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Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48?
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David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48? on 06/09/2011 19:47:15 MDT Print View

I'm thinking it might be the 300 or so miles of Idaho Centennial Trail, as it passes thru Frank Church River of No Return and Selway-Bitterroot.

I'm looking for established trail entirely in designated wilderness(es), longest unbroken straight line (ie, not a loop). I understand there's one dirt road dividing FC-RNR and SB areas, but am willing to fudge that.

Any other candidates? I'm thinking about a potential trip/project for next summer. Sorry to say, even though I live in Idaho, I've never hiked FC-RNR or SB, so if I'm way off base here, let me know.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Re: Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48? on 06/09/2011 20:34:36 MDT Print View

The Boundary Trail/Pacific Northwest Trail in Washington's Pasayten Wilderness might be a candidate for the longest in a single wilderness area. It's 93 (if I calculated right) miles from the eastern end of the Pasayten Wilderness to Ross Lake. It's another 9 miles to the next road, but with motorboats on Ross Lake, that last stretch is hardly wilderness. Here's an excellent trip report:

The Highline/Fremont trail from Green River Lakes to Big Sandy Opening through the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming's Wind Rivers is 73 miles, but you could add at least 25-30 miles of mandatory (IMHO) sidetrips. Some of these side trips will take you over the Continental Divide to the east side of the range, which is 100% wilderness (nothing in between), but not the same wilderness area. A few of of those sidetrips would be on trails that formerly were established but which the Forest Service no longer maintains. They still get a fair amount of use, though, and don't require climbing skills. I'm thinking particularly of the Hay Pass trail over to Golden Lakes.

Edited by hikinggranny on 06/09/2011 20:38:07 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
big wilderness on 06/09/2011 21:27:54 MDT Print View

If you're willing to go with roadless rather than capitol W juridical Wilderness options open up a bit.

The Frank/Selway still might win.

North to South you can go from the Canadian border through Glacier and the whole Bob complex with two paved road crossings and no dirt roads in 200+ trail miles.

Linking the Winds into the Teton Wilderness, Yellowstone, and the Absarokas would be the other big one.

Sadly the desert SW is very fragmented with dirt roads, though a lot of them are very isolated.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48? on 06/09/2011 21:38:17 MDT Print View

The PCT has about 150 miles without a road.

Jack H.
(Found) - F

Locale: Sacramento, CA
Re: Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48? on 06/09/2011 21:46:36 MDT Print View

My understanding is that it's the PCT from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows. That is 245.4 miles. It passes near a road at Red's Meadow but does not cross one. "Straight" is hard to qualify, as all of these trails zig zag and on most of them you can extend the distance by zig zagging even more.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Longest section of unbroken wilderness in the lower 48 on 06/09/2011 21:57:36 MDT Print View

The Thorofare Region in Yellowstone is the most remote and isolated in the lower 48. Roads are definitely few and far between. Not quite the distance of the JMT but a larger foot print overall.

Terry Trimble
(socal-nomad) - F

Locale: North San Diego county
Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48 on 06/09/2011 22:51:48 MDT Print View

I would think trails in the arizona desert to be the longest, Who hiked there?

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Thanks on 06/10/2011 11:13:53 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the info. Found a map of US wilderness areas on, which gave me a sense of the places suggested.

I guess by 'straight' I mean a route that feels like it's a hike from point A to point B, without significant detours. The PCT stretch Jack cited looks like the longest by that measure, without any road crossing. Something in the 250-300 miles range is what I was expecting. Not looking to do anything heroic, just something that challenges myself.

Still interested in the hike in my home state (Frank-Selway), in spite of the single dirt road crossing. It looks more isolated, and I expect the ICT has a lot less traffic than PCT in California. Logistics would also be easier for me. Still, I don't know either area at all.

Can anyone with experience on the Frank-Selway route comment on the quality of hiking there, compared to CA PCT? I know there's a guidebook to the Idaho Centennial Trail, that I'll order in a few days for more info.

Thanks again.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Frank v. PCT on 06/10/2011 12:24:31 MDT Print View

During the hiking season that stretch of the PCT is rather to very traveled/crowded. The trail is dead obvious and well maintained, the views are tremendous.

I've hiked in the Selway region and mountain biked the Magruder Road. The Magruder doesn't get used a ton even in summer, and is a pretty low-profile road crossing. The trails in the Selway, and I assume the Frank, are still fairly well used, especially by horse packers. They do get hiked on a lot less than the PCT in the Sierras, and will feel more remote, and be more likely to have overgrown tread, unsawn deadfall, and so forth.

The scenery is also very different. Some of the river valleys which drain into the Selway have a real PNW feel, with big trees (some gorgeous old-growth cedars in spots), little undergrowth, and so forth. You get good views from ridgetops upon occasion, but it's not alpine terrain with huge and varied panoramas.

Brian Frankle has a narration of the ICT that used to be up on the ULA site that is worth perusing.

Edited by DaveC on 06/10/2011 12:25:30 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48? on 06/10/2011 15:32:25 MDT Print View

I think the Frank Church option would provide you with not only the lack of roads you are hoping for but also the lack of people and other traffic.

Here's the ICT page I wrote for Wiki:

Frankle's original page about it is missing but a decent chunk of it is archived here:

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Longest section of unbroken wilderness trail in lower 48? on 06/10/2011 15:53:34 MDT Print View

Thanks, David and Sam. Found Brian Frankle's pages here:

...after finding the pages linked from the wiki article missing. (Nice article, BTW, Sam) Great account from Frankle, with very good day-by-day detail. Frank Church and Selway is looking good for what I have in mind. Not something I'll do before next summer tho', so I've got time to think.

Thanks again.

Edited by DavidDrake on 06/10/2011 15:58:23 MDT.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Re: Frank v. PCT on 06/10/2011 18:14:13 MDT Print View

"During the hiking season that stretch of the PCT is rather to very traveled/crowded."

Not true at all. If you hike the JMT section during thru-hiker season (starting in early June in normal snow years, later this year), you will see few hikers other than PCT thru-hikers. And since the thru-hikers are moving north at similar speeds, you won't see too many of them.

The drawback, of course, is having to navigate over snow and ford swollen streams. But that's a small price to pay for a lot of solitude

Edited by sschloss1 on 06/10/2011 19:30:39 MDT.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Re: Frank v. PCT on 06/10/2011 19:40:07 MDT Print View

Thanks, Scott.

The PCT is definitely on my life-list, tho' I may have to wait for retirement or tenure-track job (plus tenure and sabbatical) to make it a reality. I'm sort of a mid-life second career guy, so that may be awhile.

Perhaps I should explain a bit more about my interest. First, of course, is the opportunity for a long-ish hike through (virtually) roadless wilderness. Second, I have in mind a writing project using the hike as a kind of backbone to discuss how ideas about wilderness and civilization have affected landscapes in the West, esp. the change from thinking of wilderness as land to be conquered and settled, to thinking of wilderness as land to be preserved and protected.

Frank Church/Selway is compelling to me for several reasons. First, the protected area is very large--Frank Church I believe is considered one of if not the largest contiguous wilderness area in lower 48. Second, area is not as well known as JMT/Sierra--less has been written about it before. Third, as Frankle's trail journals indicate, there are extant backcountry ranches and airstrips in the Frank, and the ruins of earlier settlements, mining operation, etc. Obviously there's that in CA too, but again ID is much less written about. Finally, Frank/Selway is the site of successful "re-wilding" (wolf reintroduction) and has been discussed for grizzly reintroduction. In Idaho, this is all very controversial, making for an interesting story as a lot of the debate today isn't too different from that when Muir and other early conservationists were alive. On the down side, my usual hiking preference is to be out of the trees and up high--it seems Frank/Selway has less of that to offer than other places.

I'll be starting a part-time faculty position this fall in the Landscape Architecture dept. at Washington State University, so plan to make background research for the hike part of my academic activities outside teaching over the next year. Basically, the goal here is to find some way to incorporate part of my profession into backpacking, rather than my profession distracting from it.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Frank wilderness on 06/10/2011 19:47:23 MDT Print View

David, that sounds like a really cool project, and the Frank/Selway complex certainly suits your needs. Go for it, and report back!

Scott, I have been there that time of year, and by MT standards your account is not accurate (re crowds).

chuck w
(kcwins) - F

Locale: WY
look on 06/30/2011 05:03:36 MDT Print View

Look into the Absaroka's in N.W. Wyoming East of Jellystone and the Tetons.