Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

General SBW Info & History

The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (SBW) is 1,340,502 acres of roadless forests that exists along the Montana and Idaho border. Designated as a wilderness area by the Wilderness Act of 1964, the SBW is the third-largest wilderness in the contiguous United States. Separated only by the 600-foot wide Nez Perce Trail (commonly referred to as the Magruder Corridor), the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness lies directly to the south of the SBW forming a vast stretch of wild land.

The SBW is administered by the US Forest Service across four National Forests; Bitterroot, Lolo, Clearwater, and the Nez Perce. The Bitterroot National Forest assumed the responsibility to manage 9,767 acres of the SBW within the Lolo National Forest; therefore, the Bitterroot National Forest manages 512,050 acres, the Clearwater National Forest manages 268,932 acres, and the Nez Perce National Forest manages 559,699 acres of the SBW.

Six ranger districts exist on the three managing national forests and conduct activities on an annual basis to manage the SBW for the public (see list below). One of these districts, the Moose Creek Ranger District is the only district in the US Forest Service system that is entirely within a wilderness area. The Moose Creek Ranger District is home to a collection of historic buildings that serve as an administrative site for employees and volunteers. The buildings, dating back as far as 1921, are used by the US Forest Service to accomplish the goals set forth by the agency each year, and function as the minimum tool required to attain the standards identified in the management plan for the SBW. The buildings offer a temporary shelter to wilderness rangers and trail crews who monitor the wilderness and maintain trails throughout the wilderness area. There are six lookout stations in the SBW that provide additional monitoring of the wilderness resource; Saint Mary’s Peak on the Stevensville Ranger District, Gardiner Peak on the West Fork Ranger District, Schissler Peak on the Moose Creek Ranger District, and the Grave Peak, Diablo Mountain, and Hidden Peak Lookout Stations on the Lochsa Ranger District.

The SBW straddles both sides of the Bitterroot Mountains and is home to approximately seventy miles of the Bitterroot Divide north of the Nez Perce Pass. These jagged and barren peaked mountains offer spectacular views of both Montana and Idaho. The SBW nestles up to the Bitterroot River drainage in Montana, and portions of the Lochsa River drainage and the Wild and Scenic Selway River flow through the wilderness in Idaho. Elevations in the SBW range from 1,600 feet above sea level along the Lochsa and Selway Rivers to 10,157 feet above sea level at Trapper Peak on the Darby and West Fork Ranger Districts. The high peaks give way to grand canyons and valleys filled with old-growth conifers such as cedars, firs and larches. Winding throughout the SBW are 1,490 miles of trails – many of which are not maintained on an annual basis. The Bitterroot National Forest is home to approximately 458 miles of trail, the Clearwater National Forest is home to 325 miles of trail, and the Nez Perce National Forest is home to approximately 706 miles of trail. Collectively this network of trails provides an opportunity for hikers, backpackers and stock users alike to traverse the rugged terrain and take advantage of the outstanding opportunities for solitude the SBW has to offer.

SBW Rules & Regulations

In addition to regulations applicable to wilderness areas by the Wilderness Act of 1964, recreation in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is governed by the following specific regulations:

Wilderness Act of 1964 Document

For all visitors:

  • Maximum group size for any area is 20 people.
  • Maximum group size for the Seven Lakes area on the Clearwater National Forest is 10 people
  • Maximum group size on the Selway River is 16 people
    • A permit is required to boat/float on the river between May 15 and July 31

For overnight visitors:

  • Maximum length of stay is 14 consecutive days during any 45-day period within a radius of 5 miles
    • Applicable to people, equipment, personal property and supplies

For stock users:

  • Maximum number of saddle, pack or draft animals for any area is 20
  • Maximum number of saddle, pack or draft animals for the Seven Lakes area on the Clearwater National Forest is 10
  • No grazing or livestock containment within 200 feet of Wind Lakes
  • Livestock salt must be in block form
  • On trail, stock must be ridden or led single-file
  • All feed must be certified weed seed-free, and each bale marked as such

The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness spans parts of four national forests; for more information on them, please visit their sites:

Ranger District Contact Information

Bitterroot National Forest
(406) 363-7100
1801 North First
Hamilton, MT 59840

Darby Ranger District
(406) 821-3913
712 North Main
Darby, MT 59829

Stevensville Ranger District
(406) 777-3461
88 Main Street
Stevensville, MT 59870

West Fork Ranger District
6735 West Fork Road
Darby, MT 59829

Official Site
Twitter Site

Clearwater National Forest
(208) 476-4541
12730 Highway 12
Orofino, ID 83544

Lochsa Ranger District
(208) 926-4274
Route 1 Box 398
Kooskia, ID 83539

Powell Ranger District
(208) 942-3113
192 Powell Road
Lolo, MT 59847

Official Site

Nez Perce National Forest
(208) 983-1950
104 Airport Road
Grangeville, ID 83530

Moose Creek Ranger District
(208) 926-4258
HC75, Box 91
Kooskia, ID 83539

Official Site

Lolo National Forest
(406) 329-3750
Fort Missoula, Bldg. 24
Missoula, MT 59804

Missoula Ranger District
(406) 329-3814
Fort Missoula, Bldg. 24
Missoula, MT 59804

Note: The Lolo National Forest's portion of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness has been turned over to the Bitterroot National Forest for management.

Official Site

Trail Network Information

Airstrip Regulations & Availability

The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is home to three historic airfields that attract backcountry enthusiasts each year. Every one of these unique airfields serve as internal portals for individuals of all ages seeking the opportunity to participate in wilderness-dependent recreation activities such as hiking and fishing. One airfield is located on the Clearwater National Forest at Fish Lake. This airfield sits at 5,645 feet above sea level and has a 2,650 foot long grass runway for backcountry pilots to access the spectacular fishing and rugged mountains on the Clearwater National Forest. Due to the terrain encompassing the Fish Lake airfield, planes must initiate landing from the east and take offs in the reverse direction, from the west.

The remaining two airfields are located on the Nez Perce National Forest at Moose Creek Ranger Station and Shearer Guard Station. Moose Creek Ranger Station has two airstrips that are still maintained for use and is located at 2,454 feet above sea level. In 1932, the first airstrip, Runway 4, was created to serve as an internal portal for smokejumpers to access remote areas along the Selway River. This airstrip is 2,300 feet long and has a grass surface similar to the Fish Lake airfield. Runway 4 is open all year long and skis are required for landing in the winter. Runway 19 was created in the 1950s as a longer runway to accommodate larger planes. This runway is 4,100 feet long and is closed part of the year due to excessive moisture build up on the runway. Shearer Guard Station has one airstrip that is 2,000 feet long. The station is located 2, 634 feet above sea level. This airfield is a common entry point for floating the Selway River.

Volunteer hosts at Fish Lake, Moose Creek Ranger Station, and Shearer Guard Station participate in monitoring programs to assist the US Forest Service in collecting information that outlines the quantity of visitor use these unique Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness airfields receive each year.

Campground Information

Please exercise caution when floating down the Selway River.
Scout all rapids and rough water to identify the safest route prior to running the river.

Floating the Wild & Scenic Selway River — Above Selway Falls

The Selway River is congressionally designated as a wild river area under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. This designation identifies the Selway River as a river that is “free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail” and whose watershed and shoreline is predominantly primitive and unpolluted (28 U.S.C. § 1273). The Selway River fits this definition swimmingly as it flows through the iconic Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. 47-miles of brilliantly crisp, meandering water, spectacular rocks, and gigantic trees make up the Selway River corridor as it flows through some of the most rugged country in Idaho. American Whitewater classifies the Selway River as Class IV and III rapids above Selway Falls; suggesting that only advanced whitewater boaters and river guides are able to successfully navigate through the physical obstacles present on the Selway River.

To maintain the integrity and "wildness" of the Selway River, between May 15th and July 31st one launch per day is permitted through a computerized lottery system. All non-commercial boaters, regardless of vessel type and size, are required to obtain a permit to float between Paradise launch site and Selway Falls takeout site. All non-commercial boaters may float the Selway River through the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness outside of the above specified season without a permit. Please visit http://www.recreation.gov to enter the lottery this winter. The information will be posted during the late fall or early winter this year. If you have any further questions, please contact the West Fork Ranger District on the Bitterroot National Forest.

Floating the Wild & Scenic Selway River — Below Selway Falls

Stretching from Selway Falls to the town of Lowell, Idaho is a 20-mile float trip that curves along County and Forest Road 223, also known as the Selway River Road. This float offers Class III rapids, as classified by American Whitewater, ending at the confluence of the Selway River and Lochsa River. During the months of May and June, spring runoff affords kayaking opportunities along this stretch of the iconic river. In July and August the river level drops and provides opportunities for canoers, rafters, and tubers to float the river. Permits are not required to float this portion of the Selway River at any point during the floating season. If you have any further questions, please contact the Moose Creek Ranger District at Fenn Ranger Station on the Nez Perce National Forest.

Additional Information

USGS Real-Time Water Data for Selway River at Lowell, ID

Please spend a few minutes visiting the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness' official site provided by Wilderness.net.