Nez Perce National Forest Overview

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In the heart of north central Idaho, rugged peaks, deep gorges, and dense forests make up the Nez Perce National Forest. Best known for its wild character, nearly half of the forest is designated wilderness. Nez Perce sports two wild rivers popular with thrill-seeking floaters—the Selway and the Salmon—and streamside visitors will find good steelhead runs, fine camping and picnicking, and spectacular scenic drives.

Due in large part to dramatic elevational differences, Nez Perce supports a wide variety of vegetation, from cedar groves to desert ecosystems. These extremes provide habitats for numerous and diverse wildlife populations.

As the traditional home of the Nez Perce Tribe and the site of early gold mining, the land is also rich in history. From the dry, rugged canyons of the Salmon River to the moist cedar forests of the Selway drainage, Nez Perce offers something for everyone.

Raft World-Class Rivers
Nez Perce is well-known for its pristine waterways, and four official Wild and Scenic rivers course through its boundaries: Rapid River, Salmon River, Selway River, and Middle Fork of the Clearwater River. These fabulous four provide watersports enthusiasts with 150 miles of floating, kayaking, and paddling. On the stretch between Selway Falls and Lowell, the Selway River offers boaters a nice 20-mile float trip. During spring runoff (approximately May through June), kayakers can take to the water; from July through August, only canoeists, rafters, and tubers should navigate the Selway's lower water level. Regardless of the season, visitors should scout rapids before attempting to run the river.

Pick Your Slice of Wilderness
Looking for a little peace and quiet? About one million acres of Nez Perce National Forest lie within official wilderness areas. Backpacking and horsepacking in these remote regions offer excellent opportunities for solitude and self-reliance. Nez Perce includes portions of the Bitterroot, Frank Church-River of No Return, Gospel Hump, and Hell's Canyon Wildernesses. Explore Gospel Hump on the three-mile Oregon Butte Trail. Hike among the wildflowers—alpine heather, shooting star, pinks, and lupine. Look high for mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and look low for mule deer and elk. The trail offers a view of Salmon River Canyon and passes near ghost towns from Idaho's mining era. Another excursion rich with wildflowers and big game viewing is Hell's Canyon's Rapid River Trail, a little-known, three-season gem that runs along a pristine waterway.

Camp by a Raging River
Uncrowded campsites nestled softly into natural surroundings typify the Nez Perce camping experience. Whether you pack to a remote tent site beside a wilderness lake or drive to a level trailer pad just off a paved road, you'll enjoy your camp's beauty and privacy. And talk about camping opportunities—countless undeveloped sites await discovery. Those seeking a more developed setting can choose from 25 designated camping areas in the forest. Try O'Hara Bar campground, located next to the Selway River. Some sites offer a view of the water, and most are surrounded by towering cedars, evergreen yews, and near-tropical vegetation.

Hook a Big One
Chinook salmon and world-class steelhead trout regularly thrill anglers on Idaho's Clearwater and Salmon Rivers. After hooking a 15- to 20-pounder, try your luck against the resident cutthroat and rainbow trout that lurk in Nez Perce's alpine lakes and mountain streams. The forest aggressively manages water quality for fish and has developed one of the largest habitat-improvement programs for anadromous fish (those that travel upriver from the sea to spawn) in the nation. Critical spawning and rearing habitats for steelhead and chinook exist throughout the forest.

Drive An Indian Trail
For a drive rich in history and scenic beauty, hit the Montana Road. The route runs from Red River Ranger Station, Idaho, to Darby, Montana, along the Macgruder Corridor Road (#468)—the only road that passes through these four million acres of wilderness. Stopping for the many scenic vistas, cruise along Montana's 113 miles for an eight-hour drive, or take time to explore the trails and fish the lakes and streams you'll pass along the way. Also known as the Nez Perce Trail, the Montana Road runs parallel to the Nez Perce Indian Trail. The Nez Perce people used this trail to make their way between northern Idaho and western Montana. In later years, explorers, trappers, prospectors, and forest rangers trekked along this route.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 9 Jun 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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