Lush ferns and old growth cedar forests are a wonderful feature of Mallard-Larkins Pioneer Area, photo by

The Wilderness Volunteers’ Project Spotlight next falls in The Gem State. Lying about 150 miles due west of Missoula, MT in the Idaho panhandle is the extraordinary Mallard-Larkins Pioneer Area. As the highlands at the convergence of major river systems, the spectacular 30,000 acre Pioneer area is the centerpiece of a larger 260,000 acre roadless area that extends between the Nez Perce-Clearwater and St. Joe’s National Forest. The area has been under consideration for wilderness designation since the Wilderness Act was passed (there was community support to protect these lands beginning in the 1950s) and is managed like a designated wilderness. Stretching west from the Bitterroot Mountain Range, the abundance of water draining into swift rivers has carved steep canyons and sustains beautiful old-growth forests as well as crystal clear lakes and streams. The roadless area has dozens of accessible subalpine lakes, including the 35 acre Heart Lake, presenting lovely recreation opportunities, especially in the warmer summer months.

Looking down at Heart Lake, photo by Craig Gehrke
Threatened Western Toad, photo by Walter Siegmund

Once home to native Chinook and Steelhead salmon that swam all the way from the Pacific, the lakes are now stocked by Idaho Fish and Game with rainbow and cutthroat trout, as well as the native bull trout and re-introduced Kokanee salmon. Moose, elk, wolves, black bear and deer thrive here, as well as one of the largest populations of Rocky Mountain goat. The area is an important habitat for threatened and endangered species as well, such as the bull trout, western toad, fisher, harlequin duck and the Coeur d’Alene Salamander that is endemic to these Northern Idaho lands.

The steep and impressive mountain range has many craggy peaks over 6,000’, and is heavily forested. A multitude of wild berries and wild flowers live amongst massive old-growth western red cedar and western white pine. The sharp elevation change allows a wide breadth of bio-diversity to exist here, with the coastal rainforest environment of the Pacific Northwest at lower elevations, while the higher elevations support subalpine meadows and forests of western hemlock and lodgepole pine.

A view from atop an Idaho Peak, photo courtesy of

The Nez Perce people were native to the lower elevations in the area, but it is believed they did not regularly venture to the higher elevations due to the lack of food and passage over the mountains to Montana as exist further south. While miners flocked farther south in Idaho to where gold was found, the area around Mallard Larkin wasn’t populated until the early 20th century. In response to massive forest fires of 1910, Gifford Pinchot advocated for the management of forest land to increase protection from fires, which ultimately led to the creation of the Forest Service. Hundreds of miles of trails were created to access lookouts built atop the peaks of Northern Idaho. As air travel increased and roads were built the need for a vast network of lookouts was erased. The lookouts employed enough people that their closing led to a decrease in the local population. However, the area is now seeing an increase in usage due to the excellent outdoor recreation and beautiful scenery.

Clearing the way in the nearby Selway-Bitterrot Wilderness, Clearwater NF, 2010 photo by Mike Leonard

Our service project in the Mallard Larkins Pioneer Area is general trail maintenance. We will clear brush and cut back overgrowth as we explore the area’s magnificent trails. Our campsite features striking vast views of the surrounding beauty, located atop a small pass on Smith Ridge.  Learn more about the WV Service Project in the Mallard Larkins Pioneer Area.