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Nine Wilderness Hero Hikes

Nine hikes as big as the hearts of their namesake wilderness visionaries.

Frank Church–River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho

Frank Church knew his way through the wilderness of Washington politics as well as any senator ever did. A renowned speaker on foreign relations, he also became a leader in wilderness legislation, acting as the floor leader for the 1964 Wilderness Act, writing the Wild And Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, and remaining a staunch advocate of many environmental issues until his retirement from the Senate in 1980. But even though most of his life centered around Washington’s Beltway, he never forgot the value of sleeping under the stars. “I never knew a man who felt self-important in the morning after spending a night in the open on an Idaho mountainside.” On April 7, 1984, just a few weeks before his death, Congress named the largest wilderness in the contiguous United States for the esteemed senator from Idaho, giving hikers 2.3 million acres of mountainside where they could hike, camp, and sleep under the stars.

On the trail: This wilderness is huge, containing parts of six national forests and more than 700 miles of maintained trails. The 43-mile (round-trip) Pistol Creek Trail will lead you through fields of wildflowers, past a succession of creeks (many bearing the names of guns such as Luger, Winchester, and Popgun), and to the banks of the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the fabled “River of No Return.” Deep snow and swollen-creek crossings can be a problem, so call for conditions. Because of the rugged terrain there are surprisingly few options for loop trips in this wilderness, although the Pistol Creek Trail can be linked with the trails up Indian Creek to create a 64-mile loop.

Contact: Challis National Forest, Middle Fork District, Box 750, Challis, ID 83226; (208) 879-4101.

Trail guide: Trails of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, by Margaret Fuller. Signpost Books, 8912 192nd St. SW, Edmonds, WA 98020; $14.95.

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