By Michael Lanza

Want to hike the most remote and wild long-distance trail in the Lower 48? The Idaho Wilderness Trail stretches for 296 miles across three central Idaho wilderness areas that comprise nearly four million acres. If these three wildernesses were contained within one national park, it would be America’s third largest and the biggest outside Alaska. This article offers a primer on the IWT and links to digital maps of its four stages.

From north to south, the IWT traverses 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.

Nearly 350 miles long when including three remote road sections—where backpackers may be able to catch rides—the IWT extends from its northern terminus at Wilderness Gateway campground on US 12 on the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in North Idaho to its southern terminus on the outskirts of the tiny town of Atlanta, on the southern edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness. It can be hiked as four distinct stages or thru-hiked in a month or less.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A hiker on the Middle Fork River Trail 44 in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
” data-image-caption=”Lisa Fenton hiking the Middle Fork River Trail 44 in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”600″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A hiker on the Middle Fork River Trail 44 in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.” class=”wp-image-36209″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?resize=1024%2C683&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?resize=1080%2C720&ssl=1 1080w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/MF2-075-Lisa-hiking-the-Middle-Fork-Salmon-River-Trail-Idaho..jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px”
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