Special Places

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest offers many natural attractions for visitors.  Each provides a unique experience.  These range from the serenity of hiking in the Wilderness to observing a large number of fish and wildlife over scenic panoramas.

Wilderness Areas

Wilderness AreasIn October 1984 the Wyoming Wilderness Bill was signed into law creating the Jedediah Smith Wilderness (123,451 acres) and the Winegar Hole Wilderness (10,721 acres) on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The Wilderness Act allows hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, skiing, and grazing in these areas. Campfires are allowed in most areas, but some areas are closed to open fires to protect resources. Mechanical transport and motorized equipment is prohibited year round and some additional regulations apply to protect the wilderness character. Horses can be used in both Wilderness areas; however, overnight camping with stock is not allowed in specified locations.

The Jedediah Smith Wilderness was designated because of the unique karst limestone geology. It lies on the west slope of the Teton Range, adjacent to Grand Teton National Park. The towns of Victor, Driggs, Tetonia, and Ashton, Idaho are 10 to 30 miles west of the Wilderness.

The Winegar Hole Wilderness was designated to provide high quality habitat for grizzly bears. It is located 25 miles east of Ashton, Idaho and adjacent to the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.

Highlighted Areas

Palisades Reservoir

Palisades 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 and six access roads have been built. Public use facilities include five campgrounds, five picnic areas, and six 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.

Charcoal Kilns Interpretive Site


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.

Grand Targhee Ski Area

Skiing, Snowboarding, Nordic Skiing, Mountain Biking, Horseback riding, Hiking. Views of the Grand Teton from the top of Fred's Moutain. Music Festivals in the summer are a popular attraction.

Minnetonka Cave


Minnetonka Cave, 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 areas with fishing and hiking nearby. Keep an eye out for resident wildlife such as moose and deer.

Attention! In an attempt to keep White Nose Syndrome (a bat disease) from spreading into Minnetonka Cave, please DO NOT wear clothing or hand carried items into Minnetonka Cave that you have worn or carried in any other cave or mine. These things include – shoes, hats, belts, jewelry, cameras, backpacks, cell phones, purses, etc. Any individuals who bring items with them that have been in another cave or mine will not be able to take the tour. We appreciate your cooperation and hope you enjoy your tour.

Due to the westward spread of White Nose syndrome (WNS), restrictions on clothing and items that have been in other caves are currently in place at Minnetonka Cave to prevent introduction of this bat disease into Idaho. It is possible for humans to spread the disease between caves if clothing or equipment has been exposed to the fungus. Leaving clothing or other items that have been in another cave at home, will help protect bat species inhabiting Minnetonka Cave. Introduction of this disease into Minnetonka Cave would devastate local bat populations, and in the event of a cave closure, greatly impact local economies. For more information on WNS and its current impacts to bats in North America visit http://whitenosesyndrome.org/

Mesa Falls Visitor Center

The 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. It had its day as a hotel, a cafe, and a dance hall. Later it became a way station on the Yellowstone Highway for ranchers, sportsmen, and tourists. After acquiring the inn from Montana Power in 1986, the Forest Service partnered with Harriman State Park and other generous groups to renovate the facilities and keep the site open. 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. As you take in the power and beauty of the falls, keep your eyes open for the osprey and eagles that frequent the area.

Also in the area, the Mesa Falls Nature Trail meanders for about one mile through a quiet forest, ending at an overlook of the Lower Mesa Falls - an equally spectacular and powerful waterfall.