Empowering The Bicycle Traveler

Owyhee Uplands Bike Tour

view of the owyee river wilderness

North Fork Owyhee Wilderness. BLM photo

“a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”

Customer and friend Wendell came in the other day with his new Salsa Fargo “adventure” touring bike. As we were talking about places to go with such a bike he mentioned the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway (which sounds much better than the local name of Mud Flats Road).
Here is a mostly dirt road on mostly Bureau of Land Management real estate connecting Grand View, Idaho and Jordan Valley, Oregon through the Owyhee Uplands, one of the largest areas of un-fragmented sagebrush habitat in the West owyhee uplands back country byway map.

The Byway can be reached through Jordan Valley, Oregon 80 miles southwest of Boise or through Grand View, Idaho 70 miles southeast of Boise. It is 103 miles between the two towns, 74 of  those miles on unpaved surfaces. I’m sure it could be ridden in one grueling day but that is not the point. Experiencing what’s out there is the point. Three days and two nights one way seems reasonable.

2 or 3 options present themselves

1) drive to either Grand View or Jordan Valley, leave a car and drive to the other end. ride the Byway and shuttle back to the start.

2) drive to one end and do the roundtrip.

3) start in Boise and ride the loop.

There are no services between Grand View and Jordan Valley. There is water along the way but it is best not to drink it without boiling it or treating it first. If chosing the first option above it might be possible to stash a cooler loaded with extra water and food and other refreshment at some point along the route and retrieve it when shuttling back. If taking the second or third options provisions will need to be made to either boil or filter or otherwise treat enough water for drinking. Carrying enough for even three days would be awkward and heavy.

Wide, stout tires will make the loose, rocky washboarded sections more comfortable. I’m thinking 700c x 42 or 26″ x 2.3 or 650b x aswideaspossible. Of course a fatbike such as the Pugsley or Moonlander deserve serious consideration. 4 to 5 inch wide tires inflated to 10 or 12 psi would float over the rough stuff and track straight in the loose gravel and sand. Then they could be pumped up to 20 or 25 psi for the paved sections.

landscape, owyhee uplands

Above Shoofly Canyon. BLM photo

Camping is allowed in non-designated areas on BLM land. But if you choose to do this, please remember to stay on established roads and trails, “leave no trace,” and “pack it out.” Along the Byway there are parcels of private land and the BLM recommends purchasing one of their surface management status maps available for a small fee from the BLM (208)-373-4007) Ask for the “Triangle” section. Respect private property and avoid trespassing. There is one developed campground at the North Fork Recreation Site about 32 miles from Jordan Valley.

The road is sometimes impassable from late November through March due to snow. The surface will also be slick and messy if it is wet and that would be no fun.  Daytime temps in the summer can reach triple Fahrenheit digits and the nights in the high desert can be cold anytime of year. So, plan accordingly.

With all those caveats in place I can say that the more I have researched this, the more excited I am to ride in and explore this area. We have lived in Boise for over twenty years and, until we got touring bicycles, never made the effort to see some of the amazing, remote areas in our back yard. The byway overlays several different vegetation zones – riparian zones along the rivers, the sagebrush steppe, salt desert shrub landscape and juniper woodlands. The Owyhee Canyonlands are home to one fifth of the world population of native California Bighorn Sheep. There are over 500 thousand acres of designated wilderness areas in the Owyhee Canyonlands. One half. million. acres. You have some ‘splorin to do, Lucy!

8 comments… add one
  • Chris Reino February 3, 2012, 1:48 pm

    Hi Jim,

    I have done this in a day on a dual sport motorcycle (spend a night in Leslie Gulch,,,incredible!). Want to do this as a bike tour…would be great in the spring or fall, too hot in the summer. Lets make it happen! CR

    • Bike Hermit February 3, 2012, 7:01 pm

      We have a couple other people who want to do this too. Maybe, after this post, a few more will come forward. We’ll see what happens and try to plan this for early summer/late spring. Adventure Touring. Yeehaw!

  • Ron Riley February 26, 2012, 10:35 am

    Jim & Stacy,

    It was great to run into you guys last night at the Crooked Fence Brewery opening! I’m down for the Owyhee Uplands ride. Let me know when you get dates set so I can pencil it in – and to start getting bike and boy into shape. I’m not to worried about the LHT…

    • Bike Hermit February 26, 2012, 6:52 pm

      It was good talking to you and it was great to see the support for another down and dirty brewery in Garden City. There is hope for Boise yet! The Owyhee Upland tour is going to be dedicated to enjoying the country and not to proving something. (as if I could anyway) The biggest challenge may be how to transport beer. If you can ride 30 or so miles for 3 days in a row it should be super fun.

  • Tony March 23, 2012, 9:44 pm

    A friend an I are thinking about an epic assault on this road early in the summer. It may be an bit hot when we’re thinking about doing it, but it would definitely make for a great challenge. Keep posted on the ride, I would be interested in scouting the road at some point.

    • Bike Hermit December 22, 2012, 1:04 pm

      The first annual is in the books! Did a short write up in this post.
      We’re looking forward to the second annual Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway tour!

  • Ron Christian March 23, 2014, 7:14 pm

    Hey Guys: I’m new to adventure touring and am interested in going on a trip into the Owyhees. If you know of one coming up, or if you want to get one going, I’d like to hear from you.


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