Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway

I woke early Saturday morning with unknown plans for the day. The threat of weather forecasters about the doom and gloom of snow coming in canceled the plans that my buddy Travis and I had made to explore the Oregon Trail Main route going from Glen’s Ferry to Boise- a back country trail. So when I awoke to partly cloudy skies and Travis sleeping in- I headed out the door to my back-up plan. With both dogs in the Jeep, electronics and survival kits tucked in their spots, a guide from department of transportation, and a cup of coffee we headed out the door for the Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway.

The Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway technically spans more than fifty miles in Southwest Idaho. I did just over 150 miles for the day. I enjoy this area because it reminds me much of what  early pioneers would have seen when they arrived to create a new life for themselves in the sage brush covered valley. Today’s rich agricultural lands and the small towns found along the byway are the legacy passed down to us by those early Idaho pioneers. I love the legacy for all of us to discover and enjoy as we drive a travel.

I did several side trips and strayed from the actual path recommended by the Idaho Department of Transportation. The first of these stops was to the Sawtooth Winery. I enjoy wine history. I think this is because when living in Europe, I had the opportunity to tour local monasteries that produced local unknown and unlabeled wines. I am by no means a wine guy, but I do love interesting stories surrounding wineries. It was closed.

Not to be dissuaded I continued south on Idaho 45 and just before the crossing at Walter’s Ferry I ventured over to the Idaho Western Heritage Byway and then to some back country trails that skirt the Snake River. I figured this would be a good place to let the dogs go play for a bit.

The trails were passable and we had the place to ourselves. We were also rewarded with the first of several Bald Eagle sightings for the day.

After the pups had a chance to run around a bit, it was time to go connect with the byway. Since I was also ready for lunch and wanted to keep the Jeep fueled, I headed to Dan’s Ferry, an old Phillipp’s 66 station where they serve some of the greasiest, yet best tasting chili in all of Idaho.

Next we traveled North and hit Map Rock Road for the beginning of the byway. We made several stops to explore along the way. Map Rock and Trapper’s flat are some of my favorite areas to stomp around in. These are better known for fishing and camping spots, but I like to hit them for rabbit hunting.

One of the attractions of the Snake River Scenic Byway is the number of orchards, vineyards, and wineries in the area. There was a particular one I wanted to visit since it was new. Located on Chicken Dinner Road is Huston Vineyards. I pulled in to have a look around. I enjoy the atmosphere of wineries, specifically when they are doing tastings. There is something about the social experience that is inviting.  Since I am driving my participation is at the observer’s level. But I do have light conversation with one of the owners, very friendly people, buy a bottle of wine for a co-worker’s birthday (a wine expert) , sample a great tasting Thai salad, and head on my way. Highly recommend visiting Huston Vineyards when you out that way.

Back on the road I observe more reflections of the past including the old Huston School building, which I couldn’t find any history or records of. Dotted throughout Southwest Idaho are buildings like that are abandoned.

The amount of wildlife can vary on this route. In fact I would be cautious if driving this early morning or late evening due to deer on the roadways. I was blessed with several hawk observations and highly recommend taking a good set of binoculars and birding book with you. Photographers take your better lenses for distance and a tripod along. I saw my second bald eagle on the route after leaving Huston perched right above an old barn. Beautiful.

After making my way down to Homedale, I took another side trip to a BLM area we call “Spanish Charlie” this is a set of trails I have done on ATV but had never ventured out on with any of my Jeeps. I love these trails because there are times in the year you can find yourself completely alone. They also take you over into Oregon, and for some reason I still find crossing the boarder in the middle of nowhere very cool. Must go back to my military roots.

The byway starts off at Walter’s Ferry and ends in Nyssa, Oregon. Since I spent the majority of the day on side trips and tours, it took me longer than the recommended time of 2 hours to complete. In fact I would make this an all day affair. I never made it to Nyssa, and instead opted out in Caldwell since it was late and I needed to get back. The guide that I ordered for free is a good starting point, but recommend a detailed map as well. For a quick look at the location of the area, check out the Idaho Byways site.

The Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway is a well woven tapestry of the things that make Idaho great including places, people, and scenic lands that encompasses the spirit of the west. Rich agricultural lands dating back nearly 4 million years ago are still found today along the byway. These were created by the fire of volcanoes that once dominated the area. In addition, there is evidence of mass flooding 15,000 years ago demonstrating the power of water as it reshaped the land from Idaho to Oregon via the Snake and Columbia River. Truly a great day trip, and when coupled with all the exploration that can be done here by linking several byways and back country trips could be an interesting 3-5 day self-supported adventure.

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Video of this trip

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