By Michael Lanza
We emerge from our tents on a mild August morning to discover that the waters of the upper and middle Cramer Lakes, in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, have transformed overnight. Where last evening these lakes on either side of our campsite had been rippled by mountain breezes, now they lie perfectly still; they are glassy mirrors offering inverted, sharp reflections of the forest and jagged peaks surrounding the lakes. A few hours later, our backpacking party of three parents and six teenagers hikes across wildflower meadows and past alpine tarns to proudly reach a mountain pass at over 9,000 feet on the Cramer Divide, overlooking a turbulent sea of razor peaks stretching to every horizon.
It’s an inspiring panorama. But to me, there’s more to this pass than the view: We also happen to be standing at one of the highest points along the most remote and wild long-distance trail in the Lower 48—and the newest. And thanks to the help of some conservation leaders in Idaho, this trail has, metaphorically speaking, come a long way from a notion in my mind to fruition.
A few years ago, I brought an idea to my good friend, Justin Hayes, then the program director of the Idaho Conservation League and now ICL’s executive director. I told him that Idaho deserves to have a long-distance backpacking trail that traverses its three signature federal wilderness areas.
From north to south, they are the 1.3-million acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, which by itself is larger than many national parks, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Glacier; the nearly 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (aka “the Frank”), largest in the Lower 48 and bigger than Yellowstone; and the 217,000-acre Sawtooth Wilderness, protected as a primitive area since 1937, among the first places protected in The Wilderness Act of 1964, and now Idaho’s best-known and most beloved mountain range for its jagged peaks and hundreds of alpine lakes.
Taken together, these three very special places comprise nearly four million acres of almost-contiguous wilderness, a vast realm of mountains and canyons divided by just one rural highway (ID 21 outside the small town of Stanley) and two remote dirt roads. If these three wildernesses were contained within one national park, it would be America’s third-largest and the biggest outside Alaska.
I already had a name for this new footpath when I approached Justin and ICL: the Idaho Wilderness Trail. Not only do I like how it sounds, but that name speaks volumes about the quality of the backpacking experience the trail delivers.
Linking up existing trails (requiring no new trail construction), the 296-mile-long Idaho Wilderness Trail (IWT) crosses mountain passes over 9,000 feet and threads its way past peaks rising over 10,000 feet; follows three designated wild and scenic rivers, the Middle Fork of the Salmon, Main Salmon, and the Selway; traces the shores of innumerable alpine lakes; and meanders below dramatic spires from the Bighorn Crags in the Frank to the Sawtooths.
It traverses pristine backcountry that is home to mountain goats and bighorn sheep, elk and moose, black bears, hundreds of wolves (a population estimated to be at least seven times as many as live in Yellowstone), and abundant trout—and which offers some of the nation’s best remaining habitat in the Lower 48 for restoring a viable population of wild salmon.
Perhaps most uniquely, the IWT offers the kind of solitude you simply cannot find on most long-distance trails. In fact, many backpackers have never even heard of the wilderness areas the trail traverses.
Imagine that: Discovering a new long-distance trail that’s not just one of the best in America, but has been hiding in plain sight.
Now it’s ready to be explored by backpackers.
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Birth of a New Long Trail
Having backpacked through much of the Sawtooths and parts of the Frank and Selway-Bitterroot over the course of living in Idaho for more than 20 years—as well as many of the very best backpacking trips the country—I knew that a north-south trail linking those wildernesses would constitute one of the most spectacular, diverse, challenging, and lonely long-distance trails in America.
With the help of ICL staff, including Community Engagement Coordinator Lana Weber, who served as ICL’s point person on the project, and a couple of hard-working interns named Hannah Zimmerman and Johnny Whittemore, we mapped out a route following existing trails across the three wilderness areas.
We learned that while the 11 national scenic trails in the U.S. were created by acts of Congress, many established long-distance trails—including the John Muir Trail (JMT) and other well-known footpaths—have no official designation: They have simply, over time, come to be widely known by a certain name to backpackers. In other words, we could “create” the Idaho Wilderness Trail simply by making people aware of it.
The IWT stretches for 296 trail miles—nearly 350 miles when including three remote road sections, where backpackers may be able to catch rides—through these three wilderness areas, between its northern terminus at Wilderness Gateway campground on US 12 to its southern terminus on the outskirts of the tiny town of Atlanta. It can be hiked as three or four distinct sections or thru-hiked in a month or less—a more-reasonable distance and time commitment for many backpackers than the AT or PCT. (See my tips and more information on backpacking the IWT in the Take This Trip section at the bottom of this story.)
I’ve backpacked the John Muir Trail and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, and other long-distance footpaths. The IWT matches them for scenic beauty, but far eclipses them in terms of solitude.
And while the AT, JMT, PCT and other long-distance paths are generally well-marked and well-maintained—and mostly beginner-friendly and popular enough that you’re likely to regularly encounter other backpackers who might offer help if you need it—the IWT poses significant challenges for its remoteness, dearth of people, and possibly rough condition along some stretches. I’ve hiked through parts of the Frank, for instance, where trails go years without maintenance. I’ve seen footpaths that have essentially disappeared beneath overgrowth. However, I believe most of the existing trails comprising the IWT are likely in good condition.
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Much of the Idaho Wilderness Trail is no beginner backpacking trip.
Among the unique qualities of the IWT are some that don’t always come immediately to mind when you think about backpacking. Camping in these wilderness areas, you will gaze up at one of the darkest night skies in America—the Milky Way looks like it was painted across the heavens. A 1,400-square-mile area encompassing the Sawtooth and neighboring White Clouds wilderness areas has been officially recognized for the untainted blackness of its night sky with the designation of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, the country’s first dark sky reserve.
And those night skies aren’t just in the Sawtooths. I have also gazed up at night skies in the Frank and Selway-Bitterroot so dark that I’ve at stared for endless minutes, transfixed.
And nowhere else will you breathe as easily. Designated a Mandatory Class I air quality area by the 1977 Clean Air Act, the Sawtooth Wilderness has the clearest air in the continental United States. You can bet the air in the Frank and Selway-Bitterroot is nearly if not just as clean.
Beyond introducing more backpackers to these wildernesses, a primary objective of our effort is to use the IWT as a communication vehicle to promote wilderness values and, hopefully, gradually grow a larger constituency of people willing to pitch in to protect and maintain it. That support is desperately needed because these places suffer from decades of chronic under-funding that has created shocking trail-maintenance backlogs throughout the U.S. Forest Service.
Because loving anything isn’t enough by itself. You have to show the love. (Want to help on volunteer trail crews and see some of the most pristine wilderness in America? Contact the Idaho Trails Association or Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation.)
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Twenty summers ago, I backpacked a roughly 160-mile, north-south traverse of central Idaho’s wilderness, from a remote, grass airstrip on Moose Creek in the Selway-Bitterroot—where a friend and I stepped out of a six-seater prop plane to begin our trek—to the end of a remote dirt road at the foot of Sleeping Deer Mountain in the Frank.
That friend accompanied me for the trip’s first week; I did the second week solo, until two other friends met up with me the last night before I finished. During those two weeks, I hiked through rugged, breathtaking mountains, and canyons thousands of feet deep that impressed upon me the scale and remoteness of these places.
Few backcountry experiences in my life, before or since, have given me such a powerful sense of wilderness and solitude as that trip. Just two Alaskan adventures come immediately to mind, in fact: backpacking in Denali National Park and sea kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park.
Much of what I hiked that summer long ago is now the Idaho Wilderness Trail.
And the defining characteristic of that two-week hike—what made it feel so different from the many other backpacking trips I’ve taken in some of America’s signature wild landscapes—was the solitude. While I encountered rafters and kayakers along the Main Salmon and Middle Fork Salmon rivers (and was the grateful recipient of meals generously offered by them), I saw exactly two other backpackers in two weeks. And they were on the Middle Fork Salmon Trail. For several days of backpacking through the mountains between those canyons, I saw no one.
Where else in the Lower 48 can you backpack for two weeks in the peak of summer and see not another person for days?
More recently, in July 2015 and again in July 2019, I floated the Middle Fork of the Salmon through the Frank with my family and 20 friends (on each trip), guided by my favorite river company, Middle Fork Rapid Transit. Besides running scores of exciting rapids on a wilderness river, one of the most unique features of floating the Middle Fork is the abundance of side hikes to waterfalls, hot springs, high points, and along tributary creeks. We took several hikes on the Middle Fork River Trail, which parallels much of that river, sometimes hugging its banks, sometimes meandering hundreds of feet above river level to afford long vistas of that canyon of indescribable beauty.
Hiking the Middle Fork River Trail—which the IWT follows—gave me a fresh perspective on the magic of the Idaho Wilderness Trail. That now has me planning to backpack the IWT’s longest section, over 130 miles through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
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The Most Remote and Wild Trail
As the ICL team and I worked on creating the IWT, we settled pretty quickly on a slogan that epitomizes the IWT: “The most remote and wild long-distance trail in the Lower 48.”
Much of the IWT lies at least a day’s hike from the nearest road—in long stretches of it, multiple days. Even in the Sawtooths, the smallest and most accessible of the three wildernesses traversed by the IWT, backpackers must devote significant time and effort to explore the trail.
On that August backpacking trip in the Sawtooths that I described at the beginning of this story, our group left a wonderful campsite beside Edna Lake on our third morning and started hiking uphill toward Sand Mountain Pass. And within minutes, we turned at a trail junction and left the Idaho Wilderness Trail behind—having spent only about two days, cumulatively, of our four-day trip on it.
But that illustrates the IWT’s remoteness: Even in the relatively accessible Sawtooths, the IWT traverses the most inaccessible corners of those fabulous mountains.
Take my advice: Walk this trail. You will discover some of the finest wilderness lands in America, and an experience every backpacker should have.
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Take This Trip
THIS TRIP IS GOOD FOR fit, experienced backpackers with expert navigation and backpacking skills—not beginners—at least on the more difficult, remote, and in spots infrequently maintained sections of the Idaho Wilderness Trail, especially in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. On other sections, particularly traversing the Sawtooth Wilderness on the IWT, trails are generally well maintained, obvious, and signed at junctions—appropriate for beginner to intermediate backpackers.
Challenges include significant elevation gradients of 3,000 feet to more than 5,000 feet separating valleys and canyon bottoms from mountainous terrain; mountain passes reaching over 9,000 feet; possible thunderstorms and other weather; and the physical and mental rigors inherent to any long, remote trek. Some stretches of the IWT—again, mainly in the Frank and Selway-Bitterroot—lie multiple day’s walk from the nearest road. Resupply opportunities are few and far between and arranging transportation between IWT stages may be complicated.
Trying to figure out if you’re ready for the remote parts of the IWT? See my story “5 Questions to Ask Before Trying That New Outdoor Adventure.”
See also my expert tips in “How to Prevent Hypothermia While Hiking and Backpacking” and “8 Pro Tips for Preventing Blisters When Hiking” and all stories sharing expert backpacking skills at The Big Outside
The Idaho Wilderness Trail stretches for 296 trail miles through three wilderness areas, including short stretches of trail outside of wilderness boundaries. It can be thru-hiked in a month or less in either direction, or hiked as three or four distinct sections. Its northern terminus is at Wilderness Gateway campground on US 12, and its southern terminus is the Middle Fork Boise River Trail no. 460/Atlanta Power Plant Trailhead on the outskirts of the tiny town of Atlanta.
The four IWT stages when hiking southbound are:
- Stage 1: 70.3 miles through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness from Wilderness Gateway campground on US 12 and the Lochsa River to Paradise Road 6223.
- Stage 2: 37.3 miles through the northern Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness from Magruder to Corn Creek on the Salmon River.
- Stage 3: 130.9 miles through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness from Garden Creek/Horse Heaven Trailhead Panther Creek Road (just off the Salmon River Road) to Marsh Creek Trailhead near Cape Horn on ID 21 northwest of Stanley.
- Stage 4: 57.5 miles through the Sawtooth Wilderness from Stanley Lake Trailhead to the Middle Fork Boise River Trailhead on the outskirts of the tiny town of Atlanta.
But considering transportation logistics—the relative ease of traveling to US 12, the Salmon River Road, and ID 21, versus the remoteness of the Paradise and Magruder roads—the IWT is more feasibly hiked in three sections, with the first two described above (Wilderness Gateway to Paradise and Magruder to Corn Creek) hiked together as one 107.6-mile section, plus the 15-mile road section connecting them.
The trail distance above does not include a total of 53.6 miles of paved and dirt roads separating the trail segments in three places:
- 15.1 miles along Paradise Road 6223, a dirt thoroughfare between the Frank and Selway-Bitterroot that’s as wild, remote, and untraveled a road as you will find anywhere in the contiguous United States.
- 19.9 miles along the Main Salmon River Road from Corn Creek—the launch site for Salmon River float trips, where, during the summer float season, backpackers might easily hitch a ride along the road—to Panther Creek Road 55.
- 18.6 miles from Marsh Creek Trailhead to Stanley Lake, mostly along ID 21 west of Stanley, a low-traffic rural highway and the only paved road the IWT crosses. Backpackers can arrange or probably catch a ride to avoid walking along the highway.
Read the comments at the bottom of this story, where some backpackers who’ve hiked the trail share helpful, specific details about it.
Maps See an overview map of the Idaho Wilderness Trail at drive.google.com/file/d/11GOZEV1ufser-wbHh9SniDkdXeJKyN2Q/view?ts=5ce5d90e. The Idaho Conservation League hosts a website describing the IWT at idahoconservation.org/events/plan-your-own-adventure/idaho-wilderness-trail.
These are links to the four IWT stages maps on Gaiagps.com:
Gaia map of IWT Stage 1
Gaia map of IWT Stage 2
Gaia map of IWT Stage 3
Gaia map of IWT Stage 4
Will Gattiker, who thru-hiked the IWT with his father, Tom, in 2022, created a map of the route they took, including some variations necessitated by wildfires and poor trail conditions, at caltopo.com/m/R171T.
See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help plan your Idaho Wilderness Trail hike.
Permit Free permits can be filled out at various trailheads along the Idaho Wilderness Trail. No reservation is needed.
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Guide/Outfitters/Rentals Various guide services offer backpacking, river float trips, climbing, fishing, and other trips in these wilderness areas, providing access to parts of the Idaho Wilderness Trail. My family has taken a couple of outstanding, six-day float trips down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church Wilderness with Middle Fork Rapid Transit (middleforkrapidtransit.com), an adventure that offers almost daily opportunities to hike parts of the IWT that overlap the Middle Fork Salmon Trail through that magnificent canyon.
Resources Perhaps most challenging, some sections of the IWT follow trails that have not been maintained in years—or never maintained—especially the IWT’s northern sections in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
Anyone considering a thru-hike or a backpacking trip on any section of the Idaho Wilderness Trail is strongly advised to read through the very detailed and well-researched blog posts written by my friends Tom and Will Gattiker, who thru-hiked the IWT in September and October 2022. Will’s report focuses on critical logistical details and recommends variations off the IWT to avoid abandoned/unmaintained trails: safesexandgoretex.com/2022/11/idaho-wilderness-trail-nitty-gritty.html. Tom’s report is more of a travel log about the experience: click here.
See this blog post from Boise ultra-runner Steven Palmer, who traversed the Sawtooths section of the IWT in a day and a half.
Contact Idaho Conservation League, https://www.idahoconservation.org/events/plan-your-own-adventure/idaho-wilderness-trail/
Contact Idaho Conservation League, idahoconservation.org/events/plan-your-own-adventure/idaho-wilderness-trail/
34 thoughts on “America’s Newest Long Trail: The Idaho Wilderness Trail”
Tom Gattiker and I completed the first known through-hike of the IWT between Sept. 9-Oct. 5, 2022. It was an incredible experience and I highly recommend that anyone considering the trail should definitely take a shot at it. Please feel to reach out to me at email@example.com if you have any questions. My dad and I are also working on trip reports that we will most likely post here in the near future.
Hey Will and Tom, congrats and awesome job! I’m looking forward to hearing all about it. Thanks for sharing that.
Michael, this is awesome. Thanks for bringing it into the world and laying it out so clearly here. Couple questions about logistics, for a north-bound hike:
1. It sounds like hitching into Stanley and North Fork for resupplies should be fine, yes? That would mean carrying supplies for about 120 miles for the last section, which is doable.
2. Any advice on car/TH-to-TH logistics? Bus service looks thin even between the bigger cities. Couple options I’m considering: Leave car in Boise where presumably it would be safe and hitch up to Atlanta (no idea how viable that is) to start, and then hitch back to Boise from the north terminus. Or, make an alternate start on the Alice Lake loop south of Stanley, leave car at that TH, and from the north terminus hitch to Missoula where there are flights to Stanley area. Neither of those sound great, but with a car and no friends in the area, not sure if there’s a better option. Thoughts? Thanks in advance.
Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad you’re excited about attempting the IWT. Travel logistics are definitely one of the great logistical challenges of a thru-hike of it.
Hitching rides for short distances on a single road, like the Salmon River Road to North Fork, Idaho (during the rafting/boating season) or along ID 21 into Stanley would be fairly easy. Hitching rides to either IWT endpoint would be nearly impossible because of the distances and remoteness. Atlanta is a tiny village at the end of a long dirt road through national forest. The Wilderness Gateway Campground is along one of the most rural highways in Idaho, hours from Atlanta or Stanley.
Search online for the commercial shuttle services that provide transportation for private boating parties floating the Selway, Main Salmon, and Middle Fork Salmon rivers; they offer transportation along the roads where IWT trailheads are located. If you want to start at the Tin Cup Trailhead on Pettit Lake (the trailhead for Alice Lake), Redfish Lodge offers a shuttle service to it. I’ve occasionally asked people at local lodging in small towns whether any employee wanted to make some extra cash providing a one-way ride to a trailhead.
Your best strategy may be to drive to Stanley, park at the trailhead a quarter-mile down the road from Redfish Lake Lodge, get shuttled by the lodge to Pettit, and arrange for a long shuttle from Wilderness Gateway Campground back to your car. It may be logistically simpler, though, to get that long shuttle at the start of your hike, from Redfish to Wilderness Gateway Campground, and hike back to your car in the Sawtooths.
Good luck. I’d love to hear how it goes for you after your trip. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve created maps for the four Idaho Wilderness Trail stages on Gaiagps.com and shared the links in this story. While we had originally calculated the IWT’s total trail distance at just over 285 miles, on Gaia, the cumulative trail distance measures 296 miles, not including the three road sections that total 53.6 miles—bringing the IWT’s total length to nearly 350 miles.
We are looking at hiking from Boundary Creek down the Middle Fork Trail to Big Creek. Then Heading up the Waterfall Creek Trail to get into the Bighorn Crags. After exploring the Crags we are hoping to hike out the Clear Creek Trail to Panther Creek where we can get our car shuttled to confluence of Panther and the Main Salmon. We are planning on heading out on either the 7th or the 8th and are planning 10 days for exploring. Do you have any up to date information about these trails?
We appreciate any help or guidance you can give and will happily give you an update if/when we hit this trail.
Thanks for letting me know, I’m psyched for you, that’s a great hike. I’ve hiked much of the Middle Fork Salmon Trail, including the upper section from Boundary Creek to Indian Creek, which is really nice, and pieces of it from Indian to Big Creek—all sections I’ve hiked and seen are good trail, well-maintainsd and signed. I haven’t been on the Waterfalls Trail but have heard it may be rough: It’s probably better you’re going up it and I’d say you might not find suitable camping until you reach the Bighorn Crags. Give yourself plenty of time for that trail.
Great camping, lakes, and trails in the Crags, I believe. North of there the trail could get a little sketchy.
I plan to post maps of the trail very soon, before your trip. Email me at email@example.com and I’ll give you the links to them.
Glad you got in touch!
New update: Waterfall Creek Trail 45 was cleared from the Terrace Lakes to the Middle Fork Salmon River by a trail crew with the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation in August 2020. See their report (which mentions a nice campsite) at selwaybitterroot.org/sbfcblog/2020/8/in-the-frank-and-feeling-normal.
Amazing work. You obviously have a great deal of backpacking experience and time under your belt. I am an avid hiker. I’ve hiked 1/3 of the AT, and PCT, as far as long distance hiking goes. A couple of questions for you:
(1) how was the snake situation? I live in SLC and once above 75’ degrees the rattle snakes come out. I ask because my hiking companion is my well trained working/herding dog. She is not yet rattle snake trained. I keep a very close eye on her, but being the trail is so remote, I would leave her behind if necessary
(2) are all sections passable by dog?
We do 10-20 mile day hikes regularly during season. She is in great shape, carrying her own pack, and follows commands. She loves the cold and does ok in hot days above, but sometimes drags if it’s above 80 degrees
(3) would you suggest a satellite phone in case of emergencies? I would be hiking alone, which I solo hiked my sections along the AT and PCT. But they are well traveled comparatively to the IWT it sounds like. In case of an emergency I’m guessing there is not a great deal of cell phone coverage
(4) any suggestions on provisioning?
What was the longest distance between places to purchase pack food? I’m used to mailing my self food boxes along routes.
(5) how was the water filtration availability?
We’re there ever days between water sources?
Thank you for your time, energy, advice and links for all of your suggestions and info.
I used to live in Ketchum ID and have always wanted to explore more of Idaho backpacking. Finding this article and info. prepared by you, now makes planning that adventure no longer a dream, but a reality.
Take care and happy hiking-
Thanks for the questions and your interest in the Idaho Wilderness Trail.
Living in Salt Lake City, you would will be able to predict when you might encounter rattlesnakes and other snakes along the IWT: in the dry, hot terrain in the bottoms of the Middle Fork and Main Salmon river canyons and not so much in the higher, mountainous elevations or along the wetter and somewhat cooler Selway River. Still, as on trails around SLC, encounters are rare.
I’ve seen wide variability in the ability of dogs to manage trails and you obviously know your dog best. I think the vast majority of the IWT would not be a problem for most dogs. I have not yet backpacked every mile of it but, based on my experience in more remote parts of the national forests in Idaho, I suspect there are trail sections that are more rugged, steep, and rocky.
I think satellite phone options are generally expensive and kind of heavy and cumbersome to use. For remote travel, I see a lot of people using the Garmin inReach, which is more affordable both to purchase and get its coverage plan and very lightweight and easy to operate. It enables you to send text messages from anywhere as well as summon a rescue.
Resupplying along the IWT represents one of the major logistical challenges of the trail. There are very few options for the longer sections through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. I know of possibilities but I don’t have confirmation about any of them yet. It may depend on when you’re on the trail and the seasonal operations of some tourism-based businesses. I hope to provide updated information on that as I learn more.
Backcountry water sources are frequent enough along the IWT that I don’t think you’d have to carry more than two or three liters of water on any sections, except in very unusually dry late summers.
And I know that I’ve been occasionally posting about maps of the entire route coming soon, but I’ve actually begun creating them myself using an app available to anyone and hope to finish them soon.
Thanks again for getting in touch and keep following my blog for more info about the IWT.
Hi April, I recently completed this trail from early September- early October. We saw quite a few rattlesnakes on this trip, mostly in the Selway and MF Salmon river corridors as well as the Bighorn Crags. The snakes were quite feisty and usually did not retreat from us. It would be extremely difficult and expensive to evacuate a big dog (or human!) from any of these areas.
The question about if the trail is entirely passable with a dog is tricky. My initial reaction is yes, but some sections might be extremely difficult. This is mostly due to the extremely poor trail conditions that you are likely to encounter in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. At many points the brush was very, very thick even at face level for miles at a time, and I’m guessing it would be almost impossible for a dog to walk through closer to ground level. You might need carry it a lot.
I would absolutely carry an inReach or something related as Mike suggests, both for emergency communication as well as to receive information about wildfires in the area. You will likely see no other backpackers on the trail for 10+ days at a time.
The longest section between options to hitchhike out and resupply are about 107 miles in the Selway-Bitterroot and northern frank Church and and 130 miles in in the Bighorn Crags and MF Salmon area. You can have supplies flown into backcountry airstrips in these wilderness areas, sometimes at standard USPS rates.
Water was plentiful and clean. There is one ~13-mile section without water in the Selway-Bitterroot, which might become a 16-mile section if the spring is dry. We took an alternate route around this section for a variety of reasons.
I am working on a blog post that will go into more detail about some of these issues soon.
Thanks for those great details, Will. And congrats again on completing your IWT thru-hike.
I think it’s an unfortunate choice to frame this as a “new” trail, when in fact it could be more accurately described as a couple of alternates to the Idaho Centennial Trail within the same general corridor. The ICT itself is in desperate need of love and attention, and I would have liked to see this platform highlight and support the ICT, rather than conspicuously ignoring it. I understand that it’s easier to sell map sets for a “new” trail, as opposed to improvements/alternates for an existing trail, but I think it’s far better for the cause of long-distance hiking in Idaho if the author were to frame this IWT as a supplement to the ICT, rather than as a competitor.
I think the IWT route has a lot of potential, and frankly the “official” ICT’s routing through Sawtooths/Frank/Selway leaves something to be desired (in several places, it supposedly follows trails that have been abandoned for decades, skips some of the best scenery, or flat-out does not/hasn’t ever existed). The author is a good writer, has a pretty big platform, and has obviously mastered the SEO game. I’d like to see him use the platform to promote the ICT, and the IWT’s place within that larger trail system, rather than ignoring it.
When I first proposed the Idaho Wilderness Trail to the Idaho Conservation League, seeking their support for my idea, we all certainly were fully aware of the Idaho Centennial Trail (which, for readers unfamiliar with it, traverses Idaho’s length north to south). We looked at the ICT’s route and reached the same conclusion that you have: that it has a lot of merit but does not pass through the best areas of the three wilderness areas crossed by the Idaho Wilderness Trail (although there’s overlap between the two).
The IWT has never been cast as a competitor to the ICT. In fact, if the IWT grows in renown, it will only increase awareness of the ICT, much as the John Muir Trail does for the Pacific Crest Trail. We have made quite clear that the IWT follows existing trails and it obviously diverges significantly from the ICT. We also did not undertake this project as a way to sell maps and I’m not in that business. I hope a mapmaker decides to create commercial trail maps of the IWT, and of course, backpackers would want such maps.
My idea was that Idaho’s world-class wilderness areas deserve a “wilderness” trail all their own. The ICT traverses hundreds of miles of non-wilderness lands, providing a remote long-trail experience, but also an experience that, at times, varies greatly from backpacking through true wilderness.
In short, our promotion of the Idaho Wilderness Trail is a good thing for the ICT, not a competitor. I believe time will bear that out.
Thanks for the comment and your enthusiasm for backpacking and for the ICT.
Any updates on the timeframe of a map for this upcoming season?
No, Tye, I’m sorry but I will provide info as soon as possible. Thanks for your interest.
I hiked the Colorado Trail in 2017 and am looking for another thru-hike to do in the next year or two. I am so excited to find the IWT. Look forward to seeing a map and learning more about this amazing trail. Thank you for working to make it happen and for this great article!
Thanks, Lisa, glad to hear you’re excited about the IWT. I think you’ll find an experience not easily found on other long trails. I’m hoping we’ll have a map or maps available before too long. Stay tuned.
I would really like to do this trail next spring. Please let me know when a map is available. or if there are detailed directions, would be greatly appreciated. I have been dreaming of this trail for years.
Spring is only a feasible time to do the Idaho Wilderness Trail if you’re prepared to travel and navigate over deep snow in the mountains and avoid avalanche hazard (which would usually be low by late spring). The canyon bottoms are snow-free by perhaps mid-spring, varying with elevation. Peak season is June through September.
As stated elsewhere in these comments, we’re working on developing maps and I will include more information on that and the route as soon as possible.
Thanks for your interest in the IWT.
Any word on when a map will be available? Heck, even pictures of existing maps with the trails highlighted would be better than nothing.
Thanks for asking, Christina. We’re working on the map and I will announce it’s availability in this story and elsewhere at this blog as soon as possible. I appreciate your interest in the Idaho Wilderness Trail.
Hi! It appears the original Google map is no longer active. Is there a way to gain access to it again? Or is there an OnX track from someone’s trip available (knowing everyone takes a bit different route with side trips).
Hi Jennifer, thanks for asking. We have some folks working on maps and hope to be able to share them soon. It’s a new route and we’re still in the process of creating support materials and information for it. Thanks for your patience, I promise I will share more as soon as I have it.
Where is the southern terminus? When will a map/description of the route be available?
The southern terminus (mentioned in the story) is the Middle Fork Boise River Trail no. 460/Atlanta Power Plant Trailhead on the outskirts of the tiny town of Atlanta. We have a cartographer working on maps now and I will add information about maps to this story as soon as I have it. Thanks for asking.
Is this route different than the Idaho Centennial Trail, that already existed and traversed these wilderness areas?
Hi Marcus, that’s an astute question. The Idaho Wilderness Trail overlaps the Centennial Trail in parts of each of the three wilderness areas, which is logical since a close look at maps would reveal that there are somewhat limited options for creating a route that uses existing trails to make a north-south traverse of these areas. But the IWT also diverges from the CT for long stretches in each wilderness area. We looked at the CT, and we respect the work and planning that went into it, but we ultimately chose a route for the IWT that we feel traverses many of the best portions of these wildernesses.
Awesome! Definitely excited to see the Bighorn Crags and Selway Crags included.
I agree, they are two highlights of the trail.
Looks amazing, i would also like to see the map, hope it’s accessible soon.
Thanks Greg, we’re working on the map and I’ll announce when it’s available. Stay tuned!
What a cool project, sounds like an amazing route! FYI check the permissions on the overview map (google drive link)- it is not publicly accessible at the moment.