About the Forest
Each year thousands of visitors come to the Salmon Challis National Forest to enjoy the diverse recreational activities it has come to be known for.
Covering over 4.3 million acres of east-central Idaho, individuals have the opportunity to enjoy the natural landscapes of the Continental Divide, the vast, 1.3 million acres of the Frank Church-- River of No Return Wilderness, the newly designated Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, the snow-covered cap of the tallest peak in Idaho, Borah Peak, or the free-flowing waters of the the Wild & Scenic Salmon River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest is rich with history as evidenced through the numerous rock shelters displaying pictographs and from what are now ghost towns of the mining days. The Sheepeater Indians of the Shoshone Tribe were among the first to populate this remote region; living along the river banks, they would often share their bountiful fishing and hunting grounds with the Nez Perce and Flathead Indians. In the early 1800’s, the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the continental divide into unchartered territory; and through the help of Indian guides Toby and Sacajawea (who was born in Lemhi County of the Salmon Challis National Forest), they opened the west to trappers, fur traders, miners, ranchers, lumbermen, and missionaries. Today, visitors can view remnants of history as they explore the mining ghost towns found in Mackay, Gilmore, Custer, Leesburg, and Yankee Fork; hike a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail; or view pictographs while floating down one of the Salmon Rivers.
When visiting the Salmon Challis National Forest, one does not want to miss the diverse habitat that is accommodating to a variety of fish and wildlife. On any given day an individual could see a bear sitting riverside, mule deer crossing the road, elk grazing in someone’s pasture, Big Horn Sheep standing on a cliff, or Bald and Golden Eagles flying overhead. And if you’re quiet, you might see a moose standing in the marshes, a Mountain Goat jumping from rock to rock, or a steelhead fish catching that bothersome fly. Check with fish and game for license and tag information if you are interested in hunting and fishing in this region. May and June also offer you the chance to sit among the wildflowers and breathe in the fresh scents - just watch out for the cacti!
In 1906 the Salmon River Forest Reserve was established; this was later renamed in 1908 to the Salmon National Forest in order to properly reflect the multiplicity of uses for the region. Later that same year, the Challis National Forest was created. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness was established by congress in 1980; this area encompassed a total of 2.36 million acres extending across 6 national forests and 97 miles of the Salmon River to become the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. 1996 brought change to these two forests as the USDA and the National Forest Service began to streamline the administration of different regions. As part of a “pilot program” started in 1996, the Salmon National Forest, Challis National Forest, and a portion of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness consolidated to become the Salmon-Challis National Forest; this consolidation became formally approved in Washington, DC in February 1998. Currently, the Salmon-Challis National Forest maintains 6 district offices and a Supervisor’s Office; these include the Challis-Yankee Fork RD, the Middle Fork RD, Lost River RD, Salmon-Cobalt RD, the North Fork RD, and Leadore RD.