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Caribou-Targhee National Forest

Explore the Best National Forests in Idaho: Natural Beauty and Outdoor Adventures (2024)

Idaho is a state that is known for its natural beauty and breathtaking landscapes. The state is home to rugged mountain ranges, lush forests, crystal clear lakes, and roaring rivers, making it an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Idaho’s beauty lies in its vast and diverse landscapes, ranging from snow-capped mountains to rolling hills and grasslands, and everything in between. Its natural beauty is truly awe-inspiring, and it’s no wonder that people from all over the world come to explore this incredible state. One of the biggest draws for visitors in Idaho is the many national forests that the state is home to. Having a total of seven national forests, many visitors are surprised to learn that over 20 million acres of Idaho are actually covered by national forests. In fact, Idaho has more land dedicated to preserving national forests than any other state in the United States. Now just imagine the lush greenery that covers this beautiful state!

Explore the Best National Forests in Idaho: Natural Beauty and Outdoor Adventures

For those who want to explore these lush forests, here are the best national forests in Idaho.

1. Boise National Forest

The Boise National Forest is the most popular national forest in Idaho, located in the capital city of Boise. Located in the very heart of Idaho, the Boise National Forest is just a two hour drive to the northeast from the city of Boise. Boise National Forest opened its gates to visitors way back in 1908. Today, the forest is spread out over 2.5 million acres of land. The forest is, of course, named after the city of Boise, which is situated near the forest’s boundaries.

The Boise National Forest is home to various landscapes that include breathtaking mountain ranges, stunning alpine lakes, and magnificent deep canyons. Visitors can engage in an array of outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, hunting, skiing, and camping. The forest has over 70 camping grounds and picnic areas, as well as over 2,600 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and off-road vehicles.

Being home to over 70 developed camping grounds, visitors get access to various amenities like picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. Some of the camping grounds even have amenities such as drinking water and RV hookups.

Boise National Forest also offer visitors the perfect backcountry experience as dispersed camping is allowed in many parts of the forest. Dispersed camping involves finding a suitable campsite in a remote area and setting up camp without the use of designated campsites or amenities.

Boise National Forest is also home to multiple Wilderness Areas, including the Sawtooth Wilderness, which is a popular destination for backpacking and hiking. The forest is also home to wildlife such as elk, deer, black bear, and mountain lion.

For those who are looking to indulge in a variety of activities, apart from camping, at the Boise National Forest, well, the opportunities are truly endless.

With a wide range of activities that visitors can enjoy throughout the year, it is a given that when you visit the beautiful and diverse Boise National Forest, you will be charmed by the numerous opportunities offered here for exploration.

2. Salmon-Challis National Forest

The Salmon-Challis National Forest is a huge and beautiful national forest nestled in the eastern central region of the state of Idaho. This breathtaking national forest is spread out over 4.3 million acres of land, and it was established all the way back in 1905. The forest is known for its picturesque mountain ranges, exquisite deep river canyons, and some of the most expansive wilderness areas. An interesting fact to know is that the national forest actually derives its name from the majestic Salmon River, which is one of the longest rivers in the US, and from the Challis National Forest, with which the Salmon National Forest merged in 1953.

Visitors to this national forest can explore a range of outdoor recreational activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, and rafting. There are over 50 campgrounds and picnic areas, as well as over 2,000 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and off-road vehicles.

Before planning your trip to the Salmon-Challis National Forest, though, you should know that this is a hugely whitewater rafting popular destination. Whitewater rafting at the Salmon-Challis National Forest mostly takes place at the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, which runs through the forest and is known for its stunning scenery, clear water, and some of the toughest to clear rapids in all of Idaho. This has made this forest a top choice for rafting enthusiasts. In fact, rafting enthusiasts from all over the US flock to the Salmon River to indulge in whitewater rafting.

You will also find many guided rafting trips being offered by numerous outfitters in the area. These trips range from being single-day to multi-day trips. And don’t worry if you do not have any rafting gear with yourself, as all types of rafting gear including life jackets and paddles, are provided by the outfitters here. Some of the companies even offer meals and camping equipment for visitors who want to embark on extended trips. Before planning a rafting trip in Salmon-Challis National Forest, though, it is recommended to check with the outfitters for trip availability and conditions.

Apart from whitewater rafting, the forest boasts of many Wilderness Areas, including the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, which is the biggest wilderness area in the entire country. This wilderness area offers a pristine and remote setting for backcountry camping, hiking, and fishing.

One of the most beautiful sights of this national forest is that it brings together four majestic mountain ranges, including the Lost River Range, the Snake River Mountains, the Lemhi Range, and the Bighorn Crags. As with any mountain range, these ranges in the Salmon-Challis National Forest are a huge draw for hikers and mountaineers. Experienced hikers come here to try their luck at Mount Borah, which is the highest peak in Idaho. However, it is not an easy job to get past the Chicken-Out Ridge to actually reach Mount Borah and many visitors enjoy their trip to the Chicken-Out Ridge and decide to return back.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest is also known for its rich history as it is home to many historic sites, including several mining towns hailing back to the era of the Gold Rush in the US and many ghost towns as well. Visitors can spend many hours exploring that many exciting spots here.

3. Caribou-Targhee National Forest

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest is a United States National Forest located in the states of Idaho and Wyoming. It is comprised of over 2.6 million acres of public land and is managed by the United States Forest Service.

The forest is named after the Caribou and Targhee elk herds that migrate through the area. The forest spans across four ranger districts, including the Ashton/Island Park, Montpelier, Palisades, and Teton Basin ranger districts.

The national forest also offers a range of recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing. The forest is also home to several scenic byways, including the Teton Scenic Byway and the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. The forest is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, moose, mule deer, black bears, and mountain lions. Several species of fish, including trout, salmon, and steelhead, have also made this national forest their home.

4. Sawtooth National Forest

The Sawtooth National Forest is one of the most popular spots for indulging in adventure sports in the state of Idaho. Home to many mountain ranges, with the Sawtooth being the most famous one, the forest is truly a breathtaking place to visit.

The forest is spread out over two million acres and there are many spots for outdoor activities that take place here. In fact, not only activities, but even the backcountry trips from the forest are truly epic and worth checking out. The forest also contains numerous lakes, rivers, and streams, making it a popular destination for fishing, boating, and other water-based activities.

As mentioned above, there are numerous recreational opportunities available in the Sawtooth National Forest, including hiking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, etc. And that’s not all – with the arrival of the winter months, the forest draws visitors from all over the country to participate in winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. The forest is also home to many wilderness areas, including the Sawtooth Wilderness, which is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the region.

5. Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

One of the lesser known gems in Idaho is the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Sitting in the north-central part of the state, this stunning national forest is spread out over four million acres. If you find the name of the forest interesting, it is because the forest is named after the Nez Perce people, who historically inhabited this area, along with the name of the majestic Clearwater River, which runs through the forest even today.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest is known for its rugged mountains, mystical deep canyons, and its pristine rivers and streams, which provide the perfect home for a wide variety of fish and wildlife.

There are many recreational activities that visitors can enjoy here at the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, including hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, and winter sports such as skiing and snowmobiling. The forest also contains many designated wilderness areas, such as the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. These wilderness areas offer some of the most remote and awe-inspiring scenery in the region.

You will find that the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest is a beautiful and diverse natural area that has something for everyone.

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