Thursday, May 1, 2014

Here are three off-the-beaten-trail spring camping tips in the Owyhee Canyonlands

The Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway can be fun for mountain biking, too ...
Photo courtesy Tad Jones 
Big picture map of the byway
Toy Pass and vicinity ... Silver City is by the snow-packed mountains 
Wendy rides the wind currents on top of the mountains near Toy Pass 
Steve near the mouth of Mary's Creek 
Mary's Creek confluence in Sheep Creek 
You should see wildflowers this weekend ... Bring your plant guide! 
Hi all,

Well, the weather looks positively fabulous this weekend, so a lot of people have been asking me for some good ideas about spring camping in the Owyhees. First, you need to pick up our Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook for the most in-depth information. But here in my outdoor tip of the week, I'll share three ideas from the book that are family friendly and pretty easy to find.

In today's Idaho Statesman, the IdahoOutdoors team highlighted some excellent scenic drives, hiking and camping destinations in the Owyhees, including Leslie Gulch, Succor Creek State Park, and Jordan Craters. The only issue is those places will be pretty popular and busy this weekend, so you might want to try something that's a little more off the beaten path.

Here are three that aim to please:
1. Drive the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway and find your own custom spot to make camp. I recommend starting on the byway by Grand View, (Gus's gas stop has copies of our Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook), and driving south into the Owyhees to the top of the first summit. Turn left on the dirt road heading over to Little Jack's Creek, and find a cool spot to camp and hike. Be sure to take a BLM map with you so you can navigate the dirt roads. The backcountry byway has many other options for camping such as the Antelope Springs Road, Deep Creek junction, Nickel Creek Table and the North Fork of the Owyhee BLM campsite, the only developed campsite on the 100-mile byway. The byway is suitable for 2WD vehicles. Side roads may require 4WD.

2. Toy Pass - We've got 2 hikes from the Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook that start and finish at Toy Pass. This spot is at 5,875-foot elevation, south of Oreana. You drive to Toy Pass, do a day hike from the pass to the mountains on either side of the road, and then go look for a campsite afterwards. There's a sweet campsite in a pullout on the south side of Toy Pass, and there are other places to camp on the road farther south toward Triangle on BLM land. Again, bring a BLM map with you to navigate the roads. To reach Toy Pass, take ID 78 east from Walters Ferry, south of Nampa, go past Murphy and watch for a road sign for Oreana. Turn right and drive 2 miles into the tiny town. Bear right at Our Lady, Queen of Heaven Catholic Church at the corner, and take the Bachman Grade Road to Toy Pass. It's about 13.5 miles to the top. This road is suitable for 2WD vehicles. Side roads may require 4WD.

3. Mary's Creek/Sheep Creek Wilderness. Mary's Creek is an easy-to-access tributary of Sheep Creek Canyon, which is one of the BLM wilderness areas in the Owyhee Canyonlands. There is a self-support camping area at the "trailhead" next to Roland Road. You could camp there, and then do the Mary's Creek Loop, hiking into the bottom of spectacular Sheep Creek Canyon, and then hike back. You also could backpack into Sheep Creek Canyon and camp there. The full loop detailed in our guidebook is 8.75 miles, with 1,400 feet of vertical gain/loss. Scenic hike and nice spot to camp. To reach Mary's Creek, take ID 51 south of Bruneau about 40 miles to a signed turnoff for the Rowland Road by the old bar and junk yard at Grasmere. Turn left on Rowland Road and follow that 5.2 miles to the Mary's Creek trailhead. There's a BLM kiosk at the trailhead.

Watch for wildflowers while you're out there ... and bring a plant guide to help with identification. Here's one guide that I highly recommend -- the Backpack Guide to Idaho Range Plants.

There you have it! Enjoy the sunshine no matter what you do!

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