The Wild West Trail began as dream to connect the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48 states with a long distance backpacking route. Running through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the WWT stays in the back-country for 91% of its total length. The route works hard to take advantage of existing trails, combining sections of the Idaho Centennial Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail, as well as numerous unnamed routes, staying far away from development. Inky black skies, world class trout fishing, and the opportunity for big game viewing awaits the intrepid hiker who dares tackle the WWT.
The largest wilderness area south of Alaska, The Frank Church River of No-Return wilderness, spans 3.3 million acres of roadless territory. Separated only by a dirt road from the Selway Bitter-Root Wilderness, central Idaho is North America’s untamed heart. Combined, these Idaho wilderness areas cover 4.4 million acres of rugged and mountainous landscapes.
This is absolutely giant territory, twice as large as Rhode Island. Walking from South to North is nearly the same length as Vermont’s Long Trail, and that’s only the Idaho wilderness section.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, situated in Montana is nearly as large, 2.54 million acres of roadless territory. The WWT threads both areas, promising the ultimate backcountry backpacking experience.
The trailhead is located in the Jarbidge Wilderness. This is one of the most remote locations in the United States. Lacking paved roads, the nearby town of Jarbidge has barely 100 full time residents.
Why did we pick this location to start the trail?
When looking at wilderness areas in the United States, the Jarbidge Wilderness stands out as isolated, beautiful, and relatively close to the Idaho border. Connecting this land with the rest of the WWT helped cement the purpose of the trail, to find the wildest route through America.
While Jarbidge is small, it still offers a launching point that can be used for the next class of hikers. Theoretically, it can also be used as the starting point for ICT hikers. Getting dropped off in the middle of the desert may not be as enticing as starting in town, albeit a tiny one. There is a general store and a post office, perfect for re-supply.
On top of the utility the town provides, the Jarbidge Wilderness area is among the oldest in the country and the least visited. Boasting the headwaters of the Jarbidge River, the mountains here rise out of the desert and create an oasis. The air quality is also considered pristine and is the cleanest in the country.
Walking north out of Nevada, the WWT synchronizes with the Idaho Centennial Trail until its northern terminus. The ICT is possibly the least hiked thru-trail in the United States. While no official records exist, as of 2017, successful thru-hikes could number less than 100. Combining this beautiful route with the WWT just makes sense.
The trail follows the edge of the Jarbridge-Bruneau canyon where views of the river historically drove pioneers mad. The canyon walls are too steep to make water resupply realistic and wagon trails along the Oregon trail could only stare in frustration. Nowadays, this part of the trail requires water caches. To learn more about securing your own water cache, read Support The Trail.
After successfully navigating the desert, the Sawtooth Mountains take the trail through extreme, rugged beauty. Alpine lakes and pine forests await exploration. Wolves and Elk call this area home and Idaho’s remote interior is the largest unbroken temperate forest in the world. The Frank Church River of No-Return is found here and makes up the longest roadless hiking section of the trail.
After navigating the wilderness, the trail follows the border of Montana and Idaho as it nears the panhandle. Walking the ridgelines offer views of seemingly endless forests as the wet Pacific Northwest Climate slowly starts to take over.
North Idaho, although lacking official wilderness designation, offers ample roadless wilderness opportunities. The dense forests and Pacific Northwest Climate make this section of the trail simply outstanding.
Truly frontier status, the name Wild West Trail was chosen to reflect the emotion of the route.
Crossing through Big Sky country, the WWT passes through flatter landscapes as it marches towards the Greater Yellowstone Eco-system. Enjoy Montana’s ranching country and witness wide open spaces.
As the trail enters Yellowstone, the mountains loom large. Hiking here here provides exceptional backcountry experiences and the Gallatin Petrified Forest offers a unique look back in time. This area of North America may be the most beautiful and biologically diverse corner of the United States. Herds of bison, pronghorn, elk, and mule deer provide food for grizzly bear, wolves, and mountain lions.
Upon entering Yellowstone National Park, the trail goes east and into the surrounding wilderness areas. Following the Lamar River Valley, some of the most plentiful herds of bison in the world can be found here. Hot springs, wildlife, and backcountry fishing await. For over 2oo miles, the trail traverses river valleys and climbs mountains.
Nearing the end, the WWT goes south, into the Tetons. Huge and iconic, this backdrop provides photographic opportunities like nowhere else on the planet. The WWT follows wilderness areas and tip-toes on the National Park boundary as it creeps through trails that make running into another hiker unlikely. The WWT culminates on the Teton Crest Trail, providing high altitude backpacking and a climactic finish.
Overall, the hike blazes a trail through some of the largest, unbroken ecosystems left in our country. Wildlife, clean air, immaculate water, and the unknown serve as the framework for the Wild West Trail.
Idaho’s panhandle and giant lakes offer beauty and serenity as the trail nears Canada. Only 27 miles south of the ICT’s northern terminus, the Pacific Northwest Trail crosses paths and this is where the WWT makes an eastwardly turn.
Walking east, along the PNT, the trail stays wild. Over mountains and through valleys, this sparsely hiked route through the Crown of the Continent promises solitude and grizzly bear territory. The term Crown of Continent is bestowed upon Montana’s northwest corner, celebrating what is one of the most intact ecosystems on the planet. Nearly unchanged since Lewis and Clark, the WWT walks through its heart.
Crossing into Glacier National Park and making a southward turn, the WWT stays in the wilderness. Here, the trail coincides with the Continental Divide Trail and follows it south. Passing through Glacier National Park, The Great Bear Wilderness, Bob Marshall Wilderness, and Scapegoat Wilderness, this section of trail stays wild for over 200 miles.
Enjoy over 3 million square miles of roadless country. Nearly as large as Idaho’s wilderness, the Northern Rocky Mountain Ecosystem is connected through the WWT. As conservation efforts intensify, having a long distance hiking trail will only strengthen the value of these wilderness areas.
The Wild West Trail is a culmination of ideas, hikes, and most of all, people. Each section of the trail has been pioneered by rugged individuals looking to experience the American backcountry. The WWT would not be possible without previous hikers, gracefully stepping where few have gone before.
It is the ambition of this website and organization to create a funding mechanism that can create a sustainable source of revenue around the WWT and trails it follows.
We are providing a service to bury water caches in the Owyhee desert for Idaho Centennial Trail and Wild West Trail thru-hikers.
Looking across the web, the outdoor movement is a fast growing phenomenon. Long distance hiking in the past few years has exploded in popularity. Hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail are so flooded with people that some are discussing ways to control the crowds.
With so much interest being focused on our beautiful public lands, creating a new trail provides another outlet for the backpacking community.
Incorporating modern marketing techniques, cutting edge content creation, and tapping into the growing popularity of backpacking, the potential to have a popular thru-hike that helps alleviates the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest trail of crowds is a real possibility.
Supporting the trail in monetary terms is how we keep this website operational and trail maps updated. While the WWT is still in its infancy, there is potential to achieve tangible, real world results.
Logistically, burying water before a thru-hike is an impossible task for most hikers. It requires a 4×4 vehicle, or in this case, an off-road capable motorcycle. Many miles from the nearest pavement, the expedition alone is a multi-day one. It is our belief, that if we can organize water drops, hikers will come.
This all ties into the main theme of this website, to present the Wild West Trail as an accessible route. Because the trail is such a new idea, we plan to take full advantage of communication technology and build the brand through the internet.
Previous trails took decades to accrue enough knowledge to make hiking accessible for everyone. With modern tools, we can now disseminate information virtually instantly.
Planning a long distance hike is no longer a pipe dream for the very few. It has become an activity for everyone, all ages, sexes, and race. And the Wild West Trail is here to introduce an entire generation of Americans to the wildest corner of their country.
Supporting the trail is easy to do and we have created a myriad of options for all those interested.
Support the Trail
- Shop. We will be selling GPX downloads and guidebooks of the trail! Check out some of the other trails we have available.
- Monetizing content. All videos will be monetized in hopes of accumulating enough views to cycle profits back into the website, maps, and trail. If you do use adblock, we would appreciate you pausing it for our stuff! Don’t worry, we don’t put ads inside the video, only at the beginning.
- Affiliate Marketing. We look forward to providing ample links to gear recommendations for your own thru-hike. Any purchases made from a link that is shared through wildwesttrail.co will earn the WWT a certain commission. If you are in the market for some gear, check out some of our reviews and lists.
As new opportunities present themselves, we will be incorporating them if they make sense with the overall purpose of the WWT. That being said, we are open to new ideas and if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us here.
What is the Wild West?
To understand the importance of wilderness, we must understand the western frontier and its place in American culture. The settlement of America’s “Wild West” and its legacy has penetrated deep into the psyche of all Americans. The rugged individual, frontier families, and the taming of the wilderness, all have a place in modern society.
The nostalgia for the West releases the inner desires of all people to be free.
Free from having to live a life dictated by other people, free to make your own way. Free from tyrannical government, free from being told how how to live.
Wide open spaces and untamed wilderness were as much a part of the Wild West as were the people who settled it. There were no dams, factories, slums, and cities, it was wide open and ready for new settlers.
Of course, we cannot mention the Wild West without acknowledging Native Americans and their place on the continent. As white settlers pushed ever westward, Native Americans were quickly being eradicated, with force.
The settlement of the frontier ended by the late 1800’s but the ambition and dream of the Wild West lives on. There are few, if any stories more readily passed down through American society than that of the Wild West.
Dreams of Wilderness
Almost every other country on Earth does not have wilderness areas. Europe, India, China, all of the largest population centers, none have what we do in America. The lands of North America are still under-populated and the open space it affords allows us to continue lifestyles focused around individualism.
As our population continues to grow, we become increasingly separated from the benefits of the wilderness. Large urban areas expand and the distance to a night sky unaffected by light pollution is ever growing. Our highways continue to widen as our wild and open spaces continue to shrink.
But the dream of wilderness lives on. Even with the rate of development and growth, conservation movement and idea of wild, open spaces, does not die.
We are one of the few, if only, countries that have collectively set aside millions of acres of land, for the sole purpose of enjoying the solitude it offers. We can hunt, fish, recreate, and still practice being free people. It is the privilege of being an American that lets us experience clean air and clean water, free from crowded cities.
There is no more unexplored territory on this planet. No more dark spots on the map, no undiscovered mountain peaks. But what we do have is a uniquely American invention. We have cleared the land of people. Prevented settlements and economic systems from taking hold.
The wilderness, as we know it, is an invention by Americans, for Americans. And it is quite possibly the most delightful and important feature of our culture.
Man and woman, old and young, from any racial and ethnic background, is able to experience the land without the pressures and constraints of the modern world. All of us can experience a simpler way of life, if only for a short amount of time.
Almost nowhere else could a 2,000 mile trail offer such remote beauty.
The Wild West Trail is named after the emotion of the American West. The ideals of freedom, liberty, and independence that drew the original settlers west can still be found on the hike. Enjoy the increasingly rare and precious resources we have, open space, clean wair, and clean water.
The WWT encapsulates what makes the wilderness so captivating and provides a backpacking trail like of no equal.
The farther one gets in the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom
President of the United States of America
If you look throughout human history … the central epiphany of every religious tradition always occurs in the wilderness
US Attorney General
The great purpose is to set aside a reasonable part of the vanishing wilderness, to make certain that generations of Americans yet unborn will know what it is to experience life on undeveloped, unoccupied land in the same form and character as the Creator fashioned it
In a civilization which requires most lives to be passed amid inordinate dissonance, pressure and intrusion, the chance of retiring now and then to the quietude and privacy of sylvan haunts becomes for some people a psychic necessity. It is only the possibility of convalescing in the wilderness which saves them from being destroyed by the terrible neural tension of modern existence
American Forester and Pioneer of the Wilderness Movement
The farther one goes, the less one knows
Tao Te Ching