚53’), is a 6,000-acre elk winter range east of Florence, also adjoining the Bitterroot NF.

In the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho, Lake Cascade State Park, Idaho (N44˚32’ W116˚3’) is a collection of reservoir recreation sites including campgrounds and boat ramps on both sides of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lake Cascade.  The Crown Point Trail begins at the dam and extends northward for three miles along the shoreline. Ponderosa State Park, Idaho (N44˚57’ W116˚4’) consists of a peninsula in Payette Lake and a delta area where the North Fork Payette enters the lake (N45˚0’ W116˚4’) on the north shore, for a total of 1,500 acres.  A bicycle and hiking trail network is found on the peninsula and a canoe trail follows the North Fork Payette River through the North Beach unit.

Land of Yankee Fork State Park, Idaho, commemorates Idaho mining history and also contains an archaeological site.  The Challis Bison Kill Site (N44˚28’ W114˚13’) and the park interpretive center are located at the junction of US 93 and State Route 75 south of Challis. The ghost towns of Custer (N44˚23’ W114˚42’), Bayhorse (N44˚24’ W114˚19’), and Bonanza (N44˚22’ W114˚44’); the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge; and Sunbeam Dam are included in the park.  Yankee Fork Dredge is a 988-ton gold and silver mining machine that left tailings five miles downstream from its site near Bonanza. It operated until 1952. Sunbeam Dam (N44˚16’ W114˚44’) was built in 1910 on the Salmon River to provide power to the mines.  It was breached in 1934.

Finally, the state of Idaho has routed its Idaho Centennial Trail through the Idaho Batholith, mostly on national forest lands. The trail, which traverses the length of Idaho from north to south, passes through the Sawtooth Wilderness, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Sawtooth National Forest, Payette National Forest, Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and along the edge of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. In the batholith there are two loops off of the main trail.


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McGrath, C.L., A.J. Woods, J.M. Omernik, S.A. Bryce, M. Edmondson, J.A. Nesser, J. Shelden, R.C. Crawford, J.A. Comstock, and M.D. Plocher.  2001.  Ecoregions of Idaho (color poster with map, descriptive text, summary tables, and photographs).  Reston, Virginia, U.S. Geological Survey (map scale 1:1,350,000).

Rieman, Bruce E., Paul F. Hessburg, Charles Luce, and Matthew R. Dare.  2010.  Wildfire and Management of Forests and Native Fishes:  Conflict or Opportunity for Convergent Solutions?  BioScience 60:460-468.

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Woods, Alan J., James M. Omernik, John A. Nesser, J. Shelden, and Sandra H. Azevedo.  1999.  Ecoregions of Montana (color poster with map, descriptive text, summary tables, and photographs).  Reston, Virginia, U.S. Geological Survey (map scale 1:1,500,000).