The Palisades roadless area.

Palisades and Little Palisades Peak in the center of the roadless area (mid-June)

Palisades and Little Palisades Peak ridgeline. Idaho-Wyoming border
This ridgeline is almost exactly on the Idaho-Wyoming border.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan


The Palisades Backcountry, as it is often called, is the premier roadless area of the Idaho/Wyoming border. Over 200,000 acres in size, it encompasses most the Snake River mountain range (the range that begins where the Tetons end, near the southern end of Jackson Hole, Wyoming).

It is a rugged, but well watered range, composed of soft sedimentary rocks, shaped by glaciers and running water. The explorer will be impressed by the lush vegetation, but good views are common because the canyons are kept open with an amazing number of avalanche meadows. The land is unstable and rockslides and earthflows are fairly common -- the latter especially after a couple wet years in a row.

The high meadows have exceptional flower displays in July and August. Meadows along the Idaho/Wyoming border mountains differ from most of Idaho in that they contain little grass, but many tall perennials such as cow parsnip, penstemon, lupine, monkshood, and western coneflower. These plants grow so tall that little-used trails are easy to follow in June, but by August the annual growth has almost totally obscured them. Perhaps the greatest example of avalanches and seasonal growth is in the Dry Fork of Wolf Creek at the south end of the range.

Palisades roadless area. North from North Indian Divide
Looking north from the North Indian/South Indian Divide. Early July.
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Elk and moose are abundant, especially in Palisades and Big Elk Creek, one of those rare places in eastern Idaho where the Forest Service does not permit the grazing of domestic livestock on public land. There is a population of mountain goats in the Palisades/Big Elk Creek area. The goat herd was expanding, but is now in decline with some laying the blame on the Forest Service's inattention to the effects of  heli-skiing. Heli-skiing is also a threat to the wolverine which den under the snow in high bowls accessed by the helicopters.  

The Forest Service took a second look before renewing or expanding the heli-skiing permit.

Forest officials withdraw heli-skiing permit. Casper Star Tribune. January 20, 2005.

Unfortunately they didn't change their minds. Jackson-area heli-skiing gets OK. Associated Press. July 6, 2005.

The area has become accessible to snowmobiles too. The Forest Service won't keep them out, and they are undoubtedly taking a toll on the wildlife, especially up in the high cirque basins (the "high bowls").


Red osier dogwood along Palisades Creek in early spring (April)
Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Black bear are relatively common, and the Palisades area is a likely dispersion place for both grizzly bear and the reintroduced wolves. The peregrine falcon has been restored to the cliffs above Palisades Creek.


North Fork of Indian Creek (in the Wyoming portion)

no-indiancr1.jpg (48741 bytes)

Copyright © Ralph Maughan
July 1999


The Targhee National Forest has recommended about 1/3 of the roadless area to be designated as Wilderness. Much of the Wyoming portion of the Palisades roadless area was designated as a "wilderness study area" by Congress. It's a kind of limbo classification where the Forest Service is supposed to "protect the wilderness values" of the area pending final congressional act; action that never seems to come, and FS less than strict about the protection.

The popularity of the Palisades backcountry area is increasing rapidly. The major trails are all on the Idaho side of the range (except Wolf Creek). Palisades Creek, Big Elk Creek, and Little Elk Creek are closed to motorbikes and ATVs. Hiking, mountain biking, and horse use is, in response to the closure to motor vehicles, therefore heavy by Idaho standards.


Copyright © Ralph Maughan

A mid-June snowstorm near Red Peak and Deadhorse Peaks at the southern end of the Palisades roadless area.


All of the area is rugged and scenic, but in my opinion the southern end of the Snake River Range and roadless area is the most beautiful.

As one travels southward, the name "Snake River Range" ends at the at the Grand Canyon of the Snake River. However, the Salt River Range continues on from there for many miles into Wyoming. It really is the same mountain range.


South Fork Indian Creek. Snake River Range

Copyright © Ralph Maughan.
Photo. View down the South Fork of Indian Creek in early July

Visits since Jan. 20, 2005

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Palisades roadless area, eastern Idaho/ rmaughan2@cableone.net  / July 31, 2005