Are you looking for the next great wilderness backpacking trail? Over 2,000 miles of undeveloped landscapes have been connected and await discovery. The Wild West Trail (WWT) is America’s newest and wildest hiking trail. It traverses the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States and it’s virtually unknown.
The hike was born from the quest to find a true wilderness experience. Other thru-hikes, such as the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, have sections of wilderness but none are encapsulated by it, from beginning to end. The WWT has been designed to stray as far from civilization as is possible inside the continental United States.
Traversing 13 wilderness areas, 18 national forests and 3 national parks, the WWT promises the greatest wilderness trek a backpacker can conquer while hiking a temperate climate. Following a path of most remoteness, this hike is for the adventurous sole seeking a truly wild experience.
- 1 The Hiking Trail Begins in the Jarbidge Wilderness, Nevada
- 2 Hiking the Owyhee Desert
- 3 Remote and Rugged Idaho
- 4 A Trek Across the Crown of the Continent
- 5 A Hike Through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
- 6 Finish the Trek in the Grand Tetons
- 7 A Rare Long Distance Hiking Trail
- 8 Wilderness is as American as Apple Pie
- 9 America’s Manifest Destiny
- 10 Our Most Precious Resources are Clean Air, Clean Water, and Open Space
- 11 Independence, Freedom, and American Individualism
The Hiking Trail Begins in the Jarbidge Wilderness, Nevada
The trail begins in northern Nevada, where the most isolated town in America stakes its claim. Without a paved road within 20 miles, this starting point captures the essence of remoteness.
The Jarbidge Wilderness is home to the cleanest air in the country. The endangered bull trout swim in the rivers and the mountains rise from the surrounding landscape. The views from the peaks allow a hiker to see the Sawtooth Mountains, over 100 miles north, in Idaho.
Hiking the Owyhee Desert
Upon descending from the mountains, the WWT follows the Idaho Centennial Trail (ICT) through the Owyhee Desert. With the darkest skies in Idaho, the desert ensures a pristine, quiet, and awe-inspring section.
The ICT is one of the least visited thru-hikes in the country. Although no official statistics exist, it is thought that fewer than 100 people have completed it.
The desert section required water drops as none exist until crossing the Snake River. Depositing water caches is no easy task. The dirt roads that allow access to the trail are not maintained and require a 4×4 vehicle with enough clearance to make the trip.
Remote and Rugged Idaho
Once in the Sawtooth mountains, central Idaho’s vast wilderness is put on full display. Traversing the Sawtooth, River of No Return, and Selway-Bitterroot Wildernesses, this section of the trail passes through the largest unbroken temperate forest on the planet. Coincidentally, it is also the largest wilderness area south of Alaska.
Continuing north, the trail keeps far from population centers. It eventually leaves the drier mountains behind and makes its way to the beautiful lake country of North Idaho. Here, in the Panhandle of Idaho, is located the world’s most intact inland temperate rainforest.
Both the WWT and ICT continue through the Pacific Northwest Climate and hike the old growth Douglas Fir forests.
A Trek Across the Crown of the Continent
From Idaho’s panhandle, the Wild West Trail diverges from the ICT and follows the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) east. Passing over the continental divide, this stretch of trail is rarely hiked and the ecosystem is a primeval one.
Considered to be nearly unchanged since Lewis and Clark first passed through, pure wilderness awaits.
After crossing into Glacier National Park, the hike takes a southward turn. Leaving the PNT behind, the trail briefly shares the same paths as the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).
Bordering the Glacier National Park’s southern edge, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex awaits. Over 2.5 million acres of roadless territory makes this wilderness area nearly as large as Central Idaho’s. The WWT connects both – creating a trip of a lifetime.
A Hike Through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
The trek continues south, separating itself from the CDT. Passing through Big Sky Montana, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem looms ahead. From here, the WWT descends the Spanish Peaks, through the Gallatin Petrified Forest, and into Yellowstone National Park.
Inside the park, the trail stays to the north. The Lamar River Valley opens up and the hike passes by this wild geographic feature.
The Lamar Valley sometimes referred to America’s Serengeti, is on full display. Herds of Bison, Elk, and Antelope are common sights. Black bears, grizzlies, and wolves are also commonly spotted here. It is the finest large animal viewing anywhere in the country.
Sometimes forgotten about, the National Park is flanked with impressive wilderness areas. Following the Lamar River, the WWT leaves the park boundaries and finds itself once again in a land free of backcountry permits. Although close to America’s most popular National Park, there are few, if any, hikers on these trails.
Finish the Trek in the Grand Tetons
The Wild West Trails drops south into the Grand Tetons, hiking the most iconic peaks in North America. It is a fitting end to such breathtaking route. In keeping with the wilderness theme, the trail curls to the wilderness area, west of the mountains. Trails here see little hiking pressure as they are far from paved roads.
The Wild West Trail climbs onto the Teton Crest Trail and walks the greatest high altitude hike in the country. The trail terminus is also the trailhead for the Teton Crest Trail, just outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
A Rare Long Distance Hiking Trail
As the world’s population spirals ever upwards, open and undeveloped space has become a rare commodity. If you are fortunate enough to live near one of these areas, it is easy to forget just how rare a thing it is. On almost every other continent, the population has demanded development.
It is only in America that such a hike could even be conceived. Nowhere else does this amount of wilderness exist. This is not a vast arctic landscape but a forested one with wildlife and deserts. The trail enjoys all 4 seasons, allowing for enough time to complete a 2,000+ hike.
Wilderness is as American as Apple Pie
When the word wilderness is conjured up, immediately, thoughts turn to unexplored regions and places where humans have never stepped foot. While this is a romantic idea, it is not one based in reality. Humans have been on this planet for over 200,000 years. There is not a corner of the globe that we have not explored and exploited.
America and specifically North America was settled in a unique way, different from the rest of the world. The Native Americans were eventually wiped out after Columbus’ initial discovery. Whether it was from disease, genocide, or both, that is for historians to argue.
What cannot be argued is that the American West was underpopulated and primed for migration.
America’s Manifest Destiny
In the 1800’s, immigrants, mainly European in origin, flooded to the American West. The American government encouraged homesteading and the population quickly grew. Even today, California has the largest population in the country and is the world’s 6th largest economy.
Land that was rich in minerals was mined, forests were cut, and arable valleys were turned into farms. It was during this industrialization that the wilderness was created. Large mountainous areas, not useful for agriculture, were spared the worst of development. Population centers sprang up in cities and as the economy left farming behind, people left rural areas.
Theodore Roosevelt, a great man, put millions of acres of undeveloped land under the control of the federal government. These large and unpopulated areas were kept as natural resource reserves. Some were turned into National Parks and in the 1960’s, even more were turned to wilderness areas.
Our Most Precious Resources are Clean Air, Clean Water, and Open Space
The Wild West Trail connects the Northern Rocky Mountain Ecosystem. The mountains tower upwards and their snowy peaks still harbor glaciers. With such a beautiful landscape to be witnessed, the Wild West Trail could not have been created at a better time.
The Appalachian Trail has seen a 155% increase in thru-hikers over the last 7 years. The Pacific Crest Trail has also seen explosive growth, so much, that many are becoming worried about fragile biomes becoming overwhelmed by people.
More hikers and backpackers are exactly what our country needs. Our public lands are the most beautiful on Earth. If more of us are enjoying them, there will be incentive to use them as recreation areas instead of resource extraction sites.
The Wild West Trail is hoping to become a new outlet for the increased outdoor excitement sweeping America – and the world. The trail follows previously cut and maintained hiking paths, most of which are extremely underutilized. Thru-hikers will bring in much needed tourism and money to small trail towns along the way.
Independence, Freedom, and American Individualism
Ingrained into the psyche of every American is the pioneering spirit. The ability for a person to go into the wilderness and make a life for themselves. The wild west still produces fantasies of lawlessness, adventure, and freedom. The wilderness is what shaped American culture and the WWT lays a path through its heart.
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A full documentary of the hike will be uploaded in 4k quality and the website will become a repository for all trail related information.
Happy trails and hope to see you out there!
I have written articles for a myriad of hiking and backpacking websites, focused on making the outdoors accessible to everyone. Fascinated with dark spots on the map, I have organized my lifestyle to facilitate a wilderness backpacking lifestyle. In the summer of 2018, I will be hiking the Wild West Trail, a new long-distance backpacking route that traverses the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48.