The North Fork Owyhee Wilderness (NFO) must be one of the least visited wilderness areas in Idaho, if not the country. Without the dramatic, sweeping canyons of nearby areas, it's a bit of a mystery. However, on our second excursion into the area this spring we found a reason the NFO should be on every Idaho backpacker's shortlist.
Corral Creek Gorge
Vital Stats - L/8-12m - V/~1,000'
I must start by saying this isn't a trip for beginners. I consider myself a pretty competent backcountry navigator. However, this trip had me occasionally wondering which way I was heading. There are no trails and water is scarce outside of the canyon. Study your map, know how to use a compass, and consider bringing a GPS.
There are lots of variations on this trip. How much time you want to spend exploring the area is up to you. From what we could tell there are enough slot canyons, narrows, cliffs, fins and towers that one could spend a week in the Corral and Current Creek basins alone. This writeup will focus on the most magnificent part of our exploration, Corral Creek Gorge.
We parked at the remains of a jeep track along Mud Flat Road. The route starts by following this road but before long the road disappears and you come to a wilderness boundary sign. From here you will head roughly 10° W of North. There are a few canyons along the way that are likely worth exploring. We camped the first night at the junction of two such canyons. However, the main goal is to make your way up across the broken plateau and find a place to drop into Corral Creek upstream from the gorge. The map at the bottom of the post shows our approximate route. We went further north than is strictly necessary* because I wanted to check out the Wilderness Highpoint and what I dubbed "Crazy Fin Area:
We dropped down a small slot canyon to get to the main creek - at least until it cliffed out. Then we found another one, until it cliffed out. A few canyons later we did finally get to the main creek and it was easy walking from there. We camped on a hill above the creek but if we have just hiked to the obvious entrance to the gorge there were plenty of flat areas to set up camp.
The next morning we woke up early so we'd have all day to explore. And I'm so glad we did. I've been in enough Owyhee canyons to know how they usually go: Very promising start, then quickly get so filled with riparian brush that forward progress is nearly impossible. Not Corral Creek. It was clear, easy hiking the whole way. The creek carved through twists and turns of black rock towering overhead. Arches, hoodoos, caves, waterfalls . . . Corral Creek Gorge blew away our expectations. The best part? We were able to descend it all the way to the junction with Current Creek, where there was an easy exit to canyon right.
Once out of the canyon it was more tricky navigating to get back to the 4Runner. Of course you could just continue following the canyon downstream. In about 1.6 miles it the road crosses the creek, and taking a left on the road will take you back to the starting point.
Once again, this definitely is not a beginners hike. But if you can use a map and compass, are comfortable scrambling, and don't mind being far, FAR from civilization, Corral Creek Gorge is one of the most exciting backpacking trips you'll find within a few hours of Boise.
Explore more . . .
Backpacking near Boise: North Star Lake, North Fork Owyhee, Pole Creek Breaks
Canyon Hiking: South Bass Trail in Grand Canyon, The Tules, Squaw Creek, Hart Creeks