A Guide to Hiking the Bitterroot Mountains

Bitterroot Mountain Hiking: Wilderness Areas

An autumn sunrise in the Clearwater National Forest and Wilderness Area, Bitterroot Mountains.
An autumn sunrise in the Clearwater National Forest and Wilderness Area, Bitterroot Mountains.
Nivek Neslo/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There are several designated wilderness areas within the Bitterroot Mountains, including the Selway-Bitterroot, the Frank Church-River of No Return, and the Anaconda-Pintler. Each offer amazing views and plenty of opportunities for recreation and wilderness adventure, all with their own unique characteristics.

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is a beautiful, rugged country where you can forget about all the troubles of the modern word (i.e., no cell phone reception) and lose yourself in a majestic and pristine natural environment. It's just you and 1.3 million acres (526,091 hectares) of roadless and undeveloped forest [source: Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation]. While hiking in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, you are likely to encounter moose, deer, or elk along one of the many high mountain lakes, streams or meadows [source: Idaho Parks and Recreation]. However, keep in mind that many of the trails are not maintained. The Selway river is also great for self-reliant whitewater rafting.

Even larger than the Selway-Bitterroot is the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. At 2.3 million acres (930,776 hectares), this wild expanse of forest offers endless possibilities for adventure and recreation, including some of the best whitewater rafting in North America. Congress created the River of No Return Wilderness in 1980. The name came from the fact that the Salmon River's swift current only permitted one-way trips. "Frank Church" was added in 1983 to honor the Idaho senator who worked to enact forest protections in the region [source: Mussulman].

Another wilderness area in the Bitterroot Mountains is the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness in Montana, which covers 158,615 acres (64,189 hectares). Here you can catch trout in one of the many lakes and spot black bears, moose, elk and mountain goats [source: Wilderness]. A 45 mile (72 kilometer) section of the Continental Divide trail runs through the wilderness.

A number of additional areas have been proposed as protected wildernesses within the shadows of the Bitterroots, such as Sheep Mountain and Great Burn [source: Wild Rockies Alliance].

The Selway-Bitterroot and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness areas are probably the most popular spots for hikers in the Bitterroot Mountains. Bisecting these two amazing areas is the Magruder Trail, a passageway with a storied past, which we'll explore in the next section.