Special Places

In 2006 the Payette National Forest sought to define its recreational experience on the forest, just as other forests across the nation did. The outcome was a defined niche for the Forest in terms of providing recreational opportunities to the public. This was also an opportunity for the Forest to plan for the future in terms of more efficiently dedicating resources, knowing that we were putting our funds to the areas where the public would see the most benefit. Below is a description of the forest's niche.

Deep Canyons, Deep Wilderness, Deep Snow

Spanning seasons in a day, visitors can explore the contrasts of the Payette National Forest.   From warm, deep canyons to crisp alpine lakes, the forest is the centerpiece for outdoor recreation in Idaho’s Heartland.  Vast expanses of unroaded backcountry provide solitude while evolving adjacent venues provide structure and amenities.  Far-reaching trails enable incredible winter sports, destination hunting, and traditional gathering of forest products. 

Photo of Lick Creek Divide











Forest-wide Settings, Special Places, and Values
Bordered by two of the deepest canyons in North America and containing vast portions of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the Payette NF is nationally recognized for these dramatic landscapes.  The topography of the Forest ranges from rugged mountain peaks that feature high alpine meadows and crystal blue lakes to steeply plummeting river canyons.  Connected with other public lands, the Forest is part of an expansive, uninterrupted landscape that provides incredible habitat for an exceptional diversity of big game, upland birds, and other wildlife species. Past mining activities including Chinese influences have left a rich history that is evidenced by mining towns and cemeteries. Native Americans continue their traditions today through fishing, hunting, gathering, and use of sacred sites.




Needles Area
Solitude – These vast, remote settings include portions of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and adjacent unroaded areas.  Visitors can access extensive backcountry trails via roads to trailheads and interior airstrips, unique to the region.







Skiing in fresh powder
Vacation Package – These areas are both connected to and influenced by the evolving communities and developments along highway 55 through McCall, and highway 95 through Council.  Visitors enjoy “packaged” activities offered by private resorts outfitter/guides, state parks, and communities. The Forest serves as a scenic backdrop and provides a less developed extension to the formalized staging areas.





Idler Creek
Roaded Vistas – These settings are dotted by small rural communities with increasing visitation from the treasure valley and NE Oregon areas.  A quality system of trails and roads provide easy access to relief from heat, and beautiful views.






The South Fork Salmon River
Primitive Motorized – This setting is rich in mining history and is off the beaten track.  The South Fork of the Salmon is a well known salmon fishery, highly valued by Native American Tribes.  







Hells Canyon
Hells Canyon Gateway – As the gateway to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, towering cliffs and fish filled reservoirs create a dramatic setting.  Visitors value the warm respite from surrounding winter highlands. 






Avalanche Forecaster at work

Forest-wide Activities/Opportunities/Experiences
Snowmobiling (outside wilderness), backcountry skiing, hiking, dispersed camping, big game hunting, upland game birds, fishing, non-motorized boating (float boating & kayaking), and forest product gathering occur forest-wide. Rustic campgrounds are located adjacent to water.  Outfitters and guides help provide a quality recreation experience for activities consistent with the niche.

Highlighted Areas

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness


The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness encompasses nearly 2.4 million acres of rugged mountains, wild rivers and alpine lakes. The FCRONRW was designated as wilderness in 1980 and is jointly managed by the Salmon-Challis, Payette, Nez Perce-Clearwater, Bitterroot, and Boise National Forests. It's the largest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48 and the second largest unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48.


The FCRONRW has a rich cultural history evidenced by Native American and Euro-American sites and evidence remains that show how humans have long been a component of the Wilderness. Native American tribal history extends to at least 12,000 years before the present described through extensive oral history and illustrated by numerous sites including lithic scatters, villages, pictographs, and bighorn sheep hunting traps. Two principal tribal groups, the Shoshone-Bannock and the Nez Perce, lived and utilized resources within what today is the River of No Return Wilderness. Both the Shoshone-Bannock and the Nez Perce continue to hunt, fish, gather, and access the Wilderness today. The Wilderness was shared in use by the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as well. In the early 1800s, fur trapping and later in the 1800s the discovery of gold led to a large boom in population, leaving behind a trail of historic sites.

Protection of the FCRONRW began in 1930 with the administrative establishment of the Idaho Primitive Area and the Salmon Breaks Primitive Area. The Wilderness Act of 1964 required primitive areas and their adjacent lands to be studied for Wilderness suitability, which occurred throughout the 1970s for what would become FCRONRW. The late Idaho Senator Frank Church spearheaded the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980, creating the River of No Return Wilderness from the Primitive Areas and adjacent land. The name of the Wilderness was changed in 1984 to honor Frank Church’s instrumental role in its creation as well as to acknowledge his position as the vanguard of the evolving definition of Wilderness in America.


The FCRONRW is punctuated by premier whitewater rivers. The Main Salmon and Middle Fork attract visitors from around the world and are designated as Wild and Scenic in order to preserve their free-flowing nature and protect them for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The River of No Return name comes from the first documented float trips down the Salmon River, which were completed in massive wooden sweep boats. Once these early river runners reached their destination, currents proved too powerful to return them back to their source and they were forced to dissemble their boats, re-using the wood for lumber.

Big Creek to Soldier Bar

Chamberlain Basin & Cold Meadows

Middle Fork Salmon River

Thunder Mt./Monumental


Lick Creek Area, McCall & Krassel Ranger Districts

The Lick Creek area is just east of McCall and is accessed from Lick Creek Road.  This is a beautiful area that many think of as the Alps of Idaho.  There are many recreation opportunities in this area such as camping, and many trailheads that lead to alpine lakes.  A drive to the top of Lick Creek Summit from McCall only takes about 40 minutes.  This is a highly recommended area!




Rock Climbing