Boise National Forest

The Boise National Forest is a US National Forest located north and east of the city of Boise, Idaho. The forest is made up of about 2,654,000 acres in size and ranges in elevation from 2,600 to 9,800 feet. The mountainous landscape developed through uplifting, stream cutting, and faulting. The majority of the land lies within the Idaho Batholith, a large and highly erodible geologic formation. The major rivers that run through the forest include the Boise, the Payette, and the South and Middle forks of the Salmon River. Some parts of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Sawtooth Wilderness, and Sawtooth National Recreation Area are within the confines of the forest, although none of these areas are managed by Boise National Forest.

Conifer forest covers most of the forest but it features species such as ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann Spruce, lodgepole pine, grand fir, subalpine fir, whitebark pine and western larch. Shrubs and grasses grow in the non-forested areas and wildflowers splash color in both the forest and shrubland.

The forest contains large expanses of summer range for big game species such as elk and mule deer. Trout are native to most of the streams and lakes. Oceangoing salmon and steelhead inhabit the tributaries of the Salmon River.

The forest is located in parts of Valley, Elmore, Boise, Gem, Ada, and Washington counties. The forest headquarters are located in Boise, Idaho. There are local ranger district offices in Emmett, Idaho City, Cascade, Lowman, and Mountain Home.

The national forest was created on July 1st of 1908 from part of Sawtooth National Forest and originally covered 1,147,360 acres. The President was given the authority to establish forest reserves in the United States Department of the Interior by the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. With the passage of the Transfer Act of 1905, the forest reserves became a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the newly created U.S. Forest Service. Present-day Boise National Forest was protected as part of Sawtooth Forest Reserve upon the reserve’s creation on May 29th of 1905 and expansion on November 6th of 1906. After the forest reserves were renamed national forests in 1908, Boise National Forest was separated from Sawtooth into an independent national forest. On April 1st of 1944 the entirety of what was then Payette National Forest was transferred to Boise National Forest and, at the same time, Weiser and Idaho national forests were combined to reestablish the present day Payette National Forest, which is located north of Boise National Forest. The original Payette National Forest had been established on June 3rd of 1905 as Payette Forest Reserve.

During the winter, visitors to the forest can participate in activities including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and downhill and cross-country skiing. The Bogus Basin ski area is located within the forest north of Boise and has seven chairlifts and 53 runs on 2,600 acres is skiable terrain. There are 137 of groomed snowmobile trails in the Garden Valley system in the Emmett Ranger District. There are several Mongolian-style yurts that are available for rental in the forest in the winter.

The national forest is home to three of Idaho’s scenic byways. The Payette River Scenic Byway is 80 miles between Eagle and McCall that follows Idaho State Highway 55. The route follows the Payette River between McCall and Horseshoe Bend, but most of the highway doesn’t pass through Boise National Forest; only a small part north of Horseshoe Bend passes through the Emmett Ranger District. Over half of the 35-mile Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway, which runs between highway 55 and Lowman, passes through the forest. The Wildlife Canyon Byway parallels the South Fork of the Payette River and is signed as the Banks-Lowman Road. The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway is a 130-mile road located between Stanley and Boise following Idaho State Highway 21. The Ponderosa Pine Byway passes over Arrowrock Reservoir and through Idaho City and Lowman, where it connects to the Wildlife Canyon Byway. North and east of Lowman, the byway partially follows the South Fork of the Payette River before ascending to the 7,037 foot Banner Creek Summit at the forest’s boundary with Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Image Caption: River rocks in Boise National Forest, Idaho. Credit: Casey Marshall/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)