Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some camping ideas for the Owyhee Canyonlands

Hiking into the W. Fork Bruneau River canyon (in bike shoes)

Hidden caves can be found in the Owyhees (courtesy BLM)

Big Jacks Creek (courtesy BLM)

Hi all,

When I touted running the rivers in the Owyhee Canyonlands several weeks ago, Ken Bass asked if I could recommend some car-camping ideas in that country. So here you go. I love to car camp in the Owyhees and go hiking or mountain biking during the day. It's a great place to find plenty of solitude in the big wide open desert, which also has many hidden canyons and nifty places to explore.

The only problem is that it has been a very WET spring, so it's important to use caution when venturing into the unmaintained dirt roads in the Owyhees. Lots of rain can turn the side roads into quicksand-like mud bogs that can sink a 4WD rig to its axles. Going out there this weekend, for example, might be dicy in places. Call Owyhee County to check on road conditions, 208-495-1143, and if you need more information on destinations, check with the BLM Owyhee Field Office, 208-896-5912.

You'll notice that I didn't recommend any camping in Silver City ... that's because it's still snowed in.

I also need to point out that there are NO SERVICES in the Owyhee Canyonlands, so you'll need to have plenty of gas in your vehicle and be prepared to cope with any breakdowns. Take a sturdy rig with four-wheel-drive that has good tires. Bring your own water and, of course, all of your camping stuff. Make sure you pack out what you pack in and leave no trace.

Here are several places to explore that won't disappoint:

1. Take a scenic drive on Mud Flat Road, aka the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway, and pick your spot to camp. The road is 103 miles long, criss-crossing the Owyhees between Grand View, Idaho, and Jordan Valley, Oregon. I suggest starting from Grand View, drive south on the byway, go over the first pass, and then begin looking for your own spot from there. You can access Little Jacks Creek from the byway, and there are some nice primitive campsites near Deep Creek or Triangle. Be sure to bring some good maps with you to assist with exploring.

2. The North Fork Owyhee River Campground is a good bet for people who like to camp by established rest rooms and fire pits. It's the only developed campground managed by the BLM along the byway. Take U.S. 95 south to Jordan Valley, Oregon, and then follow signs to the byway from there. The campground is 27 miles south of Jordan Valley. There are places to hiking and biking nearby. The 15.7-mile Grave Creek-Cottonwood Creek Loop is featured my book, Mountain Biking Idaho.

3. Big Jacks Creek. Go south on Idaho Highway 51 south of Mountain Home, go past the little town of Bruneau for about 25 miles, and turn right on the Wickahoney Road (unmarked dirt road) to reach the Parker Trailhead at the edge of Big Jacks Creek Canyon. Click on the Big Jacks link to see more information and driving directions from the BLM. Here's an interactive map of the Jacks Creek area. This is one of the new wilderness areas that was created as part of the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness last year.

4. Sheep Creek and Bruneau River plateau. Go south of Bruneau on Idaho 51 to Grasmere (the little roadstop town is signed). Turn left on the Grasmere-Rowland Road and cruise toward the upper reaches of Sheep Creek canyon. There are some campsites here, and tons more farther down the road. The Grasmere road goes all the way to the Nevada border, and you also can access the West Fork of the Bruneau River Canyon, a very cool place to explore. You won't see many people down in the deep recessses of this country, and there are a ton of two-tracks you can explore on a mountain bike, and it's fun to hike into the canyons.

5. Take the gravel road south of Bruneau toward Murphy Hot Springs and explore. You can reach the upper Jarbidge River canyon from this route, and high desert portion of the Idaho Centennial Trail. You can check out the Bruneau River canyon overlook from this route, and as you travel south, there are numerous two-tracks to explore.
6. Camp near Reynolds Creek canyon via the Wilson Creek Road. You can hike or bike from your campsite on the China Ditch Trail and check out the ruby red vertical walls of Reynolds Creek. Here's a BLM map that shows how to drive in there. My book, the Boise Trail Guide, has a detailed description to the trails in this vicinity. Mountain Biking Idaho has a guide to what I call the Mini-Moab Loop in the same area.

Have fun!

- SS


jonballphoto said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. I am planning a trip to the Owyhee canyonlands on May 5,6,7th with two other men and 7 boys ages 11 to 18. I am struggling to find a good place to take them camping/hiking.
I'd like to take them to a primitive camping area that's good and also we're planning on taking a hike all day May 6th in the 6 to 9 mile round trip category. I just ordered your book from Amazon but could you give me some ideas of places I could go?

Unknown said...

would love to know how to get to the caves you have pictured on here...please give directions

Steve Stuebner said...

Jessie, the caves photos were of Cave Draw, a place that's much easier to get to via the Bruneau River than by truck ... best seen by floating the river ... never tried to get there by vehicle ... sorry!

Steve Stuebner said...


Sorry to be slow in responding ... I'd recommend taking the kids camping along the Owyhee Backcountry Byway ... there are some cool car-camping spots near Deep Creek ... another great spot would be Leslie Gulch and there some easy hikes nearby ...

sc said...

I would love to check out these caves in your photos! So very cool! Do you have a general location as to where they are?

Steve Stuebner said...

Yes, see comments above, they're in a place called Cave Draw, next to the Bruneau River Canyon. Easiest to visit via the Bruneau River but an ambitious person could potentially get there by vehicle after things dry out ... long series of primitive roads to get there ... need a GPS for sure! Best, STeve