Tag Archives: driving tour

Clearwater National Forest

Clearwater National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,722,132 acres (1,679,952 federal/ 42,180 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nezperceclearwater

Overview

In central Idaho, Clearwater National Forest was established in 1908 and administratively combined with Nez Perce National Forest in 2012.  A great place to start is the Forest Service visitor center at Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border southwest of Missoula, where you will learn about the Corps of Discovery’s visit in 1805.  Elsewhere, the North Fork of the Clearwater River ends in the Dworshak Reservoir where a separate section of the National Forest can be explored on the White Pine Scenic Byway and Elk River Backcountry Byway.  The latter accesses Giant Cedar Grove and Elk Creek Falls, which is three separate waterfalls totaling a 140-foot drop.

Highlights

White Pine Scenic Byway, Lolo Pass, Lolo Motorway, DeVoto Memorial Grove, Colgate Licks, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Shoestring Falls, Elk Creek Falls, Giant Cedar Grove, Aquarius Natural Area, Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Down River Trail, Beason Meadows National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

Most of the recreational activity in Clearwater National Forest occurs along the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (Highway 12), which runs west from the Lolo Pass visitor center along the Lochsa National Wild and Scenic River.  The legendary dirt road called the Lolo Motorway (see below) can be accessed from several points along this route.  Both the famous Jerry Johnson Hot Springs and the smaller Weir Creek Hot Springs are reachable from roadside trailheads.  Also along Highway 12, short trails lead through the DeVoto Memorial Grove of western redcedars and Colgate Licks mineral springs.

Best Trail

From parking areas on both sides of Highway 12, it is only about a one-mile easy walk to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs where multiple pools can be found creekside and uphill at the source.  The trail continues along Warm Springs Creek into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and beyond. 

Watchable Wildlife

The North Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa Rivers provide habitat for fish and water-loving animals like moose, raccoons, river otters, muskrats, beavers, fishers, ospreys, and bald eagles.  The mountains are home to elk, mule deer, mountain goats, black bears, martens, red foxes, gray wolves, and mountain lions.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A short trail leads through the DeVoto Memorial Grove of western redcedars, named for author Bernard DeVoto.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The scenic 73-mile Lolo Motorway is a single-lane, dirt road that tracks both the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails.  Also labeled Forest Road 500, it follows a ridgeline north of the Lochsa River and several steep access roads climb to meet it from Highway 12.  High-clearance vehicles (or motorcycles) are a must and four-wheel drive is required on the rougher western end of the route.  Driving up Parachute Hill Forest Road 569 and down Saddle Camp Forest Road 107 makes for a good four-hour loop with short stops at the Indian Post Office and Devils Chair.

Camping

Although it is close to Highway 12, the pleasant Jerry Johnson Campground is one of several campgrounds found along the Lochsa National Wild and Scenic River and located only a short drive from the trailhead for the hot springs.

Wilderness Areas

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (also in Bitterroot, Nez Perce, and Lolo National Forests)

Related Sites

Challis National Forest (Idaho)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Montana)

Nearest National Park

Glacier

Conifer Tree Species

western redcedar, western larch, grand fir, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, western white pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, limber pine, whitebark pine, Pacific yew, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Pacific dogwood, red alder, balsam poplar, paper birch, Piper’s hawthorn

Explore More – What famous group built the 73-mile-long Lolo Motorway in the 1930s?

Learn more about Clearwater and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Challis National Forest

Challis National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

2,488,105 acres (2,463,471 federal/ 24,634 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/scnf/

Overview

Challis National Forest covers the southern portion of the co-managed Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho.  It includes the northern parts of Sawtooth National Recreation Area and a section of the Salmon Wild and Scenic River, as well as several northwest-southeast running mountain ranges.  In the forest’s scenic Lost River Range, 12,667-foot Borah Peak is the highest point in Idaho.  Further south near Arco, a steep half-mile trail leads to King Mountain Natural Arch in Bridge Canyon, a limestone formation with an 80-foot span. 

Highlights

Salmon River Scenic Byway, Stanley Museum, Sunbeam Hot Springs, Custer Adventure Motorway, Yankee Fork Hot Springs, Lemhi Range, White Knob Mountains, Camas Meadows, Challis Creek Lakes, Hidden Mouth Cave, Sawtooth Lake, White Cloud Peaks, Grover Creek Lake, Borah Peak

Must-Do Activity

The Salmon River Scenic Byway runs 162 miles to Lost Trail Pass, starting in Stanley where it intersects with the Sawtooth and Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byways.  Challis National Forest manages the free Stanley Museum there inside the historic Valley Creek Ranger Station.  Further down the road, the Sunbeam Bathhouse was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at a hot springs on the Salmon River where people still go to soak seeking the perfect spot between the frigid river and scalding spring water.

Best Trail

We previously covered the trail to stunning Sawtooth Lake in our post on Sawtooth National Recreation Area.  While it is not for everyone due to its strenuousness, we will write here about the route up 12,667-foot Borah Peak.  From its beginning (which we started in the dark) the entire trail is incredibly steep, so much so that we ran back down the final two miles because it was easier on our knees.  The route gains 5,400 feet of elevation in 4.5 miles and often requires the use of your hands, but no special climbing equipment.  Even if you decide to turn around at Chicken-Out Ridge before ascending the Knife Edge, the panoramic scenery is well worth the effort.

Watchable Wildlife

This is a fairly arid portion of the west, so you are more likely to see a ground squirrel or coyote than any other wildlife.  Trout fishing is a popular activity in the Salmon River.  Large mammalian species include elk, mule deer, pronghorns, and black bears.  Ravens and a variety of birds of prey catch the thermals around Borah Peak.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The view of King Mountain Natural Arch’s 80-foot span is arguably better while driving in than it is after ascending the treacherous final mile of road and hiking the steep half-mile trail to its overlook (see below).

Peak Season

Late summer due to snowpack

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The road from Highway 93 to the Borah Peak Campground and Trailhead is well maintained.  The last mile of road to the trailhead for King Mountain Natural Arch requires a high-clearance vehicle, but the nine miles of unpaved roads before that are decent and well signed (although we got a flat tire).

Camping

The campground at the base of Borah Peak is only $5 per night and allows climbers to get an early start.  There are many campgrounds along the Salmon River Scenic Byway and historic Yankee Fork Road/ Custer Adventure Motorway.

Wilderness Areas

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (also in Bitterroot, Boise, Nez Perce, Payette, and Salmon National Forests)

Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (also run by the Bureau of Land Management)

Sawtooth Wilderness (also in Boise and Sawtooth National Forests)

Related Sites

Caribou National Forest (Idaho-Utah-Wyoming)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho-Washington)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, limber pine, whitebark pine, Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, water birch, Rocky Mountain maple, boxelder, Bebb willow, blue elderberry, chokecherry, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, white alder, syringa, sagebrush

Explore More – How many Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps were in Idaho during the Great Depression?

Learn more about Challis and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Bitterroot National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest

Montana, Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,655,753 acres (1,587,070 federal/ 68,683 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bitterroot

Overview

First established as the 4.1-million-acre Bitter Root Forest Reserve in 1898, the smaller Bitterroot National Forest today flanks both sides of Highway 93 and the Bitterroot River Valley.  This stretch of the Idaho-Montana border is rough, mountainous country and about half this National Forest is designated Wilderness (see below).  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail follows a portion of the boundary between Bitterroot National Forest and Beaverhead National Forest, heading northeast from Lost Trail Pass where Highway 93 crosses into Idaho.

Highlights

Nez Perce Auto Trail, Lost Trail Pass, Lake Como, Magruder Massacre Site, Trapper Peak, Skalkaho Falls, Blodgett Canyon, Boulder Creek Falls, Palisade Mountain National Recreation Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are trails going west up seemingly every canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains, while Lost Horse Creek has a road that follows it nearly to the Idaho border.  Wildfire smoke obscured the views during our visit in July 2021, but the glacier-carved mountain scenery was still impressive on Blodgett Creek Trail.  We imagine on a clear day the views would rival California’s Yosemite Valley.  There are many more roads (and some trails) to explore in the Sapphire Mountains east of Highway 93.

Best Trail

Blodgett Creek Trail leads 12.6 miles one-way to Blodgett Lake, but you do not have to go that far to appreciate its incredible beauty.  The trail climbs steadily as it follows the creek, passing the memorial to smokejumper Don Mackey on its way to two waterfalls: the first at 4.5 miles hidden in a slot canyon and the second a wide cascade only a half-mile further (for a cumulative elevation gain of 1,637 feet).  Leaving from a nearby trailhead, Blodgett Overlook Trail is a steep 2.8 miles out-and-back.  A similar trek with outstanding views, Bear Creek Overlook Trail climbs about 1,000 feet as it switchbacks 2.6 miles one-way.

Watchable Wildlife

On our backpacking trip into Blodgett Canyon we saw bats, many trout and a beaver dam in the creek, plus a variety of bird life, including a dipper (or ouzel) and a hairy woodpecker.  We also heard hermit thrushes and pikas calling in the rocky scree slopes.  The Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains are home to elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose, as well as mountain lions, black bears, and grizzly bears (which were reintroduced starting in 2003).  Wildlife watchers should drive the U.S. Forest Service’s Sula Deer, Elk, and Bighorn Driving Tour.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you hike the Blodgett Creek Trail keep an eye on the ridgeline to the south for a massive natural arch that punches a hole in the skyline.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last three miles to Blodgett Trailhead were well-groomed dirt road and the route from Hamilton, Montana had signs at every turn.

Camping

Located on a creek, Blodgett Campground (fee) seemed like a nice spot, though it was a bit noisy and smoky on a weekend in mid-July.  We also read that Deep Creek Campground is nice and is located near the ruins of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest)

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (also in Payette, Salmon-Challis, Boise, and Nez Perce National Forests)

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (also in Nez Perce, Clearwater, and Lolo National Forests)

[Allan Mountain Roadless Area]

Related Sites

Beaverhead National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Glacier (Montana)

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, whitebark pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, western redcedar, subalpine larch, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, grand fir, western yew

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, black cottonwood, bog birch, Rocky Mountain maple, red alder, red-osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Trapper Peak, the highest point in Bitterroot National Forest?

Beaverhead National Forest

Beaverhead National Forest

Montana

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

2,199,013 acres (2,130,671 federal/ 68,342 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bdnf

Overview

Co-managed since 1996, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is spread across multiple mountain ranges in the southwest corner of Montana.  The dividing boundaries between the two forests are unclear, though Beaverhead National Forest tends to be more southeast than Deerlodge National Forest and includes portions of the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Centennial, Gravelly, Madison, Pioneer, Tendoy, and Tobacco Root Mountains.  Bordering Idaho’s Salmon National Forest, 7,323-foot Lemhi Pass is located on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  This is where the Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide in 1805 and is why the Sacajawea Memorial Area was established here in 1932.

Highlights

Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, Lemhi Pass, Sacajawea Memorial, Chief Joseph Pass, Pintler Falls, Upper Potosi Hot Springs, Charcoal Kilns, Gravelly Range Auto Tour, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

It is about a 17-mile drive from Harrison, Montana back to the free Potosi Campground, but it is well signed and worth the effort.  From here a 0.8-mile trail leads to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, a clear 100°F pool with room for about six adults.  Further west, about ten miles north of Highway 278, is the privately owned Elkhorn Hot Springs (fee), a great place to relax after hiking around Big Hole National Battlefield (managed by the National Park Service).  If you keep driving north on Wise River Polaris Road (FR 484), there are plenty of dispersed campsites and trailheads for several long hikes into the Pioneer Mountains.

Best Trail

We only hiked less than a mile trail to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, but that trail keeps climbing three miles to the top of the ridge.  We read good reviews for Louise Lake National Recreation Trail (see note on Road Conditions below), Pioneer Lake National Recreation Trail, Browns Lake Trail, Blue Creek Trail, Sand Lake/Lily Lake Trail, and Gold Butte Trail.  Hopefully we will make it back here to go backpacking someday.

Watchable Wildlife

Beaverhead National Forest still has most of its pre-settlement carnivores: grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, Canadian lynx, coyotes, and gray wolves.  Grazing ungulate species include moose, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and pronghorns.  We saw bald eagles and ospreys on our drive out from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Mountain whitefish, golden trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, lake trout, arctic grayling, and burbot are some of the gamefish sought by fishermen.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The ruins of a developed hot springs resort (located on private land) are visible from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Watch for moose downhill in South Willow Creek and a cute little garter snake that hangs out in the rocks by the pool (possibly year round if it stays warm enough not to hibernate).

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The dirt roads to Potosi Campground and over Lemhi Pass are both in very good condition, but we do not know about all the other dirt roads that cross the Continental Divide.  We read the access road to Louise Lake National Recreation Trail is pretty rough, requiring four-wheel drive the last two miles.

Camping

There are more than 20 spots to set up at Potosi Campground, which is free and located near the trailhead for Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  You will want a high-clearance vehicle to drive across South Willow Creek to the official trailhead, but there are also pedestrian bridges.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Deerlodge and Bitterroot National Forests)

Lee Metcalf Wilderness (also in Gallatin National Forest)

Related Sites

Deerlodge National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, subalpine larch

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, balsam poplar, Bebb willow, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Hilgard Peak, the highest point in Beaverhead National Forest?

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Overview

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 1890, the first park of its kind in the United States.  It covers multiple battlefields from late-1863 that straddle the Tennessee-Georgia borderline.  Though the Confederate army initially won at Chickamauga, Georgia, the Union took control of Chattanooga, Tennessee after the arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant with reinforcements in November.  Like Fort Monroe in Virginia, this area then became a beacon for escaped slaves, eventually numbering 2,000 people.

Highlights

Museums, film, driving tour, Point Park, Ochs Memorial Observatory, Cravens House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Point Park sits on top of Lookout Mountain offering awesome views of the city of Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River.  It is also the home of Ochs Memorial Observatory and museum, one reason Point Park charges an admission fee.  The nearby National Park Service (NPS) visitor center displays the 30×13-foot painting The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker.  At the Chickamauga battlefield, a seven-mile long driving tour explains what happened there on September 20, 1863.  The National Military Park also entails seven small military reservations and the Phelps Monument along the road atop Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga.

Best Trail

There are miles of trails atop Lookout Mountain and Ochs Memorial Observatory is only accessible by trail (and many stair steps).  It contains a museum dedicated to the Civil War and American Indians, specifically the Cherokee who passed through Moccasin Bend (which has its own three-mile loop trail) on the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The entrance to Point Park is designed to look like the Army Corps of Engineers insignia.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/chch/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to enter Point Park or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is limited free parking available at the NPS visitor center near Point Park.

Camping

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Explore More – Why did President Abraham Lincoln consider capturing Chattanooga (a town of only 2,500) as important as Atlanta?