Post Summary: Leslie Gulch in Eastern Oregon (+ How To Visit Properly)
You and I can both agree that Oregon is cool, right? I mean, 600+ foot waterfalls, natural hot springs, and epic coastlines are literally dotted across the entire state!
But what if we upped that statement and told you that in the far reaches of the Eastern Oregon landscape lies one of the most jaw-dropping geological formations in the Pacific Northwest? Towering spires, sharp peaks, and millions of years of volcanic activity have revealed Leslie Gulch, a carved out ravine in the Owyhee Canyonlands.
In this post, we’re diving into one of the most remote spots in Eastern Oregon – Leslie Gulch in the Owyhee Wilderness! This delicate and gorgeous landscape is worth seeing with your own eyes, and we’re sharing how you can plan a trip here, preserve this unique area for years to come, and discover one of Oregon’s best photo locations.
We’ll be covering everything from camping (it’s different from your regular campsites), hiking (rattlesnakes!), and safe times to visit (yes, there are in fact unsafe times). You’ll want to read to the end because we’re sharing all the best things to do in Leslie Gulch!
Leslie Gulch And The Owyhee Wilderness in Eastern Oregon
Why Would I Bother Visiting Leslie Gluch?
If you love beautiful rock formations, this place is for you.
Leslie Gulch is part of the Owyhee (pronounced oh-wah-hee) Wilderness, in the gorgeous canyonlands of Eastern Oregon. Filled with striking rock formations, sharp pinnacles, and beautiful desert colors, we can safely say it’s one of the most beautiful places to see in Oregon!
Honeycombed rock formations (we even called one section Mordor!) and steep towers of rhyolite ash can be found in this gulch, carved out over time from the erosion of the area through rain and rough weather.
These formations were birthed from a series of active calderas, explosions, and millions of years of deposits of volcanic ash and rock fragments. We loved driving through the 8-mile protected area, in awe of how beautiful Eastern Oregon can be!
What Can I Expect On A Visit? (Leave No Trace)
You can expect beautiful landscapes…and not much else! This is a really remote area, with very little infrastructure.
There is no visitors center, infrequent oversight, and no cell service. This fragile landscape combined with easy access to it all makes it super vulnerable for misuse if not treated properly. It’s one of the largest unprotected areas of the United States, so proper preparation for a trip here is essential!
This is why it’s important to share Leave No Trace Principles before we dive into the details of Leslie Gulch and the Owyhee Canyonlands.
Before visiting, please follow these guidelines to ensure a great experience for you, but also a good experience for everyone that will come after you!
Leave No Trace Principles (Eastern Oregon specific)
- Plan Ahead and Prepare – Check the weather for dry conditions and tell people where you are going.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces – Only camp in the designated campsite on-site (more on that below)
- Dispose of Waste Properly – There is no trash service – pack it in and pack it out!
- Leave What You Find – There are some rare and unique plants here – stay on the trails and don’t crush/take souvenirs!
- Minimize Fire Impact – Only burn in fire rings, and adhere to fire bans in place.
- Respect Wildlife – Expect to see rattlesnakes, quail, rabbits, and more. Keep your distance!
- Be Considerate of Others – Visitors come for many reasons, respect other’s experiences.
How To Get To Leslie Gulch
Leslie Gulch is at the very edge of Eastern Oregon, almost crossing into Idaho! It’s situated on the east side of Owyhee Lake (Reservoir) in Malheur County, Oregon.
The easiest and most direct way to reach the gulch is from Highway 95, take a right onto Succor Creek Road and drive 25 miles through the small community of Rockville, and follow signs to Leslie Gulch. The road is almost 100% gravel, so come prepared to kick up some dirt, and spot some cattle on the road too!
Distance to Leslie Gulch:
- From Boise, Idaho – 81 miles, 2-hours 15 minute drive
- From Portland, Oregon – 457 miles, 8-hour drive
- From Spokane, Washington – 458 miles, 8-hour drive
Trip Tip: Jordan Valley, OR, or Nampa, Idaho are the closest towns with gas, and we suggest filling up!
*Safety Tips!* Consider This a Summer Only Location
Leslie Gulch can be an unforgiving place if you aren’t prepared. Flash floods annually tear up the road, and slippery/icy conditions can make the road inaccessible. And the icing on the cake? There is no cell service to easily call for help.
On our last visit, we saw a pretty big truck make a poor turn and slide into a loose-gravel pit off the side of the road. They were stuck all day while one of their party hitched a ride back into town to call a tow truck, which probably ended up costing them a TON of money.
It’s really important to check the weather conditions before you visit, and always come during a dry time of the year (this is generally summer season).
Driving a high clearance/4WD car is also recommended! We wouldn’t recommend taking a long RV or recreational vehicle, as the roads can be winding and narrow, with little opportunities to turn around safely. I repeat again too, we DO NOT recommend visiting in wet or snowy conditions.
If you feel worried about the lack of help or assistance on the horizon, I suggest carrying at Garmin InReach. These devices are generally used in the backcountry when camping, but they are also helpful in situations like these. They use 2-way satellite communication, where you can reach help from your contacts and they can be aware of your location and the situation to better help you out.
Camping in Leslie Gulch
There is one free campground at Leslie Gulch, and it’s the only place that camping is allowed in the area.
Slocum Creek Campground is at the end of the 8-mile drive in Leslie Gulch. There are 12 campsites, with one pit toilet for the entire area to share. Most sites have a sun-shade gazebo structure, but some do not. All sites have a fire ring and picnic table.
There is NO trash service, which means it’s imperative that you come prepared to pack everything in and out.
There are no excuses to leave your garbage behind, so bring plenty of trash bags. We also found that we prefer to keep wet garbage separate from dry, to keep the juices and smells at bay. We do this by packing gallon zip-loc bags (a sustainable alternative would be large 1/2 gallon Stasher Bags) and sealing away food scraps and smelly packaging. Wrappers, paper, and dry garbage go in the regular trash bags.
When setting up your campsite, come prepared with the trifecta – a camping mat, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. The camping mat is essential because there are many sharp rocks that can pop inflatable pads. We own two Z-Lite Therm-a-Rest pads, and not only do we use them to protect our sleeping pad, but we bring them as portable sitting stations on long hikes too!
What Can You Do At Leslie Gulch?
So, you’re here…now what? While there aren’t the classic amenities or facilities like you would see in National Parks, there are actually a ton of things to do here! Keep scrolling, because we’re sharing some of our favorite ways to enjoy the beauty of Leslie Gulch below.
One of the main reasons people come out to visit Leslie Gulch is for the sheer beauty of the area! If feels like around every bend of the road, there is a new perspective to see, rock formations to capture, and landscape to soak in. We found that simply just driving along Leslie Gulch Road provided ample opportunity to pull over the car and snap some photos!
Berty and I also found that sunset and sunrise gave the rock formations the best time to shine. We also didn’t see very much road traffic in the morning, which made it easy to stop frequently and snap photos!
*Caution* Rattlesnakes live in the area! Be extremely careful where you step, and wear long pants to protect your legs. They like to come out in the morning and evening when the weather is cool, so continue to be alert during those times.
Hiking + Camping
If you are a fan of free camping or just a remote escape, this is the place for you! Like we talked about above, Slocum Campground is a great and simple place to sleep to get up and easily enjoy the gulch.
There are also plenty of hiking trails in Leslie Gulch to explore. Some of the coolest hikes we took were in Juniper Gulch, Dago Gulch, and Upper Leslie Gulch. Throughout each, you can expect to find stunning rock formations, amazing perspectives, and lots of examples of native plants and wildflowers.
On the far end of the road is a large boat ramp for watercraft access into Lake Owyhee, (also called the Owhyee Reservoir). Here, we saw people swimming, speed boats, and paddleboards all enjoying the scenery on a hot afternoon. It’s fed by the Owyhee River in the northeast, which connects to the Snake River up farther on the Oregon/Idaho border.
Right to the side is a clear spot for parking vehicles, but there is also dirt road access on the other side if you want to explore the small beachfront area. Be cautious though, the area close to the lake is near soft mud, and the steep slopes are loose gravel. (We saw that car get stuck here as it was driving back to the main road, and they spent all day flagging down help.)
Out on the water, you can launch a boat, paddleboard, or just take a dip! The water is not incredibly clear, but it IS incredibly refreshing, especially in the hot Eastern Oregon summer weather.
Plant + Wildlife Viewing
Leslie Gulch is home to some unique wildflowers and plants. It houses the largest herd of California Bighorn Sheep in the nation, and is home to over 200 other species of wildlife!
In the summer, you might expect to find lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot (they look like little yellow daisies or sunflowers), and Indian Paintbrush.
More rare flowers include Owyhee clover, Grimy ivesia, and sterile milkvetch. Rare flowers only found here include Packard’s blazing star and Etter’s groundsel, so it’s very important that you watch your step, and walk ONLY on the trails!
Be cautious – this is rattlesnake and tick country! Wear long pants when hiking in the area, and closed-toed shoes to protect your feet.
Things To Do Nearby Leslie Gulch
Chances are, if you’re marking the trek out here, you’ll probably be spending a few days in the area! Here are some suggestions for other things to do nearby, including beautiful places to visit in Idaho.
Joseph, Oregon – This secluded mountain town is at the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains. Come for the weekend to spend a dreamy getaway at The Jennings Hotel, or use it as a basecamp for several amazing mountain hikes nearby.
Boise, Idaho – There are so many things to do in Boise, it practically deserves it’s very own trip! Our favorite spots are Java for coffee and breakfast, The Springs in Idaho City, and Table Rock Trail.
Oregon Hot Springs – Eastern Oregon is full of them! From super remote ones, to difficult to reach pools, there’s an adventure waiting for you. If you’re just beginning to discover Oregon hot springs, try out Alvord Hot Springs, Crystal Crane, and Summer Lakes Hot Springs. For a more backcountry experience, plan a trip to Hart Mountain Hot Springs, or Willow Creek Hot Springs.
Our blog’s goal is to inspire, equip, and encourage! We hope this guide has helped you go deeper in your understanding of Leslie Gulch and learn why it’s such a unique part of Oregon’s geology and history. During your future visit, please – remember the Leave No Trace principles, honor the space you are visiting, and treat it with the highest respect!