Thursday, March 4, 2021

Two ways to visit Perjue Canyon-Shoofly Creek in the Owyhee Canyonlands

Cool rock outcropping at the saddle on the way over to Perjue Canyon. 

Hi all, 

This spring-like weather we're enjoying this week will be temporary, but we have turned the page into March, and that means it's time to think about exploring the Owyhee Canyonlands. 

At this time of year, it's best to look at outdoor adventures in the lower elevations of the Owyhees to find trails that are drying out in the sunshine and wind, while the upper country is still wet and/or snowbound. 

One of my favorite early spring go-to hikes in the Owyhees is the Shoofly Creek area near Grand View. I had a free afternoon on Tuesday, and I thought I'd try out the BLM trail that goes over to the West Fork of Shoofly Creek aka Perjue Canyon, accessed from Mud Flat Road, aka the Owyhee Canyonlands Scenic Backcountry Byway. 

When I first put together my Owyhee Canyonlands guidebook 10 years ago (can't believe it's been that long!), I pioneered a different route into Perjue Canyon called the Shoofly Quick Loop. That route covers 5.5 miles. It provides more of a loop experience with some cross-country hiking, while the BLM trail is an out-and-back experience, 2 miles each way or 4 miles total. Both of them work. Shoofly Quick Loop requires more cross-country travel, steeper climbing and descending, and backcountry navigation skills. 

The weather forecast for Grand View this weekend looks pretty promising with temperatures in the low 60s, partly cloudy skies and relatively light winds. Temps should be in the 50s next week.   

Approaching the little cabin, Perjue Canyon and W. Fork Shoofly Creek. 

How to get there
: If you're coming from Boise, take I-84 east to Simco Road. Turn right on Simco and drive across the desert toward Grand View. You'll come to a stop sign, turn right on ID 167 and go to Grand View. Pick up any last-minute supplies at the gas station at the T-junction. Go left at that junction, and then turn right at the signed turnoff for Mud Flat Road. 

It's 18 miles ahead to the primitive 2-track leading to the Shoofly Quick Loop trailhead. The BLM trailhead is straight ahead a few miles past that point. 

Stop at the Oolite Interpretive area along the way or on your way back. This is a great spot and teachable moment for kids and adults about the ancient Lake Idaho that once covered Southwest Idaho some 10 million years ago. There are some cool blond rock formations from lakeshore sands that bound together to form small caverns and caves. There's a BLM public parking area and hiking trail over to the sandstone formations. Definitely worth the stop to explore that place. 

BLM interpretive sign provides an excellent description of the Oolite formation. 

Continue south on Mud Flat Road and head for the Owyhee Front to reach the BLM trailhead for Perjue Canyon and Shoofly Creek. You'll pass by the Poison Creek picnic area. Watch for a pullout spot on the left side of the road in about a mile after the picnic area. The trailhead is not well-marked. There's a green step-over by a BLM road-closed sign for hikers. 

You'll follow a two-track trail for about two miles over to Perjue Canyon, named for a pioneer named Frank Perjue whose family lived in the Bruneau area. The tiny little cabin by the canyon was used as a cow camp. The spelling on the sign out by the BLM trail is spelled Purjue, but the book "Idaho Place Names" spells it with an "e". Oh well, this wouldn't be the first time that happened in Idaho ... 

It's a slight uphill walk for the first mile to a broad saddle, where there's a neat rock formation and a fence line for a grazing allotment to the north of the two-track. One could do a side hike to the top of the butte to the north, if desired, at this point. 

Continue on the two-track and you'll drop into Perjue Canyon. You'll see the tiny cabin and a trail fork where you could cross the creek and climb up on the "Between the Creeks" plateau that separates the two forks of Shoofly Creek. This is a cool side trip that provides a great view in the Little Jacks Wilderness. I describe a more complete trip for doing a major loop on the "Between the Creeks" plateau in my Owyhee guide, accessing that area from the Shoofly Cutoff Road. That is a full day trip by itself with an 8-mile loop on top of the plateau.   

For this trip, ignore the fork for the cross-country climb to the plateau, and walk along Perjue Canyon for a little bit, the trail crosses the creek (dog water!) and then goes downstream. There's a lot of brush in the canyon to navigate, so since it's an out-and-back hike, you can decide how far you want to go. The trail on the other side of the creek was quite muddy on Tuesday, so I turned around at that point and retraced my tracks to Mud Flat Road. 

Note that as spring progresses, there will be more wildflowers to see in this area in May and June. 

If you want to do the Shoofly Quick Loop, click on the link to see a map and photos. 

Depending on the day, you might see mule deer or antelope roaming in the Shoofly Creek area. You might even get lucky and see some California desert bighorn sheep or flush some sage grouse! I was thrilled to see a pair of mountain bluebirds paired up on my hike near the saddle area. The males have a brilliant blue color enhanced by the sunshine.

Inside Perjue Canyon

The BLM trail was a bit soft in places on Tuesday (anyplace where the trail is shaded from the sun) so I wore my Muck boots on the hike, and that was a good call. Things will dry out there as the trail gets more sun. But in the spring, it can be wet or dry, depending on how recently it has rained, so use your best judgment on that. 

Be sure to pack a lunch or snacks for your outing. It took me about 2 hours to do the 4-mile hike, out and back, while stopping for snacks and taking lots of pictures. According to my GPS, the hike featured about 528 vertical feet of climbing/descending.  

Talk about social distancing, I did not see a single person out there on the BLM trail on Tuesday, and there was one vehicle parked at the Oolite interpretive area. So mid-week is ideal to get the Private Idaho experience. 

GPS tracks from my hike over to Shoofly Creek

Pick up a copy of my Owyhee Canyonlands guide if you'd like to explore 55 hikes and bike rides in the Owyhees. The book is available on my web site, Amazon, or at Boise outdoor stores like Idaho Mountain Touring or Boise REI, or Rediscovered Books. 

I'd like to give thanks to Boise REI, the Idaho Trails Association and David Draheim, BLM outdoor recreation planner, for their work on establishing and improving the BLM trail over to Perjue Canyon.  

Have fun! 
- SS 

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