Sheep Creek

Sheep Creek is a tributary of the Bruneau River. The canyon is over twenty miles long and noted for its beauty and isolation. The following description and photos have been provided by Josh Irwin.

Sheep Creek; obscure among whitewater kayakers and even more obscure among hikers, forms a sheer walled rhyolite canyon over 600 feet deep. Stream erosion and weathering have carved cathedral like walls scattered with gothic pillars. The stream itself is not always what it seems. In summer, the creek is reduced to a dry channel with pools and in the spring it becomes a flowing river with many rapids. Problem is, it’s all rather difficult to reach. Described here are a couple of options for accessing the best parts of Sheep Creek. When you're out here, virtually everything is public, BLM administered land, with the exception of Blackstone Ranch. Nevertheless, it's best to respect the ranchers and the land to keep this area friendly to us tourists.

Driving Directions

Head out on Idaho highway 51. At approximately 35 miles south from Bruneau, or 4.3 miles north of Grasmere, turn east onto an unsigned but good gravel road. The GPS coordinates for this turn are: 42°26'24.9"N, 115°53'12.9"W

Follow the gravel road for about 4.3 miles due east and come to a split in the road. If you have a high clearance vehicle, stay to the right, where the road becomes rough dirt. Otherwise bear left and in about 150ft you’ll reach a cul-de-sac. Park here. If you’re driving a HCV, you should be able to reach the rim of Sheep Creek Canyon at either Bighorn Country or Big Bend.

Because I don’t have a HCV and haven’t actually driven the route, the following directions are derived from Google earth imagery and TOPO! Software. On my visits, I hiked cross country using GPS and ignored the roads.

HCV Directions to Big Bend of Sheep Creek

At the split in the road (4.3 miles east of Hwy 51), continue east and then south for 0.6 miles where you will come to an intersection. At this intersection (1) there is a faint track going hard left or NE, a track going SSW and a track going SSE. Stay on the track going SSE and in another 100 feet or so, you will come to a Y (2). Stay left at the Y and continue another 400 feet (.07 miles) to another junction (3) coming in from the right. Stay left and head NE for 1.7 miles where you will reach a 4 way intersection with Blackstone Road (4). At Blackstone Road, turn right and head east for 2.9 miles. Along the way, you may pass through areas seeded by the BLM to pure stands of crested wheatgrass. After 2.9 miles, stay right past a faint track (5) going NE. Continue forward another 0.5 miles you will reach the beginning of a large draw (6). Park somewhere, from here, the rim of Sheep Creek is visible. You probably won’t get any visitors out here.

Coordinates
(1) this intersection 42°26'43.4"N, 115°48'3.0"W
(2) a Y 42°26'42.5"N, 115°48'1.9"W
(3) another junction 42°26'41.1"N, 115°47'58.2"W
(4) Blackstone Road 42°28'2.4"N, 115°47'17.6"W
(5) a faint track 42°27'46.3"N, 115°43'54.5"W
(6) large draw 42°27'30.9"N, 115°43'33.3"W

HCV Directions to Bighorn Country

At the split in the road (4.3 miles east of Hwy 51), continue east and then south for 0.6 miles where you will come to an intersection. At this intersection (1) there is a faint track going hard left or NE, a track going SSW and a track going SSE. Stay on the track going SSE and in another 100 feet or so, you will come to a Y (2). At the Y, go right and continue straight ahead for about 0.15 miles / 750 feet. At a fenceline (3), turn a hard left continue. After 0.4 miles you will arrive at a T intersection (4). Turn left and continue. Follow this track as it winds its way south and east for 5.4 miles where you will reach a great overlook (5) of Bighorn Country. Park somewhere, you probably won’t have visitors out here.

Coordinates (1) this intersection 42°26'43.4"N, 115°48'3.0"W
(2) a Y 42°26'42.5"N, 115°48'1.9"W
(3) a fenceline 42°26'35.9"N, 115°47'58.2"W
(4) T intersection 42°26'44.2"N, 115°47'31.4"W
(5) great overlook 42°23'18.3"N, 115°44'47.6"W

Hiking from Bend Bend

From road’s end, you can hike along the rim south or east. Out here the canyon is deep and narrow for many miles in either direction. Getting down to Sheep Creek from this point is another matter. The large draw that feeds into Sheep Creek here ends in at least one large dryfall, possibly two. To get down, plan on rappelling. Once down, the only exits (without technical rock climbing) are 5.8 miles upstream near a rincon (1) or 8.6 miles downstream at a small valley (2). At 10.2 miles downstream is another exit point (3). At 10.5 miles is a natural arch and at 10.6 miles is the Bruneau River.

Hiking from Bighorn Country

From road’s end, there are a number of ways to get down to the creek but no established trails. Many areas are steep with loose scree. If you plan to head downstream into the deeper canyon the best entry/exit point is north of the overlook peninsula near a rincon (1). In mid summer this section of sheep creek is bone dry. The region is certainly rattlesnake country. I tend not to encounter them out on the open plateau but in brushy rocky areas like Bighorn Country.

Coordinates (1) a rincon 42°23'43.8"N, 115°44'28.9"W
(2) small valley 42°28'51.8"N, 115°36'20.6"W

The BLM has a very useful map which covers this area. It is the surface management status Sheep Creek 1:100,000 scale topographic.

The following photos were provided by Josh Irwin. More excellent photos can be seen at his website at www.flickr.com/photos/walksonrocks/tags/owyhee