Painted Canyon Loop

Photo by: Steve Vidito Photo by Steve Vidito

Highlights: Obelisks. Three-hundred-foot red-rock walls. Twelve-foot-tall sagebrush (We call that old-growth!). This is the best hike available in the Owyhee Canyonlands lowlands. It’s a must-see for those who love solitude and adventure.

Need to Know: The road to the Painted Canyon Trailhead is best suited for four-wheel drive vehicles or vigilant Subaru drivers with clearance and wherewithal. This road is not good enough to be traveling after even a quarter inch of rain: Do not leave the road if this is the case.

This is advanced hiking. It requires some route-finding and topographic navigation. Temperatures on the hike can be extreme in the summer. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. There is no water on this hike, so bring at least 2 liters for yourself and electrolytes. Wear stable footwear and watch where you step. Occasionally you can encounter a rattlesnake in the Owyhee. After hearing the rattle, locate the snake. Step quickly in the opposite direction. If need be, use a walking stick or hiking poles to usher the snake away.

Getting There: From Jordan Valley, take Highway 95 north for 27 miles and turn left at the sign for Succor Creek. Take this road 8.5 miles to a junction at the Rockville School, where you will head left toward Succor Creek. Continue for another 7 miles, passing the turnoff for Leslie Gulch on your left. When you get to the next junction for McIntyre Springs Road, turn left and restart your odometer. Follow the McIntyre Springs Road straight, keeping the scenic Three Fingers Butte on your left until a junction at 5.25 miles. Turn right. Continue for another mile and turn left at another junction. Head another mile and keep left at another fork. Finally after 11 miles, turn left for the final quarter mile to a dilapidated cow trough and your trailhead. Park your vehicle.

Head south on foot along the main road for a third of a mile, where you’ll see the head of Carleton Canyon (approximate GPS Coordinates: 43 degrees, 28'25.64"N and 117 degrees 14'8.21”W) dropping down the gulch to the right. Hike and scramble down Carleton Canyon, admiring the red-rock formations the farther in you go. At 3.75 miles from the road is a major canyon coming in from the right. This is the confluence of Painted and Carleton Canyons (approximate GPS coordinates: 43 degrees 26'23.05”N and 117 degrees 16’41.24”W).

It will be hard not to hike back up Painted Canyon slowly, as you will find yourself in the midst of old-growth sagebrush, incredible spires, towers and sheer walls. About 5.25 miles in, you’ll encounter an amphitheater off to the left. Stay straight to head toward your car. The climbing gets steeper, and there is one hand-over-hand climb. After 7 miles you’ll spot a jeep track turnaround. Exit the canyon here and follow the jeep track for 1.5 miles back to your vehicle.