Located 65 miles northeast of Baker City, OR, Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area encompasses over 23,250 acres of BLM administered public land. The prime attraction of this vast Wilderness Study Area is the 3,230 feet high Sheep Mountain. The highpoint dominates the area overlooking Snake River and consists of barren and rugged badlands.
In the west and northwest of the Wilderness Study Area is Pine Creek Drainage that features spectacular elevated peaks, whereas Black Canyon Creek is the only perennial creek in the region. In fact, the entire Wilderness Study Area is riddled with peaks, ridges, and drainages in all directions.
The Wilderness Study Area (WSA) has a huge variety of woody plant species despite its rugged landscape. The flat bench area of the Wilderness Study Area largely consists of snowberry, buckwheat, sagebrush, bluebunch wheatgrass, and squaw currant vegetation.
Adjacent to these flatlands are families of Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass. Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir can also be found here. The magnificent scenery, diversity of flora and fauna, and a fragile ecosystem, resulted in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area being designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).
Visitors can enjoy numerous recreational activities here including wildlife viewing, sightseeing, rockhounding, hiking, and photography. The entire region is so untouched that only six human developments can be found here including; a log cabin, a hiking trail, radio repeater station, two springs developments, and a man-made trail that leads 0.3 miles to the southern end of the wilderness study area.
The Wilderness Study Area is located along the Oregon State Highway 85, with the closest city being 65 miles away and the closest town of Halfway, OR, in Baker County, some 15 miles to the east. Another small community is found about a mile and a half to the north of the Wilderness Study Area in Copperfield.
Most of the lands bordering the Wilderness Study Area are private lands. However, the southeastern border of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area is bordered by BLM-owned public land, belonging to the Homestead Wilderness Study Area and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
Exploring this vast rugged terrain will require good navigational skills and four-wheel-drive or high-clearance vehicles. One should come prepared for adverse weather and road conditions.
Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area permits camping, though it is completely primitive without any facilities and amenities. Campers will have to find their own way around when staying here. It is advised not to disturb the area and adhere to the leave-no-trace-principles when camping. Black bears and mountain lions reside in the area and precaution is advised.
Campers can bring their pets along to stay with them. Camping limit is up to 14 days at a stretch, after which campers must relocate to a different campsite at least 25 miles away.
The closest campground to Sheep Mountain WSA is Union Creek Campground, which is huge, and facilitates campers with numerous amenities and facilities. An hour and a half drive away, this campground boasts more than 60 campsites for RVs, tents, and trailers. Some sites are full hookups, some with water and electricity hook-ups, and a few with no hookups. Potable water and flush toilets are also provided along with picnic tables, grills, and fire pits. The campsites are spacious and offer decent privacy.
Rockhounding is a popular recreational activity at Sheep Mountain WSA, primarily because of its closeness to Oxbow and Brownlee Reservoirs, as well as the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Some of the rockhounding specimens in the Wilderness Study Area includes green moss agate, thundereggs, Oregon Jade, jasper, and agatized wood. It’s an especially interesting and fun activity when you are bringing your kids along for the adventure.
Hunting is a widespread and popular activity at Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area. The fact that this WSA is located within the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has a lot to do with its generous big game hunting opportunities.
The vast wilderness region supports a population of elk and mule deer in the summers as well as many other game animals such as mountain lions, chukar, blue grouse, black bear, and bobcats. Bighorn sheep were also introduced in the WSA during 1986 from their original habitat at Rocky Mountain. The WSA also offers excellent upland bird hunting. Be sure to learn about the game and nongame species before beginning your hunting escapades.
Sheep Mountain WSA has one small 0.3-mile trail that is limited to vehicle use. However, an almost five-mile scenic trail, which is considered part of the Snake River Breaks Trail, allows hikers to hike all the way from the Farewell Bend to Hells Canyon Recreation Area.
Sheep Mountain Hiking Trail is more challenging and is much less crowded. It’s a three-mile trail marked with rock cairns and runs from the southwest portion of the WSA to end right at the cabin found at the mouth of Sheep Creek. Backpacking opportunities are also terrific at the northern end of the WSA.
Sheep Mountain WSA is one of the best places for a solitary and enjoyable outdoor picnic. If you are lucky you can discover some of the most beautiful spots to lay down your blankets and basket of treats. The head of Sheep Creek is one such spot, and so is the flat area at the top of the Black Canyon Creek.
The vegetation is thick in these parts and conceals all human activities so you can have a truly private and serene picnic setting.
There’s plenty of wildlife to seek and observe at the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area. The Snake River adjacent to the WSA offers a suitable living habitat to a flock of about a hundred bald eagles that are a threatened species and simply majestic to watch up close.
The WSA is also home to black bears, songbirds, chukars, red-tailed hawks, kestrels, coyotes, rodents, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. Sharp-tailed grouse is another threatened species found in the remote Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area.
There are two cultural sites located at Sheep Mountain Wilderness Study Area, including a nearly intact historic log cabin at the head of the Sheep Creek, that lies at the end of the vehicle-use-only trail.
The second cultural site is a prehistoric hunting camp found in the area. The former is sometimes used as a hunting cabin, however, it is unauthorized to do so due to its historic significance.