When you arrive at the Sheep Rock scenic overlook and interpretive nature trail high above Hells Canyon, you’re baffled.
What the heck is such an impressive interpretive area doing 42 miles northwest of Council in a remote corner of Idaho on the edge of the Hells Canyon wilderness?
Well, in 1978 the National Park Service designated Sheep Rock a National Natural Landmark to recognize its significance as a natural area and to ensure its preservation. Two years later it was designated a National Recreational Trail and the U.S. Forest Service constructed the nature trail, which goes out to Sheep Rock.
The overlook is at an elevation of 6,847 feet, which provides visitors with beautiful views of Hells Canyon below and the Wallowa Mountains across the canyon in Oregon.
I drove up to the overlook from Hells Canyon Park, an Idaho Power campground on Hells Canyon Reservoir, northwest of Cambridge. It was an accidental side trip. We were exploring the Kleinschmidt Grade out of Hells Canyon. It’s one of those roads you’ve just got to do because of its reputation. It’s one of the most windy, steep gravel roads around, known for it huge dropoffs. Talk about a white-knuckled drive. That’s the allure I guess.
Anyway, off we went up the Kleinschmidt Grade and loving every minute of it. However, when we reached the forest town of Cuprum, which is about 10 miles from and 2,600 feet higher than the bottom of the canyon, the trip got more intriguing. OK, we did the Grade, but Forest Service signs in the area pointed to a whole lot of other interesting vistas.
So we continued north out of Cuprum and followed the road to Horse Mountain Lookout. That’s right, another interesting place. It took us through timbered lands all the way up to the lookout at 6,890 feet in elevation.
The lookout is a must-see many more magnificent views. It’s about 13 miles from the junction with the road out of Cuprum.
We backtracked from Horse Mountain and stayed on the Forest Road 106 going north being lured by other places like Kinney Point and Sheep Rock.
By the way, there is a less challenging way to get to Cuprum and Sheep Rock. The Forest Service recommends heading out of the western Idaho town of Council via Forest Road 002. At the town of Bear continue on Forest Road 002 to Cuprum. Two miles past Cuprum take Forest Road 106 about 3 miles to the Horse Mountain Road junction and points beyond.
This is an amazing area and needs to be on a bucket list. It takes planning and caution. The Forest Service advises high-clearance vehicles like but pickup trucks or SUVs. It would make a good ATV ride from local campgrounds.
You might check with the Council Ranger District, (208)-253-0100, for details and road conditions. You never know if there is a washout or downed tree in this remote area.
Good exploring and you’ll never know what you’ll find in Idaho by accident.