Best Times To Visit
spring and fall
4-5 hours from Burns, Oregon; 3-4 hours from Boise, ID
If you love adventure and solitude, get ready to experience one of the best hikes in the Northern Owyhee Canyonlands. On the 8.5 mile Painted Canyon Loop (also known as the Carlton Canyon-Painted Canyon Loop) you’ll see stunning spires, three-hundred-foot canyon walls, old-growth sagebrush over twelve-feet tall – and true to its name – a landscape filled with vibrant red, purple, gold and green hues from a painter’s palette.
This advanced hike requires travel on some very rough roads to the ‘trailhead’, as well as some route-finding and navigation on the hike itself. A four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle is required. The vertical elevation loss/gain on this hike is significant: 1,870 feet. It’s all worth it, as this is one of the most scenic hikes in the Owyhee. Plan to spend 5-6 hours on this hike and pack your food and water accordingly. Be ready to scramble over rock formations and dry waterfalls as you take in a stunning array of rock formations: hoodoos, spires, amphitheaters, rhyolite tuff, caves, and soaring towers – all awash with incredible colors. In the spring, you’ll also find incredible, diverse wildflowers throughout the loop, including stunners like globemallow and desert evening primrose.
Notes and Advice:
- The road to the Painted Canyon Trailhead is best suited for four-wheel drive vehicles. Travel times depend on road conditions and comfort level with backcountry travel. Do NOT travel on this road after even a quarter inch of rain.
- This hike requires some route-finding and topographic navigation, so it is considered advanced hiking.
- As with all desert trips, be prepared for dramatic changes in weather. Late spring and summer temperatures can be extreme. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. Storms can quickly roll in, so a rain-proof layer is always a good idea.
- There is no water on this hike. Bring at least 2 liters for yourself.
- Wear stable, close-toed footwear and watch where you step – the Owyhee is home to rattlesnakes. After hearing the rattle, freeze and locate the snake with your eyes. The rattle is a warning. Step quickly in the opposite direction. If need be, use a walking stick or hiking poles to usher the snake away.
- If your dog is along for the adventure, be sure to pack water for them and keep a close eye out, given that rattlesnakes call this place home.
- For more hiking tips, visit our desert travel tips.
From Jordan Valley, take Highway 95 north for 17 miles. Turn left at the sign for Succor Creek. Take this road 8.5 miles to the Rockville School junction. Head left toward Succor Creek for 0.5 miles and then turn right to continue on Succor Creek Road. Continue for another 7 miles. You’ll pass the turnoff for Leslie Gulch on your left. At the next junction, turn left on to McIntyre Springs Road (unsigned). Restart your odometer. Follow the McIntyre Springs Road and keep the Three Fingers Butte formation on your left until another junction at 5.25 miles. Turn right. Continue for another mile and turn left at the next junction. Stay on that road another mile and keep left at another fork. After 11 miles, turn left for the final quarter mile to a dilapidated cow trough. This is the ‘trailhead’ where you park your vehicle.
Head south on foot along the main road for a third of a mile. You’ll see the head of Carlton Canyon (approximate GPS Coordinates: 43 degrees, 28’25.64″N and 117 degrees 14’8.21”W) dropping down the gulch to the right. Scramble down Carlton Canyon. At 3.75 miles from the road is a major canyon coming in from the right. This is the confluence of Painted and Carlton Canyons (approximate GPS coordinates: 43 degrees 26’23.05”N and 117 degrees 16’41.24”W).
About 5.25 miles in, you’ll encounter an amphitheater off to the left. Stay straight to head toward your car. The climbing gets steeper, and there is one hand-over-hand climb. After 7 miles you’ll spot a jeep track turnaround. Exit the canyon here and follow the jeep track for 1.5 miles back to your vehicle.