First protected in 1937 as a "primitive area," the Sawtooth Wilderness was created by Congress in 1972. At that time Congress also established the larger Sawtooth National Recreation Area (756,000 acres) "in order to assure the preservation and protection of the natural, scenic, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values...." The Sawtooth Wilderness is perhaps the best known of Idaho's wilderness areas, because of its exceptional beauty and ease of access. There are hundreds of miles of trails, hundreds of jagged peaks and nearly 400 high alpine lakes in this 217,000 acre wilderness area.
The headwaters of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the Boise River, and the South Fork of the Payette River begin here. These mountains also contribute to the headwaters of the Salmon River. Some of the nearby towns are Stanley, Ketchum, and Challis, Idaho.