top of page

The Idaho Traverse

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

Those seeking to experience some of the lower 48's most remote and pristine wildlands, may want to set aside a couple of weeks to explore the Idaho Traverse. With its lush alpine valleys, jagged snow capped peaks, and a plethora of Wild and Scenic Rivers, how can you say no to this overland jewel of the Pacific Northwest?



Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Baja

Trip Length: 860 miles, 1 - 2.5 weeks

Season: Late June/early July through November. Check with the appropriate national forests regarding snow levels at the beginning and end of the season.

Avg Technical Rating: 2

Peak Technical Rating: 3

Typical Terrain: Graded dirt forest service roads, some secondary dirt roads and interconnecting pavement.

Recommended Vehicle: AWD Crossover or stock 4x4 with all terrain tires Recommended Gear: We recommend that stock vehicles carry 5 gallons of extra fuel.

Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage the entire trail. You may encounter some tighter/overgrown trails where pinstriping may be unavoidable.

Alternative Routes: n/a

 

Route Details

The Idaho Traverse is the ideal overland route for those looking to spend 1-2 weeks exploring the magnificence of the Idaho backcountry, in all of its natural beauty. Covering the majority of the state, the Rocky Mountains are the primary mountain range in the region, and where you'll be spending all of your time along this route. As you may expect when visiting the Rockies, the landscapes can be incredibly rugged, but within Idaho we find some of the largest unspoiled natural areas in the contiguous United States, including the 2.2 million acre Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area. Those seeking out unspoiled and undeveloped backcountry camps will love this route, but those who lean towards more developed campgrounds will find a number of options along the route as well.


The Boise National Forest section (the far southern section) is dominated by the Idaho Batholith, the largest granitic body of rock in the United States. The mountains are comprised primarily of mixed fir-spruce forests, while lower elevations are dominated by sagebrush steppe of the high desert. Fauna in the region includes moose, black bear, grey wolf, cougar, bobcat, coyote, rocky mountain elk, mule deer, grizzly bear (far northern and eastern Idaho), bald eagle, beaver, and more. And of course Idaho is famous for its fantastic fishing and aquatic recreation activities. This route is no different, and you'll be passing by dozens of lakes, creeks, and rivers, many of them designated as federally recognized Wild and Scenic Rivers. So whether you want to bring the good 'ol rod, kayak or SUP, the Idaho Traverse is the perfect match for the outdoorsman or outdoorswoman. If you're looking to embrace the beautify and wilderness of the great American west, the Idaho Traverse is perhaps one of the best ways to capture that experience!


Segment 1 Trip Length: 316 miles, 3.5 - 7 days


Segment 1 of the Idaho Traverse begins on the northern outskirts of greater Boise, and immediately heads north into the encroaching Rocky Mountains. The first major peak as well as discovery point, is Boise Peak (DP1). The dirt roads up this way are wide and in relatively good condition. As you make your way past Bogus Basin Ski Resort, you'll soon pass through a red gate. In 2018 a pair of Texas Billionaire brothers purchased thousands of acres in the surrounding mountains, and initially locked the gates preventing through passage to the public. A bitter legal fit ensued, and the owners were forced to reopen the gate. It's extremely important that you respect this piece of property to ensure public access in the future. The route drops down the mountain and into the small village of Placerville (DP2), which was a booming mining town in the 1860s where gold and quartz was removed from the hills and streams. From Placerville, you'll make your way around the western flank of Mineral Mountain before dropping down to south fork of the Payette River (DP3). This is also a great chance to refuel, as the next fuel stop is 200+ miles away in the town of Riggins. The route follows a few miles of pavement upon reaching the south fork until hitting the dirt once again as you head north paralleling Big Pine Creek. Those into exquisite views and lookouts should checkout Deadwood Lookout (DP5, also takes reservations) and Scott Mountain Lookout (DP6). After making your way through the winding mountains roads, the Idaho Traverse drops into the incredibly scenic Deadwood Reservoir (DP7). If you're not looking to rough it, the reservoir offers a number of developed campgrounds along its shores, just don't expect the peace and quiet you'll find in a backcountry camp. North of Deadwood reservoir you'll find some of the most picturesque alpine meadows along the route, including Tyndall Meadows (DP9) and Wapiti Meadows (DP11). If you're lucky you might even catch elk grazing in one of these meadows. Soon you'll find yourself at Yellow Pine (DP12), a quaint hamlet tucked away deep in the Rocky Mountains with a population that hovers somewhere around 30. If you're lucky, you might be able to fill your tank, but it's best not to bank on fuel being available. As you cross the east fork of the Salmon River (DP13), the mountains grow higher and more rugged. The section from Yellow Pine to Elk Summit (DP15) provides some of the most scenic landscapes along the route. Deep valleys are surrounded by walls of emerald forest giving way to jagged mountain peaks and buttes. Warren (DP18) is another "living" ghost town, and former mining boomtown. You'll know you're closing in on the main fork of the Salmon (DP21) as you make your way down a series of tight switchbacks into the river gorge. There are a number of fantastic campgrounds along the river. The town of Riggins is a few miles down the road, and unless you have an auxiliary tank, we highly recommend you refuel in town! The last leg of segment 1 works the western flanks of Pyramid Peak before dropping down to the south fork of the Clearwater River (DP23), where segment 1 concludes and segment 2 begins!


Segment 2 Trip Length: 328 miles, 3.5 - 7 days


Kicking things off at the south fork of the Clearwater (DP23), head back into the mountains once again. The second discovery point along segment 2 of the Idaho Traverse, is the picture perfect McComas Meadows. If you're looking to spend some more time at the meadows, consider setting up camp at camp 58. Segment 2 traverses a number of historic trails and wagon roads, including the Elk City Wagon Road (DP25), Lolo Motorway (DP26), and Old Milwaukee Road (DP32). The Elk City Wagon Road was a prominent route for delivering freight and mail to the rural communities of central Idaho from 1895 - 1932. Imagine what it would be like to travel these roads in the dead of winter with a pair of horses and a wagon! As you cross the Selway River (DP26), the next historic trail is the Lolo Motorway (DP27) that cuts through the heart of the Bitterroot Mountains. The Lolo trail was an ancient travel route used by the Nez Perce people who call this region home. Lewis and Clark navigated the trail in 1805 as part of their historic expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The forest service put together a fantastic guide for the Lolo Motorway, and many of the historical sites like Weitas Meadows (DP28) have been adopted as discovery points along the Idaho Traverse. As you drive east past Howard Camp (DP29), you'll note the Idaho-Montana border is only a few short miles to the east, and eventually you'll find yourself in Montana for a short period of time. Work your way back east through the route as it snakes through the mountains and crosses the north fork of the Clearwater River (DP30). The north fork of the Clearwater is exceptionally beautiful and pristine for a wilderness that seems to be exploding with an abundance of unspoiled waterways. As you make your way north, the route crosses of the north fork of the Clearwater a number of times, until arriving at Hoodoo Pass (DP31), which also happens to be the Montana state line. For a few miles you'll find yourself in Montana territory, until crossing back into Idaho upon passing Missoula Lake. The route drops into the watershed of the St Joe River (DP32). The route parallels the St Joe for many miles until reaching Old Milwaukee Road (DP33), where it veers north to follow the north fork of the St Joe.


The official route only follows Old Milwaukee Road for for a few miles, but there are number of cool tunnels that have a cavelike feeling that you'll be driving through. Keep heading north into the headwaters of the north fork of the St Joe, up and over Moon Pass, and into the historic mining town of Wallace. Wallace is by far the most developed outpost along the route, and features, stores, restaurants, opportunities to refuel, and fantastic opportunities to learn and experience the local mining history first hand (Sierra Silver Mine Tour and Wallace District Mining Museum, DP34).



Segment 3 Trip Length: 216 miles, 1.5 - 3 days


Segment 3 is the shortest of the bunch, and has more pavement mixed in than the first two segments, so expect to be covering more ground on any given day. You'll depart from the quaint town of Wallace and continue north. You're now in the Coeur d'Alene River (DP35) watershed, and just over the hill for Wallace the route crosses the Coeur d'Alene River. The route follows the Coeur d'Alene for a few miles until veering off to follow the pristine waters of Shoshone Creek. Crisscrossing through a series of lower elevation mountains, the route finds its way back to the main fork of the Coeur d'Alene before crossing another ridge and dropping down to the north fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. Upon reaching the north fork, this is your sign that the spectacular Lake Pend Oreille (DP37) is not far. Lake Pend Oreilla is one of the deepest lakes in North America (1,150' maximum depth), and was carved out by glaciers during the last ice age. Clark Fork is the first town that you'll pass through along the banks of the lake, and the perfect place to refuel. From Clark Fork the route takes a nice little detour into the mountains to Char Falls (DP38) and Lunch Peak Lookout (DP39). Then its back to the pavement until you reach the Kootenay River (DP40) at Bonners Ferry. The last stretch of the Idaho Traverse works its way through the thick emerald forests. The quick out-and-back affords fantastic views of surrounding wilderness. Copper Falls (DP44) is perhaps the most exquisite waterfall along the entire route, and a great way to cap off an epic adventure. The route concludes just shy of the US-Canada border (DP45).

Camping Recommendations

There are so many fantastic campgrounds and campsites along this location, it's hard for us to recommend a short list of favorites (we're not kidding!). There are quite literally hundreds of options for dispersed camping along the site, and many of the backcountry campgrounds don't see a ton of visitors either, many of which are right on the edge of alpine meadows, and pristine rivers and streams. It's hard to beat the camping in this little corner of the might Pacific Northwest!


Discovery Points

  • DP1 - Boise Peak

  • DP2 - Placerville

  • DP3 - South Fork Payette River

  • DP4 - Payette River Hot Springs

  • DP5 - Deadwood Lookout

  • DP6 - Scott Mountain Lookout

  • DP7 - Deadwood Reservoir

  • DP8 - Deadwood River

  • DP9 - Tyndall Meadows

  • DP10 - Pen Basin

  • DP11 - Wapiti Meadows

  • DP12 - Yellow Pine

  • DP13 - East Fork Salmon River

  • DP14 - Edwardsburg

  • DP15 - Elk Summit

  • DP16 - Pilot Peak Lookout

  • DP17 - South Fork Salmon River

  • DP18 - Warren

  • DP19 - Secesh River

  • DP20 - Burgdorf Hot Springs ($)

  • DP21 - Salmon River Main Fork

  • DP22 - Manning Crevice Bridge

  • DP23 - South Fork Clearwater River

  • DP24 - McComas Meadows

  • DP25 - Elk City Wagon Road

  • DP26 - Selway River

  • DP27 - Lolo Motorway

  • DP28 - Weitas Meadows

  • DP29 - Howard Camp

  • DP30 - North Fork Clearwater River

  • DP31 - Hoodoo Pass / Montana State Line

  • DP32 - St Joe River

  • DP33 - Old Milwaukee Road

  • DP34 - Wallace District Mining Museum

  • DP35 - Coeur d'Alene River

  • DP36 - Avery Creek Cabin

  • DP37 - Lake Pend Oreille

  • DP38 - Char falls

  • DP39 - Lunch Peak Lookout

  • DP40 - Kootenay River

  • DP41 - Moyie River Overlook

  • DP42 - Canuck Pass

  • DP43 - Pacific Northwest Trail

  • DP44 - Copper Falls

  • DP45 - US-Canada Border

 

Maps + Navigation


Gaia GPS Recommended Map Layers

  • Gaia base layer

  • USFS 2016

Download Digital Mapping Files



 

Resources


Land Managers


Other Resources

 

Gallery




Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on Overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by Overland Trail Guides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.

9,380 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page