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Slideshow: Owyhee Honeycombs

The Honeycombs

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If you’re craving a wilderness entirely different from the familiar forests and peaks of Western Oregon, head south of Ontario.

I recently visited the area for the second time and, in the company of four friends and three dogs, spent two days hiking the rugged Honeycombs of the Owyhee region. We emerged sunburned, sore and stiff-jointed, but smiling.

While the trail through the desert is hot, it’s relatively easy. But once you reach the Honeycombs, the route down toward the reservoir requires a steep vertical descent around massive and often unstable boulders.

Rose Hansen / OPB

For backpacking enthusiasts, the scenic canyons of the Owyhee, especially the Honeycombs, are a challenge worth the trouble. One day’s trek along Juniper Ridge rewards hikers views of 1,000-foot deep canyons, rocky outcrops, towering spires and plunging cliffs. Many of the rock faces are dotted with small caves, lending the area its name: Honeycombs.

If you venture to the Honeycombs during the summer, it’s best to start early in the morning to save at least a few hours in the scorching desert sun.

Rose Hansen / OPB

Be forewarned: Hiking here is not for the faint of heart. There are rattlesnakes. Summer temperatures teeter around the 90s and 100s, and it’s so dry you’ll cough every time you open your mouth. Water, save for the Owyhee River and reservoir itself, runs dry. Sweat and you’re sheathed in dust. And the landscape doesn’t exactly open itself up to you — maps and guidebooks tend toward unreliable, the roads are rough and unmarked, and the few trails are difficult, if not impossible, to locate. There are no signs. 

And if you’re lucky, no people.

So if you’re craving a real wilderness experience, if you want to try your hand at bushwhacking, if you want a different kind of Oregon adventure, the Owyhees are calling your name. Pack your gear. Grab a topography map (USGS Three Fingers Rock and Pelican Point are your best bets) and a reliable water filter. Call your most experienced, outdoorsy friends. And go.

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