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Owyhee Discovery Trail

Updated: Jan 13

Hugging the border of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho, is a rugged and unforgiving land known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. A trip through the Owyhee will quickly shed light as to why this corner of the Pacific Northwest is so beloved by locals.

Route Overview

Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 218 miles, 4 - 6 days

Season: Year round (best to avoid after heavy rain or snow), but the shoulder seasons of spring and fall provide the best weather. Summer can bring triple digit heat.

Avg Technical Rating: 2

Peak Technical Rating: 4

Typical Terrain: Graded dirt and gravel roads along with some some bumpier doubletracks.

Recommended Vehicle: Subaru/AWD w/ all terrain tires. Recommended Gear: n/a

Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage this route. If you do encounter an impassible obstacle or washout, most places in the Owyhee have numerous roads/trails for reroutes.

Alternative Routes: Yes! See below. Permits: n/a

Adventure Badge: Get your Alvord Desert adventure badge at our online store.






 

Route Details

A tributary of the famed Snake River, the Owyhee River cuts through the rugged basalt canyons and cliffs of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. An area that while may not be relatively known outside of the Pacific Northwest, it tends to hold a special place in the heart of those that have explored the Owyhee Canyonlands. With it's unique geological formations, rugged red-rock canyons, and rolling hills, the Owyhee Canyonlands form one of the last great unprotected wildernesses in the contiguous United States. Organizations like Wild Owyhee are actively pushing for the government to protect this beloved land from industry and exploitation. Even with the current state of minimal protection, the Owyhees are an expansive wilderness filled with hundreds of miles of dirt roads, hiking trails, and of course the Owyhee River (let's not forget about the trout fishing and other aquatic activities like kayaking).


The area was named after 3 fur trappers that went missing in the early 1800s, all 3 of which were native Hawaiians. They were to be memorialized by naming the waterway the Hawaii River, but the early spelling of "Owyhee" stuck, and so the area came to be known as Owyhee Canyonlands


We begin our adventure at Hwy 201 (Succor Creek Highway). For the next 26 miles, you'll follow the pavement of Lake Owyhee Road that parallels the Owyhee River. Along the way you'll pass various fishing spots and the Lake Owyhee dam. This portion of the route also sees the most traffic as it leads to the popular McCormack Campground, perhaps the most popular campground in the greater Owyhee Canyonlands. If you're looking for a more rugged and wild camping experience, keep moving along! We'll swing a left onto the wide graded dirt of Fisherman Road and quickly ascend the surrounding hills. Don't forget to check out the views behind you as you climb higher up. Notice how the vast rolling hills are broken up by the occasional butte or craggy canyons and gorges-- that'll be a constant theme during your travels through the Owyhees.


Swing a left onto Camp Kettle Creek Road and make your way to Devil's Gate (DP4). Devil's Gate is the perfect embodiment of the Owyhees. A massive craggy butte with an equally giant slot splitting the butte in half juts out from the grassy rolling hills. Devil's Gate is really a site to see, especially if you can catch it in the right conditions-- like at dusk or in the fog. From Devil's Gate, the route descends into the Succor Creek drainage. As you make your way south, the canyon begins to grow, and the walls on the west side begin to extend ever higher into the sky. There are numerous short hiking trails around the campground, many of which lead into the surrounding bluffs. If you're lucky, you might find a cave or two to hid out in! Succor Creek also provides ample water for cooling off during the warmer months. The cliffs and rock formations are a greater primer for what's to come as you make your way west back towards the Owyhee River.


From Succor Creek we'll climb back up the hills until we reach another geological oddity, Three Fingers Rock (DP6), a massive outcropping that looks like three giant knuckles (or stubby cartoon fingers). And while Leslie Gulch typically gets all of the fame when it comes to the Owyhee, we prefer the solitude of Three Fingers Gulch. Follow the route through a series of dirt tracks, some in better condition that others until you reach the dead end at Three Fingers camp. Surrounded by sheer vertical cliffs, Three Fingers camp feels more like a Lord of the Rings shooting location than somewhere in eastern Oregon. But that's why people love eastern Oregon, and especially the Owyhee! If you're up for a bit of a hike, follow the hiking trail through the majestic Three Fingers Gulch that leads to Lake Owyhee about a mile down trail. If you camped at Three Fingers camp, it's going to be difficult to give this one up, but off we must go to the famed Leslie Gulch.


Leslie Gulch certainly doesn't see the amount of visitors that McCormack Campground does (chalk that up to the nice paved road), but in terms of the Owyhee backcountry, it does see a reasonable amount of visitors, and you'll quickly see why. The road through Leslie Gulch extends several miles through the deep and craggy canyon, that's surrounded by hoodoos and other interesting rock formations, giant rock monoliths, and craggy canyons leading into the brooding hills above. Be sure to make a quick stop at Dago Gulch to check out the interesting rocks, and if you're up for a bit of a hike, Juniper Gulch (3.3 miles round trip) is perhaps the most popular hiking trail in the Owyhee backcountry. Leslie Gulch ends at the developed recreation site of Slocum Creek Camp. You won't get the same sort of wilderness experience as Three Fingers camp, but the Leslie Gulch Boat Ramp provides easy river access. Once again we find ourselves retracing our tire tracks, but this time we'll be driving several dozen miles through the undulating hills that make up the Owyhee highlands. Of course, if you wish to expedite your pace of travel, there are numerous escape routes to Hwy 95, a quick and easy way to make up time, but what's the fun in highway driving when you're surrounded by hundreds of miles of open trail? The route splits the low lying saddle between Mahogany Mountain to the north and Spring Mountain to the south. We'll jump on Hwy 95 for less than a mile, and then swing a left onto the gravel of Curry Lodge Road. At this point we're largely out of the canyonlands, but geological oddities of grandeur await! Next up, the Jordan Craters (DP12), which is actually a massive lava flow that's just over 3,000 years old.


The 27-square-mile ovaline lava flow of Jordan Craters is one of the most recent volcanic flows in Oregon — so much so that locals claim that you can still see bootprints in places. The origin of the flow is Coffeepot Crater, a deep cavity at the far northeast of the flow. Walking in and around Coffeepot and exploring its side pits, tubes and caves makes for a great journey on a landscape like the surface of the moon. From where you parked your car, a straightforward loop around the rim and down the red cinder path into the heart of the crater is about 1 mile (but you’ll no doubt find trenches and tubes to explore on your way). The path down into the crater descends about 150 feet. - WildOwyhee.org


The route covers the northern portion of the lava flow, but dirt roads circumvent the entire lava flow. We've heard folks say Jordan Craters is much more impressive than Moon Craters National Monument (Idaho), and with a minute fraction of the visitors. If you're looking for a campsite in the area, consider finding anywhere suitable or make your way to Cow Lakes campground. Next up we'll make a quick stop at the Owyhee Canyonlands Viewpoint and the Old Bogus Ranch (private property). We ask that you respect private property, but you should still be able to see the old stone walled corrals at the old Bogus Ranch site below. Back in the early 1900s, the ranch was a favorite hideout among local horse rustlers. Our last stop finds us at the Pillars of Rome (DP14), just outside of Rome Station. The 100 foot tall grayish-white bluffs are made up of eroded layers of fossils, sediment and ash that eroded from the elements of thousands of years. What remains is simply the majestic Pillars of Rome. Numerous vehicle and foot trails criss-cross the Pillars of Rome area, that is up to 5 miles wide in some places. We get it, you're at the end of the adventure, but is adventure ever really over? We highly encourage folks to get out on foot and explore the area, as the Pillars are quite simply awesome, and the perfect way to end an eastern Oregon Adventure!


Officially, the route ends things at Rome Station. Whether you need to refill your gas tank or your belly, they can help you out either way! Alternative Routes Looking to skip those 25+ miles of pavement to McCormack Campground, consider the dirt alternative. Quite honestly, we think the pavement is more scenic, but if you're dead set on avoiding vehicle traffic, this is your best bet!

Camping Recommendations

Dispersed camping is permitted throughout the Owyhee, but please respect private property where marked. Don't be afraid to explore the numerous side trails, as many great camp sites are just around the bend. If we had to go with our top three locations, they'd be Three Fingers Camp, below Devil's Gate, and the Succor Creek area.



Discovery Points

  • DP1- Owyhee River

  • DP2 - Snively Hot Spring

  • DP3 - Owyhee Lake

  • DP4 - Devil's Gate

  • DP5 - Succor Creek

  • DP6 - 3 Fingers Rock

  • DP7 - Three Fingers Gulch

  • DP8 - Terry King's Cabin

  • DP9 - Dago Gulch

  • DP10 - Juniper Gulch Trail

  • DP11 - Leslie Gulch

  • DP12 - Jordan Craters

  • DP13 - Old Bogus Ranch

  • DP14 - Pillars of Rome

 

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