The Sawtooth Wilderness (SAW-tooth) is a federally-protected wilderness area that covers 217,088 acres (87,852 ha) of the state of Idaho. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was designated the Sawtooth Primitive Area in 1937 to preserve the exceptional scenic beauty of the Sawtooth Mountains. On August 22, 1972 Public Law 22-400 designated the Primitive Area as the Sawtooth Wilderness and part of the newly created Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
As part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Sawtooth Wilderness is an area where human development and use are severely restricted and people are to remain only visitors. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Sawtooth Wilderness has some of the clearest air in the lower 48 states.
Wilderness areas do not allow motorized or mechanical equipment, including bicycles. Although camping and fishing are allowed with proper permit, no roads or buildings are constructed, and there is also no logging or mining. Hunting is permitted during the appropriate hunting seasons. Hunting and fishing licenses are available from the state of Idaho through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
There are 40 trails totaling nearly 350 miles (560 km) in the wilderness that can be used for day hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding and accessed from 23 trailheads. Most of these trails were constructed or reconstructed in the 1960s. Mountain climbing, rock climbing, snowshoeing, and backcountry downhill skiing are activities that are also permitted in the wilderness. The closest town to the wilderness is Stanley at the northern end of the Sawtooth Valley, but the communities of Atlanta and Sawtooth City also provide access to the wilderness.
The Sawtooth Wilderness encompasses the Sawtooth Mountains, which are part of the Rocky Mountains. The Sawtooth Mountains have at least 50 peaks over 10,000 ft (3,000 m) high, including Thompson Peak, the highest point in the range and the wilderness. The second highest point in Mount Cramer. The northern Sawtooth Mountains formed from the Eocene Sawtooth batholith, while south of Alturas Lake the Sawtooth Mountains formed from the Cretaceous granodiorite of the Idaho batholith.