Boise National Forest

With over 2.5 million rugged acres, Idaho’s Boise National Forest offers something for everyone. There are over 9,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 250 reservoirs and lakes so for fishermen, boaters and whitewater junkies, it’s a haven. But the forest is much more than a water sports destination.

Most of the of the 2.5 million acres is land—rugged, wilderness land. There are lookout towers with jaw-dropping views, scenic highways with landscapes that seem to go on forever, and miles and miles of trails, well over 1,000 miles actually. So the 1.5 million people that visit the forest every year aren’t just there for the water. They are bikers and hikers, skiers and snowboarders, and every other kind of outdoor enthusiast you can imagine.

A girl skiing
Boise National Forest offers a host of recreation opportunities including skiing and snowboarding.

Boise National Forest Ecosystem

Mountains from several different ranges dominate the landscape over much of Boise National Forest. In fact, the tallest peak in the forest is Steel Mountain at 9,730 feet! It’s not just bare granite mountains, though. Roughly 75% of the terrain is considered forest. These forests are largely comprised of evergreens like lodgepole pines, ponderosa pines and Douglas fir with smaller trees and shrubs filling in the understory. Trees like whitebark pine, Quaking aspen, and Engelmann spruce begin to take over at higher elevations. In areas where trees don’t grow, shrubs and grass dominate the landscape. The ecosystem in the forest is quite complex though. Really, it’s several different ecosystems, varying based on things like moisture and elevation.

Moose, black bears, river otters, beaver, pronghorn are just a few of the many, many mammals that call the forest home. Timber wolves were reintroduced to the forest in the 1990s. At the time, this spawned significant controversy, much of which has never really subsided. Around the same time, the reintroduction of grizzly bears was proposed, but so far, nothing has come of that. As of now, wolves and mountain lions are the top predators in the forest, sitting securely at the top of the food chain.

History of Boise National Forest

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Shoshone lived on the land that makes up Boise National Forest. The appearance of the Pacific Fur Company was the first known arrival of Europeans in 1811. By the late 1830s and early 1840s, the fur trade in the area was drying up. Travel on the Oregon Trail was just beginning though. Up until now, relations between the Shoshone and the Europeans was relatively peaceful. That all changed in the 1860s when gold was discovered. The first settlers moved into the mountains, accelerating the conflict with the Shoshone This conflict would eventually force many of them out of the area. In 1863, the population of newly founded Idaho City was over 6,000. But by 1870, the gold rush had fizzled out and the population of the Boise Basin fell.

It wasn’t until 1905 that the forest was first protected, originally as a forest reserve. At the time, it included a little over 1 million acres. In 1908, when forest reserves were renamed as national forests, Boise became a national forest. In 1944, a game of wilderness musical chairs saw Payette National Forest absorbed by Boise. At the same time, Weiser and Idaho National Forest merged and became the new Payette National Forest.

Two campers sitting by a campfire outside their tent.
There are over 70 campgrounds in Boise National Forest.

Recreation in Boise National Forest


There are more than 70 campgrounds in the forest. The campgrounds are anything between remote, primitive sites to well developed campgrounds with RV hookups and showers. Many of the campgrounds are first come-first served, but some require reservations. You can find these information on each campsite here, along with up-to-date information.

Cabin Rentals

There are over a dozen cabins and even a fire lookout available to rent. For an overnight experience you will remember forever, check out Deadwood lookout. This lookout is an unused lookout perched at 8,200′ atop Deadwood Mountain. Many of these cabins are available seasonally and you can view details about them here.

Dispersed Camping

Most of the forest allows primitive camping as well. While dispersed camping on public land, remember to follow guidelines and leave no trace.


While there are many places to fish in the forest’s lakes and ponds, the rivers and streams are what draws many fisherman. Rainbow trout, bull trout, and chinook salmon are a few of many native species. One thing is assured, wherever you fish, you will be surrounded by a picturesque beauty.


There are over 1,000 miles of trails in Boise National Forest, so there’s really something for everyone. If you’re looking for a strenuous hike, you might try the 25-mile Deadwood Ridge Trail. This route climbs a ridgeline overlooking the mesmerizing Deadwood River, then descends into the Whitehawk basin.

For a shorter, more family-friendly experience, try Jennie Lake Trail. This trail is only 4 miles and relatively mild.

You can view all of the trails along with a short description here.

Scenic Roads

If you’re up for a scenic drive, there are three scenic roads with at least part of the route passing through the forest. The Payette River Scenic Byway 80 mile route following the Payette River, although most of this route does not pass through Boise National Forest

Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway is 35 miles with over half of it passing through the forest. This route is aptly named. It’s not uncommon to see deer, bears, or even large herds of elk while on this drive.

Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway is the longest of the three. This 130-mile route passes through the historic Idaho City, all the while providing beautiful views.

The Payete River running over rocks.
A scenic shot of the Payette River in Idaho.

Water Sports

With literally thousands of miles of waterways, there is ample opportunity for watersports. Rafting and kayaking opportunities abound with rapids as advanced as class four. For motorized boats, Warm Lake, Deadwood Reservoir, and Anderson Ranch Reservoir are options

There are also a number of places to enjoy a swim surrounded by natural scenery. For more information on swimming locations, checkout the Forest Service website.

Winter Sports

For those that love winter sports, Boise National Forest has got you covered. There are groomed snowmobile trails all over the forest with over 100 miles of snowmobile trails in the Garden Valley system. Here is a complete picture of the snowmobile opportunities in the forest.

The Bogus Basin ski area near Boise and the Tamarack Resort near Cascade are two popular ski slopes. Both of these offer over 50 runs or more and a first class skiing experience.

Visit Boise National Forest

Boise National Forest has millions of acres, miles of trails, and unlimited memories waiting to be made. Bring your tent, your snowboard, your boat, or your family, just be sure to experience the forest in one way or another.

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