Located on the eastern border of Oregon, the Bureau of Land Management Honeycombs Wilderness Study Area contains 39000 acres of wilderness east of the Owyhee Reservoir.
The WSA is situated next to the Wild Horse Basin WSA on the northside and the Upper Leslie Gulch and Slocum Creek to the south, and is separated from these areas by dirt roads.
The terrain in the BLM lands here is rugged and consists of a thick layer of volcanic tuff threaded with streams, rocky outcroppings, geological formations such as volcanic ash towers, pinnacles, ridges, hills, drainages, and washes. There is some level land around the Shadscale Flat and Sheephead Basin.
The WSA gets its name from the 12000 acre region on its north side called the Honeycombs which consists of steep canyon walls and multi-colored rock features formed by volcanic activity. Vegetation in the area consists of sagebrush and native grasses. There are some juniper trees that dot the slopes and drainages.
Hiking and backpacking in the area attracts visitors to the Honeycombs Wilderness Study Area who enjoy the peace and solitude of this remote region and the abundant wildlife that reside or pass thorough the region.
While visiting the area check out the Malheur National Forest to the northwest, Lake Owyhee State Park, where developed campsites that accommodate RVs are available to the north, and the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area to the southeast.
The nearest large center with a variety of services and amenities is two hours to the east at Nampa, Idaho. To approach the Honeycombs Wilderness Study area from Nampa, head west on Highway 55, south on Highway 95, take the McBridge Creek Road to the north and then turn north again on Succor Creek Road to the Leslie Gulch Road which will take you to access roads into the BLM WSA area.
The Honeycombs Wilderness Study Area is about 31 miles south of Vale, Oregon, You can also use Oregon State Highway 201 to approach the area which is located approximately 15 miles northeast of the BLM public lands here.
The WSA boundaries are defined by high-standard BLM roads on the south, east, and north sides. There are three dead-end access roads that enter the WSA. A horse trap in the Sheepshead Basin provides access on the north.
Access roads in the area are naturally surfaced and subject to weather conditions. During wet weather, high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles may be required and travel for large RV units and tow trailers is not recommended.
There are two campgrounds at Lake Owyhee State Park, Indian Creek Campground and McCormack Campground. The campsites are located near each other and are accessible to RVs on the Owyhee Reservoir north of the Honeycombs Wilderness Area. The campgrounds are open year-round; however, potable water is only available from mid-April to mid-October. Sites are reservable during the peak season, and first-come, first-serve in the offseason.
Cabins are available for rent at Indian Creek Campground. The McCormack Campground has 29 sites with electric and water hookups and eight tent sites. Amenities here include an RV dump station. The Indian Creek Campground has 21 sites with electric and water hookups for RVs, and two cabins. Facilities at this campground include a fish cleaning station and boat ramp. Both campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and water supplies during the peak season. Pets are permitted but should remain on a leash and under control. ADA sites are available.
Primitive backcountry camping is available to backpackers in the Honeycombs Wilderness Study Area. Campers should use previously used sites on hard ground when possible to minimize disturbance to the local ecosystem. You must bury human waste appropriately and pack out all trash.
There are water sources in the area but the water needs to be purified. Be sure you are aware of the location of water sources, carry purification tablets, and pack in extra water to meet your needs.
Camping sites along the lake, and in sheltered canyons are ideal for exploring the Honeycombs. There are numerous access roads, informal trails along washes and drainages, and both out-and-back and loop trails in the region for backpackers to utilize. This is a harsh wilderness environment with no cellular service, so ensure you have satellite tracking devices, a compass, an accurate map, and inform someone of your plans before venturing out.
Hiking in the region is the most common activity for visitors who can discover the areas canyons and wilderness terrain, and discover the geological formations and wildlife in the study area.
The Painted Canyon Loop trail is a frequently used route in the area. This is an advanced trail for experienced hikers and backpackers, and the trail takes you through very isolated wilderness terrain. The trailhead is located to the west, and can be approached on a difficult access road with cattle gates and a rough bumpy surface.
This loop trail follows the Carlton Canyon to the Owyhee Lake, and then veers up the Painted Canyon to Juniper Ridge. This trail is about 18 miles in length, and can take up to three days to complete. There are significant elevation changes along the way and the only reliable water source is the lake which requires purification before human consumption. Pack plenty of water and wear adequate hiking boots to negotiate rough terrain.
The Honeycombs are geological formations that can be accessed from a four-mile hike along Juniper Ridge, followed by a 1000 foot descent. Formations in the honeycombs include towering spires, fields of large boulders, colorful rock seams in canyon walls, and caves.
There is a creek with a drainage leading out of the area. The Owyhee Lake in the Honeycombs is a great place for a dip after a long day exploring the geological wonders of the area
The Owyhee River is a popular destination for rafters, especially in the spring and summer when water levels are high. There are class III, IV, and V rapids on the section of the river between Three Forks and Rome. This 39 mile stretch of river is best for experienced rafters only.
A 48 mile stretch on the Lower Owyhee, from Rome to Birch Creek, has challenging but more accessible rapids, ranging from Class II to Class IV, and pools that fall abruptly into the rapids along the river course. Outfitters in the area can provide guidance and equipment for whitewater rafting on the Owyhee River.
Numerous mammals and birds of prey reside in the Owyhee Canyonlands and Honeycomb Wilderness Study Area. The wilderness area provides a diverse habitat with canyons, creeks, washes, and a lake.
Keep an eye out for California bighorn sheep which were reintroduced to this region in 1965, and frequent the east side of the reservoir lake. Raptors like golden eagles and hawks nest on the canyon walls in the winter time. Other animals you can spot are pronghorn antelope and Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer that winter here.
Naturally occurring hot springs are situated on the Owyhee River where a waterfall pours into a set of pools. During chilly weather offseason, hike up to the springs and enjoy a warm soak. The springs and warm pools are situated on either side of the river.
You will need to hike across private land to reach the hot springs, which is currently permitted by the landowner, but be respectful and leave no trace while trekking to the site.
Hunting is permitted in the appropriate season in the Owyhee Canyonlands in the Honeycombs Wilderness Study Area region. Big game hunting in the area is a much sought-after opportunity, as there are only a few tags released annually for California bighorn sheep in the Lower and Upper Owyhee canyons. Hunting for game birds in the open areas is also popular with hunters. Game birds in the area include chukar, ring-necked pheasants, California quail, and mourning doves. Be sure to have appropriate licenses and follow all hunting regulations in designated areas.