Idaho is one of the wildest, most varied states in the country. It spans two separate time zones, and stretches all the way from Nevada and Utah in the south, to Canada in the north. Idaho is famous for its potatoes, but it’s also home to vast forests, mountain ranges, and ancient river plains. In fact, Idaho is made up of nearly 40% of United States Forest Service-owned land. But, which one of this state’s amazing regions is home to the largest forest in Idaho?
Read on to learn about Idaho’s largest forest, and what lives within it.
The Largest Forest in Idaho: Salmon-Challis National Forest
Covering over 4.3 million acres of land, the Salmon-Challis National Forest is easily the largest forest in Idaho. This forest is located in the east-central part of the state and includes the country’s largest contiguous wilderness area. This area is known as the Frank Church Wilderness, or, as the River of No Return Area. But, Salmon-Challis isn’t just the largest forest in Idaho, it’s also one of the largest forests in the entire country.
What is the Largest Forest in the Lower 48 States?
We’ve learned that the Salmon-Challis National Forest is the largest forest in Idaho, but is it the largest forest in the Lower 48 States? Shockingly, no, it’s not. This honor goes to California’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which covers about 6.3 million acres. That’s around two million acres more than the Salmon-Challis National Forest!
But, neither forest comes anywhere close to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. With over 17 million acres of wild land, Tongass is easily the largest forest in the United States. However, even the Tongass National Forest can’t compare with the largest forest on Earth — the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest clocks in with over 2.5 million square acres of land — that’s almost the size of the Lower 48 States.
What Animals Live in Idaho’s Largest Forest?
The largest forest in Idaho is both vast and varied. It occupies parts of the Rocky Mountains, the high desert, and the basin and range landforms. In parts, grassy prairies lead into shrublands, which blend into coniferous forests at higher altitudes. With so much diversity, it’s no wonder that one can expect to see a wide array of wild animals in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Let’s take a look at a few of those creatures now.
Idaho is replete with big game, both herbivorous and carnivorous. Moose are the largest herbivores in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, they generally stick to higher elevations. Elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer are also common in the forests and shrublands. Higher up, clinging to terrain too rugged for other creatures, you’ll find mountain goats and bighorn sheep. And, down in the plains, pronghorn antelope roam, ready to run away at over 50 miles per hour at the first sign of danger.
Of course, with all that game comes predators to hunt them. Though there are few to no brown bears (grizzly bears) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, there are other predators. These include gray wolves, bobcats, and even Canadian lynxes. Coyotes hunt the lower elevations, and mountain lions keep a secretive watch over many parts of the forest.
Smaller mammals in the largest forest in Idaho include the typical gamut of cottontails, hares, raccoons, and bats. The smallest mammals around are the shrews, moles, mice, rats, and voles that fall prey to small predators. These include coyotes, birds of prey, snakes, and more.
Bald eagles are among the most famous birds living in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The largest forest in Idaho is also home to red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, golden eagles, and ospreys. Herons and sandhill cranes hunt the rivers and lakes, while wild turkeys trot the forests and shrublands. Bird hunters can also find many species of game birds, including California quails, Hungarian partridges, blue grouse, spruce grouse, and, of course, turkeys. The forest also boasts yellow warblers, mountain bluebirds, pileated woodpeckers, and a wide variety of sparrows and other songbirds.
Fish, Amphibians, and Reptiles
In certain parts of the largest forest in Idaho, it’s important to keep your eye out for rattlesnakes. But, if you’re looking to fish, look no further. The rivers and lakes of the Salmon-Challis National Forest offer up world-class fishing. Chief among game fish is the cutthroat trout, followed closely but rainbow trout, brook trout, golden trout, and bull trout. Other species of game fish include suckers, smallmouth bass, redside shiners, dace, chisel mouth, sculpin, northern pikeminnow, grayling, and mountain whitefish. And, at certain times of the year, you can even fish for steelhead, sockeye salmon, and Chinook salmon.
Where is Salmon-Challis National Forest Located on a Map?
The Salmon-Challis National Forest, situated in the eastern central parts of Idaho in the United States, is among the most massive national forests in the contiguous 48 states, covering 4,235,940 acres.
It also includes the majority of the land area within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the most extensive wilderness region in the southern part of Alaska.
Here is Salmon-Challis National Forest on a map:
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