Originally published in the Boise Weekly:
When exploring the remote areas of southwest Idaho’s Owyhee County, you cannot be too prepared. Much of the county is prone to erratic weather, unforgiving conditions and poor signage. It’s very easy to get lost and can be very difficult to get out if something goes wrong.
Most of Owyhee County is high mountain desert, with rolling hills and plentiful sagebrush. Saddled in the southwest corner of the state, Owyhee County is bordered to the north by the Snake River and to the south by the Owyhee Mountains and Nevada state line. In between are a number of fun and scenic routes to explore.
Recently, I jumped on my dual sport motorcycle, commissioned the company of my older brother Jay and my friend Rustin, and set out for Owyhee County. Our goal was to reach the Wickahoney Stage Stop and the hot springs region south of Bruneau.
Getting There: Leaving Boise around 3 p.m., we headed out Pleasant Valley Road south of Gowen Field. Pleasant Valley turns to dirt a few miles from town and parallels Interstate 84 eastbound all the way to the Union Pacific Rail line. A quick traverse over to Simco Road and we were back on hardtop.
Rustin got a flat about five miles out Simco Road. After a janky side-of-the-road tube replacement, we were back at full strength. A quick dog-leg from Simco to Highway 67 to Strike Dam Road and we were treated to some amazing plateau views adjacent to CJ Strike Reservoir.
Following dinner at the Black Sands Resort and a fuel stop in Grand View, we headed south on legendary Mud Flat Road—a primary access point to some of the best recreation spots in Owyhee County. About nine miles out on Mud Flat Road, we elected to explore the Shoofly Cutoff Road, which took us back east through rolling agricultural fields. It’s quite odd riding on a gravel road with sagebrush to your right and lush green fields to your left, but the unique soil compositions in this area are just that: unique.
The Shoofly Cutoff Road crosses Highway 51 south of Bruneau and turns into No Name Road. No Name Road turns into what looked like an old wagon trail, before disappearing into a field. This field turned into a sandy full-throttle hill climb. A little lost, we made a beeline for higher ground to see if we could spot a trail or road. After a bit of bushwhacking, we found our way back down to No Name Road, which led us to what appeared to be a favorite make-out spot for local high school kids—hundreds of names and dates were carved into the windblown desert sandstone. Burning daylight, we pushed on.
After a lot of guesswork in the dark, we eventually found our way to CCC Road and the Bruneau River hot springs area. Hot Springs Road would have taken us south to the Idaho Centennial Trail, but we had other plans for this short trip. We camped at Indian Bathtub Hot Springs and located the pools the next morning.
After a brisk night’s sleep, a breakfast of cold hotdogs and quick bike check, we were on our way south again. CCC Road meanders through some excellent scenery for about 22 miles before crossing back over Highway 51 toward Wickahoney Crossing. There are cattle aplenty, so mind your pace around corners.
The Wickahoney area is an absolute head trip. There are actually two distinct places to visit here, roughly five miles apart: Wickahoney Stage Stop and Wickahoney Crossing. The Crossing—an ancient, but still apparently functioning cattle corral—is just six miles off of Highway 51. The Stage Stop—a crumbling refuge from the days of the Old West—is considerably more difficult to reach. With a good map or GPS in hand, you can take an unmarked road approximately one mile west of the Crossing that quickly turns to extremely rough two track. You can only reach Wickahoney Stage Stop by foot, motorcycle, ATV or 4×4 vehicle with good ground clearance, as anything else would probably have trouble making it through several seasonal creeks, deep whoops and a handful of narrow barbed-wire gates.
The trail/road out of Wickahoney Stage Stop is even rougher than the way in. A creek crossing and shuffle up a loose rocky face and we came out adjacent to a large military compound and nicely groomed dirt road. This road took us back to Highway 51. Hikers should come in from this side, as the route is more pronounced and much closer than coming in from the Crossing.
If you venture farther west, numerous road and trail systems can take you to some truly epic scenery, including Zeno Falls. To the southeast lies Arch Canyon and the
Bruneau-Jarbidge River wilderness.
Heading north back to Bruneau, we stopped for lunch and took the hot route (I-84) back to Boise. After roughly 240 miles on primarily dirt roads and trails, it was about a one-hour ride back home taking the beaten path.
Future excursions include Silver City, the south fork of the Owyhee River and Jarbidge, Nev., to complete my ride reporting for Owyhee County—just as soon as the weather clears up.
Total Distance: 301 miles