Payette National Forest
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  • Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness

    Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness

    The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness encompasses nearly 2.4 million acres of rugged mountains, wild rivers and alpine lakes. The FCRONRW was designated as wilderness in 1980 and is jointly managed by the Salmon-Challis, Payette, Nez Perce-Clearwater, Bitterroot, and Boise National Forests. It's the largest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48 and the second largest unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48.

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    The FCRONRW has a rich cultural history evidenced by Native American and Euro-American sites and evidence remains that show how humans have long been a component of the Wilderness. Native American tribal history extends to at least 12,000 years before the present described through extensive oral history and illustrated by numerous sites including lithic scatters, villages, pictographs, and bighorn sheep hunting traps.

    Two principal tribal groups, the Shoshone-Bannock and the Nez Perce, lived and utilized resources within what today is the River of No Return Wilderness. Both the Shoshone-Bannock and the Nez Perce continue to hunt, fish, gather, and access the Wilderness today. The Wilderness was shared in use by the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as well. In the early 1800s, fur trapping and later in the 1800s the discovery of gold led to a large boom in population, leaving behind a trail of historic sites.

    Protection of the FCRONRW began in 1930 with the administrative establishment of the Idaho Primitive Area and the Salmon Breaks Primitive Area.

    The Wilderness Act of 1964 required primitive areas and their adjacent lands to be studied for Wilderness suitability, which occurred throughout the 1970s for what would become FCRONRW. The late Idaho Senator Frank Church spearheaded the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980, creating the River of No Return Wilderness from the Primitive Areas and adjacent land. The name of the Wilderness was changed in 1984 to honor Frank Church’s instrumental role in its creation as well as to acknowledge his position as the vanguard of the evolving definition of Wilderness in America.


    The FCRONRW is punctuated by premier whitewater rivers. The Main Salmon and Middle Fork attract visitors from around the world and are designated as Wild and Scenic in order to preserve their free-flowing nature and protect them for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. The River of No Return name comes from the first documented float trips down the Salmon River, which were completed in massive wooden sweep boats. Once these early river runners reached their destination, currents proved too powerful to return them back to their source and they were forced to dissemble their boats, re-using the wood for lumber.