Louse Canyon - North Hike

Hike Rating: Difficult
Hike Length: 4.4 miles roundtrip (variable)
Elevation Loss: 60’
Trailhead Elevation: 5,400’
Best Season: September, when water levels are
     low and eagles have fledged from their nests
Driving Access: Any vehicle, with strong tires

Plus Points
• Magnificent 300'-high rhyolite cliffs, eroded into spires, palisades and vertical walls
• Louse Canyon is a Wild-and-Scenic River within a BLM Wilderness Study Area
• Beavers are a major force in the canyon, creating numerous dammed water pools
• Aeries (stick nests) of golden eagles are found on ledges high on the cliffs
• Sage grouse are abundant on the uplands, songbirds in the streamside willows
• Solitude is almost guaranteed in this very remote stream canyon

Minus Points
• Extremely rugged hike that will test one's bushwhacking and boulder-hopping skills
• Numerous stream and beaver pond crossings, so expect to have wet boots all day
• Rattlesnakes are a possibility throughout the summer, so caution is advised

Download (PDF, 487 KB): Photos of Louse Canyon - North Hike
Download (PDF, 452 KB): Topo Map for Louse Canyon - North Hike
Download (PDF, 761 KB): Road Map for Louse Canyon - North Hike

Trail Notes
Map of Louse Canyon - North Hike
The hike begins at Anderson Crossing, on the east side of the stream at a parking area with a "Wilderness Boundary" marker. The route first follows a double-track jeep trail downstream for about 0.4 miles, where it ends at a willow thicket against the east canyon wall. A long deep beaver pond prevents a crossing to the west bank (unless you want to swim), so the best route is along the rock cliff on the east, bushwhacking downstream through tunnels in the willows and wild roses, until you can cross the stream in shallower water. From this point on, hikers will need to determine their own best route down the canyon — which is sometimes in the wet streambed, or along dry side channels in the willows, or even climbing onto terraces above the floodplain to get past obstacles.

Don't despair, as there is always a passable way down the canyon, though it may take a few minutes and a few false starts to find it. The hike seems to get easier the further one progresses downstream, with longer stretches of dry stream channel to walk and less bushwhacking and boulder-hopping.

Throughout the canyon, one is always walking beneath sheer walls of rock, eroded into spires, palisades and cliffs by eons of water flow. Each bend in the canyon reveals its own surprises and charms — plus its own hiking challenges. There is no set destination to this hike and one can walk as far one's stamina and curiosity allow. Just beyond the 2 mile point, there is a prominent slot canyon coming in from the south and a huge spire of rock on the east bank a few hundred yards downstream. Look high up on this spire for golden eagle aeries (stick nests) built on ledges in the rock. This spire can make a good lunch and hike destination. Return as you came.

Road to Trailhead
On Hwy 95, about 40 miles south of Burns Junction or 15 miles north of McDermitt, turn east onto the Jackson Creek Road. Follow this gravel road east, over the summit of the Strawberry Mountains, for about 15.3 miles to a major intersection. Turn right (southeast) and follow gravel Road 6350 for about 20 miles to Anderson Crossing at the West Little Owyhee River. With 6- or 8-ply tires in good condition, this route should be driveable by any passenger car. By September, Anderson Crossing will likely be dry, allowing one to easily drive across the riverbed to the east bank.

The Jackson Creek Road is mostly well-built and occasionally graded. However, climbing over the Strawberry Mountains, the roadbed is loose shale and is steep in some spots, so this is the slowest part of the drive. The first 8 miles of this road also passes through the area burned by the massive Long Draw Fire in July 2012, so the landscape is barren. Once over the mountains, the gravel road to Anderson Crossing is also well-built and maintained for heavy stock-hauling trucks. Even so, depending on when it was last graded, the washboards can be fearsome and travel can be slow.

Finally, the desert region east of the Strawberry Mountains is one of the most remote and least-visited in Southeast Oregon. Travelers should not leave Hwy 95 unless they are equipped with adequate gas, water and supplies, in a sturdy well-maintained vehicle with strong tires, and are prepared to assume full responsibility for themselves. There is no cell phone reception, so a satellite messenger or locator beacon is highly recommended.

Camping Options
There are no developed campgrounds anywhere in this remote desert region, so the only option is dispersed camping with one's own water, sanitation and trash removal.

For tent campers: The best dispersed camping site is probably right at the trailhead at Anderson Crossing. On the east side of the stream, just north of the road, is a wide flat parking area that is suitable for any type of camping setup. Late in the summer, there is a lot of dry grass on this flat, so be extremely careful with any campfires.

For tent trailers or small travel trailers: If your small camping trailer is rugged, has excellent tires, and is prepared for lengthy washboard roads, it's possible to haul it all the way to Anderson Crossing and camp at the trailhead. However, before driving the last half mile down to the river crossing, it's smart to walk down first and check the condition of the riverbed — as there's not much room to turn a trailer around on the west bank.

Another option, if you don't want to haul your small trailer all the way to Anderson Crossing, is to find a dispersed camp site in the desert along Road 6350 and "commute" to the Louse Canyon day hikes. There's a few side roads and pullouts enroute to Anderson Crossing that, if dry, will provide a decent campsite in the desert sagebrush.

Agency Contact: Vale BLM District, (541) 473-3144

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to contact local federal land agencies to inquire about current conditions before traveling.

Page last updated: 1/18/13