Thursday, April 27, 2017

Weather warming up this weekend and next week! Time to head for the Owyhees!

Jim Giuffre, foreground, Steve Schneider and Doug Lawrence just finishing the China Ditch Trail ... 
Sheep Creek Canyon cuts through old rhyolite lava rock 
Stopping to enjoy the grandeur of Reynolds Creek canyon. 

Hi all, 

The forecasts are predicting that we'll get a break from the rain this weekend, and next week the temperatures might hit 70 degrees F! OMG! Time to head out for a spring hike or bike ride in the Owyhees! Maybe take your camping gear and stay overnight? 

I just completed a 3rd printing of The Owyhee Canyonlands - An Outdoor Adventure Guide, so I've got plenty of books on hand if you haven't purchased your copy yet. The books are available on my web site,, Boise REI, Idaho Mountain Touring, Owyhee County Museum gift shop in Murphy, and Amazon

For this week's outdoor tip, I'll dish up two hikes and one mountain bike ride in the Owyhees. 

John Wheaton, Amy Haak, Wendy and me on
a winter ride on Bingo's Trail. 
First, the bike ride - the Wilson Creek - Northwest Passage Loop. Distance: 16.25 miles; travel time: 3.5-4 hours; vertical gain: 2,075 feet. Rated strenuous. Mountain bikers love this ride. It's almost all singletrack with a couple of short sections of two-track road. The Soda fire did a number on Reynolds Creek canyon, which some people feel has diminished the scenery. But I still think it's a great ride. 

See my blog post with photos, a map and blow-by-blow directions of the ride

Now, the hikes: 

1. Wilson Creek-Reynolds Creek Loop - Distance 7.4 miles; travel time: 3.5 hours; vertical gain: 750 feet; Rated moderate to stenuous ... mostly moderate. This is a shorter version of the Northwest Passage loop. Getting there: From downtown Boise, take I-184 west to Nampa. Take the Franklin Road exit (City Center) in Nampa, and turn left. Follow Franklin to the intersection with 11th Street. Turn right and take 11th into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for Idaho 45 south. Take ID 45 to Walters Ferry at the Snake River and turn right on ID 78, heading for Marsing. In a couple miles, turn left on Wilson Creek Road. Proceed up the paved road, past the cattle feedlot, until it turns to dirt and pull into a dirt parking area on the left, the trailhead for Trail #300. The hike starts here.

This is a great hike (good for trail-running, too) in the foothills of the Owyhee Mountains, about 45 minutes from Boise. The trail weaves through rock formations on the way over to Reynolds Creek, and then you hike the China Ditch trail along Reynolds Creek. The red rock canyon is spectacular. Bring your camera, plenty of water and a lunch. Even though the route is 7+ miles, the elevation gain is pretty minimal, so the hike may be suitable for kids 8 and over. My kids enjoyed the hike, especially throwing rocks into the creek.

Quinn hangs out on a big rock 
Directions: To begin, pick up Trail #300 out of the parking lot. Ignore trails branching off to the left in the first mile. At mile .9, you’ll cross a road and continue on the singletrack trail. The trail climbs one last hill and then widens into a two-track and descends to a T-junction at a dirt road (mile 1.8). Go right for a short bit, and turn left on Trail #410, a sandy wash going downhill towards Reynolds Creek. At mile 2.3, go right on Trail #310 and proceed for a half mile to a junction with Trail #600, the China “Ditch” trail. Go right and walk upstream along Reynolds Creek canyon for a long mile. After walking next to vertical rock walls, the trail opens up on the right at the junction with Trail #510, #601 and #610. Go right on #510 and climb out of the canyon. At mile 4, bear right at a Y junction on #510 and stay on #510 to BLM dirt road #37154. Go right and follow the road to the junction with Trail #400. Go left on #400 at mile 5.28 and head back to the trailhead. At the top of the first hill, you can either stay on Trail #400 or branch off on #300. Both ways head over to the Wilson Creek Road and the trailhead.

Sheep Creek canyon is deep! 
2. Mary's Creek to Sheep Creek Canyon - Distance: 8.75 miles; travel time: 4-5 hours; Vertical gain: 1,389 feet; Rated moderate to strenuous. This is a neat hike that takes you over to the deep incised canyon of Sheep Creek, where it's possible to camp by the creek or certainly stop and have lunch there before you head back. Mary's Creek also lies inside a BLM wilderness area, so this is a hiking-only experience. 

Road access: Easy, any kind of 2WD vehicle will work to reach this trailhead. 

Getting there: From Boise, take I-84 east to Mountain Home. Take the first exit to downtown Mountain Home. Proceed through town and watch for Idaho 51 to Bruneau. Turn left on Idaho 51 and go to Bruneau. Pick up any last-minute snacks/beverages and head south on Idaho 51. Check your odometer when you leave Bruneau. It's about 40 miles from Bruneau to the signed turnoff for Roland Road on the left, just past the old bar and junk yard in Grasmere. Go left on Roland Road, and take that good-quality gravel road 5.2 miles to the signed Mary's Creek Wilderness Trailhead. The hike starts here.   

General remarks: Mary's Creek is one of the more easy-to-access trailheads in the Sheep Creek/Bruneau Wilderness area. It's a scenic basalt canyon that drains into the much-deeper and spectacular box canyon of Sheep Creek. It's possible to do either a day trip here, or take a backpack and camp overnight at the Mary's Creek/Sheep Creek confluence, do some exploring and enjoy some quiet peace of mind. The day hike features a cross-country walk along the edge of Mary's Creek canyon for 3+ miles to the edge of the canyon rim. Then, there's a nice little singletrack hiking trail, called the Tindall Trail, that drops down to the confluence area, where there are several areas large enough for a campsite. We returned to the Mary's Creek Trailhead via a rough and rocky two-track road, just to make the walking a little easier. The two-track is drivable with a high-clearance 4WD rig, outside the wilderness boundary, if you want to drive directly to the canyon rim. I'd recommend this hike for kids who are 8-10 years old and up.       

Directions: To start, hike through the sagebrush along the left side of Mary's Creek canyon. It will get considerably deeper as you approach Sheep Creek canyon. At mile 3.6, you'll arrive at the canyon rim, where you'll see a singletrack trail winding through the rocks down to the Mary's Creek/Sheep Creek confluence. It's .7 miles and 520 feet of descent from the rim to the confluence. Great spot for lunch or overnight camping. Retrace your steps to the canyon rim, and take the two-track road back to the trailhead. Final mileage is 8.75 miles.

Have fun! Hoping for sunshine all weekend! 
- SS 

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