Thursday, March 17, 2022

Three Sweet Hikes that Shine in the Spring - Hells Canyon, Rapid River and Mary's Creek/Sheep Creek!

Denise Lauerman enjoys a spring backpack trip in Hells Canyon. 

Hi all, 

Spring is just four days away on Sunday, March 20, so the actual spring season according to the official American calendar is upon us. The trails and roads in the low country are beginning to dry out - in between rain storms - and the weather is warming up into the 60s at times. That gets people antsy for an outdoor adventure. 

For my outdoor tip of the week, I'm recommending three sweet hikes that shine in the spring in SW Idaho:

- Snake River National Recreation Trail in Hells Canyon, starting from Pittsburg Landing. 

- Rapid River Trail in Riggins. 

- Mary's Creek and Sheep Creek in the Bruneau River country.

The weather forecast for this weekend looks sunny on Friday with a high near 60, cloudy and rainy on Saturday, and then clearing and sunny on Sunday with a high of 50. That's the forecast for Boise and Riggins. Even if this weekend doesn't work to visit these destinations, you could wait and visit one of them at another time. 

Snake River National Recreation TrailA few years ago, I wrote about hiking or backpacking 6 miles (one way) from Pittsburg Landing to the Kirkwood Historic Ranch. A friend of mine, Denise Lauerman, and two of her friends backpacked to Kirkwood, and spent a couple of nights camping in Hells Canyon before returning to the trailhead in Pittsburg Landing. 

"It was a great trip -- I can't wait to go back," Denise said.

Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America at over 7,000 feet, stradles the Idaho-Oregon border for more than 100 miles. The mighty Snake River flows through the heart of Hells Canyon and continues on to Lewiston. Hells Canyon is usually the warmest spot in Idaho, and it's also drier than many areas, so it's a good bet for a spring trip. Ditto in the fall. In the middle of the summer, it gets sizzling hot; hence, the name. The austere black rocky canyons also have contributed to the name.

The trip starts with a 4.5-hour drive from Boise to Pittsburg Landing, the trailhead, via ID 55 to New Meadows, U.S. 95 to Whitebird, and then a well-maintained, steep gravel road from Whitebird over Pittsburg Saddle to the trailhead at Lower Pittsburg Landing. Signs will guide you the whole way from Whitebird. Four-wheel-drive is not required.

Kirkwood Museum 

It's 6 miles from the trailhead to Kirkwood Ranch. Denise and her friends drove in on a Friday, backpacked to Kirkwood in the afternoon (allow 2.5-3 hours travel time) and base-camped on the grass next to the Kirkwood Museum, where former Idaho Gov. Len B. Jordan and his wife, Grace, ran a sheep ranch in the 1930s.

The museum is definitely worth visiting. Behind the ranch, there is a two-track gravel road that climbs Kirkwood Creek for more than 3,000 feet to a high saddle. This is a great side-hiking opportunity that Denise and her friends climbed on Day 2, seeing all kinds of cool wildlife and landscapes along the way.

On Day 3, they side-hiked to Suicide Point along the Snake River, came back to Kirkwood, strapped on their backpacks, and hiked out. Suicide Point provides great views of the river canyon.

For more information, go to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area web site. You can purchase maps at the Hells Canyon NRA office in Riggins.

See the full post Hells Canyon hiking 

Rapid River Trail (courtesy Hiking Project

Rapid River Trail in Riggins

This is a beautiful hike along Rapid River when things are greening up and coming to life in Riggins. Here's a description from All Trails. Full length is 8.6 miles out and back. You may not be able to go to the top of the hike, but you could likely hike a couple of hours to a high point that works for you. The trail winds along the river and then climbs up on a high ridge. Great views of the surrounding area. 

Trailhead is next to the Rapid River Hatchery on the south end of Riggins. Watch for signs on U.S. 95 to the hatchery.

Barb Cochran looks into Mary's Creek canyon, a tributary of Sheep Creek.

Mary's Creek and Sheep Creek

Mary's Creek is one of the easiest places to access in the Jarbidge-Bruneau Wilderness. You can do a 8.75-mile loop hike from the Mary's Creek Trailhead to Sheep Creek canyon and back. The route I recommend in my Owyhee Canyonlands book takes you along the edge of Mary's Creek canyon, which features large black lava rock,  and then you drop quickly into Sheep Creek canyon (rhyolite and basalt) where you can have lunch or camp out next to the creek. And then retrace your tracks back to the trailhead. 

You also can camp at the Mary's Creek trailhead or in other BLM dispersed camping areas off the Roland Road.

Getting there: Take I-84 to Mountain Home, then Idaho 51 to Bruneau. Head south on Idaho 51 toward Duck Valley. It's about 40 miles from Bruneau to the signed turnoff for Roland Road on the left side, 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 Mary's Creek Wilderness trailhead. 

Huck checks out Sheep Creek. 

- SS

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