The minor roadless areas
of the Caribou National Forest in southeast Idaho
Updated last Thursday, November 27, 2008
The Putnam Peaks in the Portneuf Range
from the Fort Hall Reservation
© Ralph Maughan
Much of SE Idaho consists of narrow mountain ranges separated by broad valleys (It is part of the Great Basin that includes most of Nevada and western Utah).
Small roadless areas remain in most of these southern Idaho ranges. Many of the roadless areas are not particularly pristine, however, usually due to livestock impacts, which are often heavy, although this is also true of some important areas inside the National Wilderness Preservation System (such as the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and the High Uintas in Utah). Four wheel drive roads, though often faint, are present in some of them, e.g., the West Fork of Mink Creek. So some of these areas are of marginal wilderness quality.
Nevertheless, some are highly scenic, and/or close to population centers, such as Pocatello. Their importance as backcountry areas is beginning to be recognized. This page is devoted to providing knowledge of some of these places.
The Bannock Range
The Bannock Mountain range is a long and generally narrow chain of mountains. It begins on the north at the city of Pocatello, Idaho and humps southward for about 70 miles. It is quite variable in height. There are numerous low places but several high peaks--in the neighborhood of 8500 to 9000 feet. Scout Mountain and Old Tom are the first high areas. Southward then comes the Elkhorn Mountain/Wakely Peak area. Then the range jogs a bit to the east and there stands Oxford Peak at over 9000 feet. In this vicinity a somewhat separate range develops to the west called the "Clarkston Mountains". The Clarkston Mountains run southward to just beyond the Utah border, terminating in bold, Gunsight Peak. Each of these uplifts has a roadless area.
THE SCOUT MOUNTAIN-OLD TOM ROADLESS AREA
Scout Mountain. Scout Mountain/Old Tom roadless area
Copyright © Ralph Maughan
Scout Mountain is the prominent landmark just to the south of the city of Pocatello (pop. 60,000). Old Tom is a long, sharp ridge just south of Scout Mountain, separated from it by a pass. Old Tom is named after a lame cougar that once inhabited the mountain. Cougar live on today in the area.
Back in 1977 when the area was first inventoried, the roadless area was 31,000 acres. Due to timber harvest it is now reduced to 22,610 acres. This roadless area and surrounding forest lands gets heavy recreational use. The Westside (formerly called the Pocatello) Ranger District improved its practices and now manages more for recreation than before. There is also less timber cutting. Unfortunately, grazing abuse seems to be on the increase. Last Updated 11-27-2008
Click here for photos of the area.
THE WEST FORK OF MINK CREEK ROADLESS AREA
West Fork of Mink Creek trail (very popular). Copyright © Ralph Maughan
The West Fork Mink Creek/Gibson Jack roadless area lies about a mile to the west of the Scout Mountain/Old Tom roadless area described above.
In contrast to the rugged peaks in the Scout Mountain area, West Fork/Gibson Jack is mostly rolling uplands, with numerous meadows, aspen groves, pockets of Douglas fir, and most importantly, some land not grazed by domestic livestock. The result is plant variety and luxuriant growth not commonly found these mountains.
About five-thousand acres in the West Mink and Gibson Jack Creek watersheds have not been grazed by livestock for several generations. Moreover, they have been designated "research natural areas by the Caribou National Forest.
Because of the relatively gentle character of the area, the relatively luxuriant vegetation, and substantial trail system, the areas gets much hiking, horse riding, jogging, and motorbike use, although the popular West Mink and Gibson Jack trails are closed to use by motorized vehicles.
Waters flowing from the mountains south of Pocatello (down Mink Creek) provide almost all of the city water supply (through a sole source aquifer). The economic importance of keeping the groundwater pure has begun to dawn on Pocatello public officials.
ELKHORN MOUNTAIN ROADLESS AREA
This the largest of the roadless areas in the Bannock Range. The Elkhorn Mountain/Wakely Peak area of high peaks is about fifteen miles south of Scout Mountain/Old Tom. The total roadless area was inventoried at 43,723 acres in 1996.
Most of the area is steep and rocky with patches of conifers -- limber pine, subalpine fir and Douglas fir. Quaking aspen and mountain maple are also common. Much of the area is dominated by Elkhorn Mountain which rises abruptly about 4500 feet above Malad Valley. The high point is South Elkhorn at 9095 feet. Wakley Peak is the northernmost significant high point at 8801 feet elevation.
The area is home to deer, a few elk, cougar and a few bear. There are a number of small creeks and springs, the most significant being Summit Creek. There is an extensive but poorly-maintained trail system. The Forest Service promised to improve the trail system, but unfortunately this meant building an ATV trail over the range without bothering to inform the public. They are planning still more ATV trails. Hopefully, some can be stopped. In years past those parts of the area accessible to cattle have been overgrazed. In recent years, the overgrazing situation has been improved by a reduction in cattle numbers.
Photos of Elkhorn
OXFORD MOUNTAIN ROADLESS AREA
Oxford Peak. Copyright © Ralph Maughan
Oxford Mountain is another lofty part of the Bannock Range, with one of the bigger roadless areas in that mountain range -- 41,000 acres. It is located about 8 miles NE of the town of Malad, Idaho. It is a very steep ridge with scattered patches of limber pine, subalpine fir, and Douglas fir.
The high northern end of Oxford Mountain is Oxford Peak, which rises to just over 9000 feet. Viewing it from the north it looks like a lot like the cone of a stratovolcano. In reality Oxford Mountain is a complicated non-volcanic ridge on the margins of the Great Basin and the Overthrust Belt.
Compared to other Idaho mountains, Oxford Mountain isn't all that high; but on wet and cold years there is a cornice on its east-facing side (toward Cache Valley) that doesn't melt.
Oxford Mountain, like Elkhorn Mountain has suffered in recent years from Forest Service ATV trail building. They built a trail right up the bottom of Cherry Creek, and ATVs have pretty much pushed horse riders and hikers off the mountain unless they want to ride over rough cross country or bushwhack.
Click here for photos. Updated 11-27-2008
THE CLARKSTON RANGE ROADLESS AREA
Gunsight Peak. © Ralph Maughan
This is a subrange of the Bannock Range.
Near Oxford Mountain in the southern part of the Bannock Range, the Clarkston Range splits and runs parallel to the rest of the range until it reaches is terminus just inside the state of Utah at Gunsight Peak, the most significant point in the range.
Most of the range is fairly low and covered with sagebrush and juniper -- a typical-looking small Great Basin mountain range. Most of the range is roadless, about 22,000 acres in narrow strip ten miles long and one or two miles wide.
The area is mostly used for grazing, deer hunting, and incidental recreation. There are a number of small caves. Updated 11-27-2008
Click here for photos.
The Portneuf Range
Haystack Mountain from the Lavas
© Ralph Maughan
The Portneuf Range is east of the Bannock Range, and it runs parallel to it. The two mountain ranges are separated by Marsh Valley on the north and by the northern part of Cache Valley on their south. The Portneuf Range is a little bit shorter than the Bannock Range (about 15 miles shorter).
There are three roadless areas in the Portneuf Range --
- Bonneville Peak, updated 9/25/05. Beautiful autumn colors late Sept. to mid-October.
Bonneville Peak. Late sun. © Ralph Maughan
- Toponce, updated 10-22-05. More and more it looks like this is the roadless area the Caribou NF ranger district at Pocatello is going to manage for primitive backcountry recreation and wildlife. Old 4 x 4 trails have been closed and revegetated. No motors are allowed in the summer. Part of the area, all on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation burned in September 2005, including almost all of Putnam Peak. None of the Forest Service part of the roadless area burned. Grazing use is minor.
- and the very small North Pebble roadless area.
Autumn. Sept. 2005. North Pebble roadless area.
© Ralph Maughan
Bonneville Peak is the largest of the three, and the most threatened.
South of the Bonneville Peak roadless area, the Portneuf Range continues on, almost to the Utah border. Most of the southern portion of the range is State of Idaho "school endowment" land and private land. It is pretty well trashed country from overgrazing, although there are nice views into the distance and some fine peaks, such as Sedgwick Peak. Numerous houses and subdivisions have grown up in the Lava Hot Springs (town) area.
Updated 11-27-2008. The Preuss Range is a short mountain range, one among many such ranges, near the Wyoming border to the east of Soda Springs, Bloomington and Montpelier, Idaho. This mountain range lies just to the northwest of the Gannett Hills. There are two roadless areas left in the range -- Meade Peak/Snowdrift Ridge and Hell Hole.
The Preuss Range marks the western edge of the Middle Rocky Mountain province (where it meets the Great Basin province). The Middle Rockies along Idaho/Wyoming border have a number of closely-packed ranges including the Preuss Range, the Aspen Range, Grays Range, Webster Range, Henry Range, Caribou Range, and the Gannett Hills.
Lesser roadless areas of the Caribou National Forest/ firstname.lastname@example.org