Surrounding the Snake River Valley in eastern Idaho are hundreds of miles of forest service roads, jeep trails and ATV routes that offer some of the best off-road motorized recreation opportunities anywhere.
The editors of Dirt Toys Magazine are always looking for new areas within an hour’s drive for product testing (that’s what we like to call it when we tell the boss why we’re not coming into the office for a day). Just recently we discovered a place that features breathtaking scenery and great ORV opportunities that are easy to access and still off the beaten path.
About an hour’s drive west from Idaho Falls, ID, there’s a bump in the road called Howe, ID. It’s a small farming community that is located about 20 miles north of Arco on Highway 33 and features a couple of churches, a community center and post office. That’s it. No food. No fuel. No place to shop.
But Howe is right at the point of a mountain range that offers some great trails for motorized recreation.
Our first ride (we plan to do many over the next few months) was sort of a scouting trip. We know according to the Idaho Trails website http://idaho.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=2252207eb95b49f99b2c05228831dfbb that there were some connecting trails in the area. So we took part of a day to see how the trails came together.
From Howe we went about six miles south on Highway 33 to where the Eight Mile Road heads out to the west. We didn’t notice any road sign. It was just a dirt road next to a gravel pit. Parking next to the pit, the road went about 1.25 miles across the sage brush to the mouth of a canyon.
We then traveled northwest up the right fork of Eight Mile Canyon. Midway up, the road blends into a jeep trail No. 557 … but you really won’t see much difference in the road other than the canyon gets a little tighter with few places to pull off or turn around until you reach the top. Along the way there are spectacular vistas of the cliffs on the east side of Howe Peak.
The canyon is about three miles long to the summit. Here you start to see trail signs that identify various routes.
The summit is 7,650 feet in elevation. Here the trail intersects with a couple of other trails. Trail No. 559 heads north to Jumpoff Peak, Trail No. 560 heads south to Howe Peak. And Trail No. 561 heads west down the canyon and eventually comes out near Arco.
Trail No. 559 (that takes you to Jumpoff Peak, elevation 9,033 feet) runs about 3.5 miles before it turns into an ATV trail for about three miles, then continues down the mountain another four miles to Hurst Creek Road north of Howe. The trail descends to the Lemhi Valley about 4,000 feet below.
Trail No. 560 runs west 2.5 miles along the top of the ridge, turning into Trail No. 557 which loops five miles back down and ties into Trail No. 561. There’s also a spur (Trail No. 617) that continues south off Trail No. 557 and goes to the top of Howe Peak, elevation 8,704 feet.
Trail No. 561 that heads west down the valley and eventually ties into the Wood Canyon Road which then connects to the Arco Pass Creek Road that takes you right to Arco. Along this route there are several different roads and trails you can take to explore the lower end of the canyon. From the summit, the trail descends 1,200 feet down through trees and rugged terrain.
The entire area covers about 160 square miles of mountainous terrain that features outstanding geological formations and views of the Lemhi Valley, the Snake River Valley and some spectacular mountain scenery. You are never more than about 10 miles away from a main road and the cell coverage is great.
Howe does not have any services. Arco offers full services. You can access the area from Arco, or off Highway 33 six miles south of Howe, or from the Hurst Creek Road (take W 3720 N that is 2.5 miles north of Howe on Little Lost River Highway and then head west about 1.2 miles to the bend of the road). This is where Hurst Creek Road begins. To get to Trail No. 559 you need to travel west on Hurst Creek Road about 10 miles.
We spent about four hours trying to get a feel for the area. Even in early June there were a few snow drifts hanging around from last winter that made a couple of the trails inaccessible. But that just gives us an excuse to come back up and spend another day learning the trails.
The terrain is family friendly. Even though the elevation changes, there are no trails that would freak out the kids or cause your wife to stop speaking to you.
The scenic views are plentiful. There are great opportunities to spot wildlife. And you won’t see a lot of other riders in the area.