DESTINATION: HOWE, IDAHO
How many riding areas have you passed while thinking, “That doesn’t look like very much fun” or “Not challenging enough” or any number of other excuses? We bypassed Howe, Idaho, for years on our way to other riding areas. After all, Howe is a dot on the map in Idaho’s eastern desert. There is a mountain range behind the tiny hamlet, and another mountain range a little bit farther up the road (north) and across the valley from Howe.
We missed great off-roading for far too long, but we finally stopped rather than speeding by the town. We have ridden Howe a half dozen times and still haven’t explored it all. There are hundreds of miles of forest service and BLM roads, jeep trails, and other ORV paths. Some trails wind through the mountains and open hillsides, while others climb into steep, narrow canyons and still others cross the high desert.
There are reasons we keep going back. The variety of riding options (trails and terrain) is near the top of the list. No crowds are another. The scenery is awesome. The trails range from mild to technical to rocky to sandy to steep to everything in between.
WHERE TO START?
Some rides started from a small parking area off Idaho State Highway 33, about six miles south of Howe where Eightmile Road heads west from the parking area. You must pay attention to find the parking area; it’s not much more than a wide spot off the highway next to a gravel pit. From that parking area it’s about a mile and a quarter on the trail through the sagebrush to the mouth of Eightmile Canyon.
Stay on the right fork when you enter Eightmile Canyon. There the trail starts to climb steeply through a tight three-mile-long canyon. You gain more than 2500 feet from the parking area (5075 feet) to the top of the hill (7641 feet) where the trail intersects with several trails that head in all directions.
The views on the ride up are of steep canyon walls and the sky. But, on your way down, you can see the valley floor/high desert, known in eastern Idaho as the Snake River Plain. If you’re paying attention on the way up, you can spot the “Fins,” a unique rock formation on the west side of the canyon. You’ll see them better on your way down.
On a couple of rides, we headed north along the ridge, while on other rides we went to Howe Peak (elevation 8700 feet). If you’re keeping track of the math, that’s another 1000 feet gain from the trail junction at the top of Eightmile Canyon, or a 3500-foot elevation gain from the parking area.
The views from Howe Peak take in all the surrounding area, including the Snake River Plain, the Lemhi Valley, the snow-capped mountains to the north, and scattered valleys and waterways. Snow prevented our making it to the peak on one of our June rides. The views from the top are impressive.
This area covers about 160 square miles of mountainous terrain that has outstanding geological formations and spectacular views. One of our longest rides ended up being a loop beginning and ending at the parking area below Eightmile Canyon.
If you go to Idaho.Maps.Arcgis.com and navigate to the “Idaho Trails New” tab, you can recreate our route. It was basically as follows. Once we got to the top of Eightmile Canyon on 40557, we turned south on 40560 and took it to the top of Howe Peak. From the top of the peak, we headed down on 40557 (you can take that to the top of the peak as well) to 40561, the latter of which goes through scenic Wood Canyon. Once through the canyon, we turned north on 4259 and headed to Horsethief Canyon, turning right on 4270. That trail soon intersects with 40566, which we took north to 50534 (Arco Pass Road). It’s along this stretch that you drop out of the mountains onto the high desert. We took Arco Pass Road to 1290, which heads up Jumpoff Canyon (40559). When 40559 forked, we went right on 4305, which, when it climbs out of a steep canyon, turns back into 40559. From there we rode along a ridge top back to 40557.
While there were highlights along the entire route, there are standouts. The tight canyons were fun because of some technical spots and creek crossings we encountered. Riding past Jumpoff Peak (9045 feet) was scenic, as were several rock formations we passed along the way.
LITTLE LOST RIVER VALLEY
Still more riding is available north of Howe. Instead of heading south on Idaho State Highway 33, go north on the Little Lost River Highway and you’ll find several trails that lead east and west off the main highway, most of which head up into small canyons and are usually out-and-back trails.
You can trailer up the Little Lost River Highway, or there is a trail above Howe that leads north and connects with dozens of trails. If you’re headed north on the Little Lost River Highway, the Lemhi Range is to the east and the Lost River Range to the west.
Look at this valley and mountain ranges on the Idaho trails map, and you’ll see just how many trails there are. It’s like pick one, ride it, then move on to the next one. There are many to choose from. We’ve taken a handful of the trails in the Little Lost River Valley. One is the 50-inch restricted South Creek trail in the Lemhi Range. It’s only about 3.5 miles from the mouth of the canyon until the terrain stops you. The trail is shorter now than on our first trip up the narrow canyon. The part we rode on a while back is now blocked off with a fence and is reserved for hiking only. South Canyon trail is short compared to longer trails in the area, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in challenge and scenery. There are plenty of rocks to traverse, and on one stretch the trail is the creek that comes down the canyon. Of course, there are creek crossings and a 900-foot elevation gain from the mouth of the canyon to the turnaround point.
There are a couple of trails that do go over the top of the Lemhi Range, including the Uncle Ike and North Creek trails. Most all the trails heading into the Lemhi Range have 50-inch width restrictions.
On another ride we headed towards Cabin Fork Creek but were thwarted by snow on the trail. In fact, we didn’t even really get close to the mountains as the snow was too soft. It was March, but it also meant the Little Lost River was still frozen over, so we took advantage of that to get from one side to the other to access even more miles of trails.
On our rides in the Howe area, we’ve only seen one other group! The area is remote. Howe has only a couple of churches, a community center, elementary school and post office. There are no restaurants, fuel or souvenir shops—nothing. You’ll have to head 25 miles up the road to the southwest to Arco, or 30 miles to the east to Mud Lake for services. Bigger towns like Rexburg or Idaho Falls are about an hour’s drive to the east.
Elevation: 5000–9000 feet
Trails: Hundreds of miles
Full-service town: Arco (24 miles from Howe)
Nearest airport: Idaho Falls (70 miles)
Getting started: Butte County Chamber of Commerce, www.buttecountychamber.com
Getting there: Howe is located on Idaho State Highway 33 where it intersects with the Little Lost River Highway.
Getting around: Bring your own ATV or UTV.
Bedding down: There are a handful of lodging and campground options in Arco.
Eating out: The closest eating establishments are in Arco.