Composite alkalic plutonic suites and tuffaceous diamictite, although discontinuously exposed across central Idaho in roof pendants and inliers within the Idaho batholith and Challis volcanic-plutonic complex, define the >200-km-long northwest-aligned Big Creek-Beaverhead belt. Sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP) U-Pb zircon dates on these igneous rocks provide direct evidence for the orientation and location of the Neoproterozoic–Paleozoic western Laurentian rift margin in the northern U.S. Cordillera. Dating delimits two discrete magmatic pulses at ca. 665–650 Ma and 500–485 Ma at the western and eastern ends, respectively, of this belt. Together with the nearby 685 Ma volcanic rocks of the Edwardsburg Formation, there is a 200 Ma history of recurrent extensional magmatic pulses along the belt. A similar history of recurrent uplift is reflected in the stratigraphic record of the associated miogeoclinal and cratonal platform basins, suggesting that the Big Creek–Beaverhead belt originated as a border fault during continental rift events. The magmatic belt is paired with the recurrently emergent Lemhi Arch and narrow miogeoclinal facies belts and it lies inboard of a northwest-striking narrow zone of thinned continental crust. These features define a northeast-extending upper-plate extensional system between southeast Washington and southeast Idaho that formed a segment of the Neoproterozoic–Paleozoic miogeocline. This segment was flanked on the north by the St. Mary–Moyie transform zone (south of a narrow southern Canadian upper-plate margin) and on the south by the Snake River transfer zone (north of a broad Great Basin lower-plate margin). These are the central segments of a zigzag-shaped Cordilleran rift system of alternating northwest-striking extensional zones offset by northeast-striking transfers and transforms. The data substantiate polyphase rift and continental separation events that included (1) pre- and syn-Windermere rifting, (2) Windermere margin subsidence, (3) late Ediacaran-Cambrain rifting, and (4) well-developed late Ediacaran-Devonian passive margin subsidence and deposition. Timing and geometries support synchronous but opposing divergence along Cordilleran and Atlantic rifts with a junction in Southern California–Sonora.