Special Places

Special places have a knack for finding their way into our hearts and souls. They are unique and beautiful. Often, they are established to protect and manage for public use and enjoyment. Other times they are set aside to help protect the scenic, geological, botanical, paleontological, archaeological or other unique characteristic that makes them special.

The Caribou-Targhee has many natural attractions and special places for you to see. Each one provides a unique experience. These range from the serenity found hiking in the Wilderness to the sheer joy of watching the cascading water at Mesa Falls. What adventures and new special places can you find on the Forest? We’ve highlighted a few below.

Wilderness Areas

Wilderness places tremendous value in untamed places. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest has two small but powerful wilderness areas (Jedediah Smith and Winegar Hole). The Wilderness Act of 1964 states “In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” Learn more about wilderness management at https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/wilderness.

Jed Smith WildernessJedediah Smith Wilderness

The 123,451-acre Jedediah Smith Wilderness was designated in October 1984 because of its unique karst limestone geology. It lies on the west slop of the Teton Range, adjacent to Grand Teton National Park and sports amazing views. This area is heavily used so its critical that individuals adhere to leave no trace principles and plan a head before they hit the trails. The Wilderness Act allows for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, skiing and grazing. Campfires are allowed in most areas but some are closed to open fires to protect resources and the limited number of trees in the aera. Mechanical transport (bicycles) and motorized equipment is prohibited year-round. Horses can be used, however overnight camping with stock is only allowed in specific locations. Contact the Teton Basin Ranger District to learn more.

Winegar Hole Wilderness

The small 10,721-acre Winegar Hole Wilderness was designated the same time as the Jed Smith in 1984. It’s designated was unique in that it was set aside to provide high quality habitat for grizzly bears. It is difficult to access and hikers should be prepared for bear encounters. It is located 25 miles east of Ashton, Idaho, adjacent to the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. For more information on Winegar Hole contact the Ashton/Island Park Ranger District.

Mesa Falls

Water pouring off the fallsThe Mesa Falls Visitor Center occupies the historic Big Falls Inn, built around 1915 by the Snake River Electric Light and Power Company. With its spectacular setting, the Inn was a popular spot for social gatherings in its past lives. Big Falls Inn is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the area can be enjoyed inside the visitor center. From the Visitor Center, an accessible trail and boardwalk provide spectacular views of Mesa Falls.  A rainbow often decorates the canyon on summer mornings when sunlight passes through the mist, and interpretive panels share the natural and cultural history of the area.

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Charcoal Kilns

Charcoal KilnsOff the beaten path you can access a piece of Idaho history! During the 1880’s the Birch Creek Valley bustled with activity as miners worked a rich body of ore located about 10 miles east of the Kilns, known as the Viola Mine. It was discovered in 1881 and produced $2,500,000 worth of lead and silver before the ore ran out in 1888. Metal was extracted from the ore by a smelter located near the mine. The smelter contained two blast furnaces, each capable of handling 40 tons of ore per day. The furnace consumed prodigious quantities of fuel, resulting in the building of the Charcoal Kilns.


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Palisades Reservoir

Palisades Reservoir from abovePalisades Reservoir is in a scenic valley with forested hillsides rising from the water to the towering snowcapped mountains which form the background.  The reservoir has about 70 miles of shoreline. Public use facilities include five campgrounds, numerous picnic/dispersed camping areas, and five boat ramps. Two boat clubs have facilities on the reservoir and private cabins have been constructed under permit from the Forest Service. Fishing, motorized and non-motorized boating are all popular activities on the reservoir. There is a five-day camping limit during the summer season in this popular recreation area.

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Curlew National Grassland

Poster with a sage grouse and windmillWhile unassuming at first glance, the Curlew National Grassland is a diamond in the rough and therefore the focus of a host of restoration activities. Comprising 47,000 acres, the Curlew is the only grassland in the Intermountain Region. A biproduct of the dust bowl, the Federal Government purchased back the severely eroded lands between 1934 and 1942 when the arid landscape made homesteading difficult. Today the Grasslands support public land grazing and an abundance of wildlife and birds. The Curlew Valley is tremendous habitat and a tremendous resource to southeast Idaho.



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Caribou City

Caribou MountainCaribou City is a historical ghost town located in the Soda Springs Ranger District and was once home to the largest town in the area. Gold mining in the Caribou Mountain area began around 1870 with the discovery of placer gold. This quickly brought people into the area with the thought of “striking it rich.” There were numerous mining claims in the “Mount Pisgah” (later known as the Caribou) Mining District and several small towns that sprung up in the area from the early 1870s until the early 1900s. The most intense mining activity occurred in the 1870s through the 1890s. Caribou City (also known as Carriboo City, for Jessie “Carriboo Jack” Fairchilds) and Keenan City were the two largest towns in the area. These towns included stores, saloons, post offices, stables, miner’s cabins and several other businesses associated with mining camps. In the summer of 1885, most of Caribou City burned and was never rebuilt, but the site remains available for folks to explore. Sources cited: The Mountain: Carriboo and Other Gold Camps in Idaho by Elaine S. Johnson and Ellen Carney, 1990.

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Minnetonka Cave

Cave formations in Minnetonka CaveMinnetonka Cave, located in beautiful St. Charles Canyon northwest of Bear Lake, offers a half-mile of fascinating stalactites, stalagmites, and banded travertine in nine rooms. From mid-June until Labor Day, over 20,000 people visit the Cave and take the guided tours. The cave stays a brisk 40 degrees all year so bring your jacket! Minnetonka is one of two caverns administered by the Forest Service. Within St. Charles Canyon are campgrounds and a large group use area with fishing and hiking nearby. Keep an eye out for resident wildlife such as moose and deer.

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