Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway Driver’s Guide

Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway

Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway
Photo Credit: Visit Idaho

Walk (and ride) in the footsteps of Oregon Trail pioneers along the Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway.

For history buffs, this drive is hard to beat. Even now, in the 21st Century, it’s easy to imagine the challenges and desolation faced by pioneers.

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Travel Details

Distance: ~100 miles

Time: full day, though possible to break into a couple shorter trips.

When to visit: year-round, but the best weather and wildlife viewing hits late spring and early fall.

Highlights: wagon ruts, Three Island Crossing State Park, Snake River and historical museums.

Services: limited for much of the route, though Interstate 84 and several towns are all close by.

Accommodations: available in Glenns Ferry, Mountain Home, and Boise. Camping available in Bruneau.

Getting here: this route is mostly gravel road. Take your time, enjoy the ride. Start in either Boise or Glenns Ferry and circle back to your starting point on Interstate 84. This route is a patchwork of different roads. Navigation skills are necessary!

Local’s Tip: April is peak season for exploring this area. Temps are cooler and many of the valleys are still green and lush.

Most visitors start in Glenns Ferry. But before you begin, download the Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway booklet and use it as your primary, detailed guide. 

Glenns Ferry is an agricultural town with a charming downtown, perfect for filling your tank and your belly. You can start your trip by parking near the Y Knot Winery and taking a short walk along the recently opened Heritage Trail. This paved path follows one of the common routes the pioneers took from Three Island Crossing to the route we will follow later in the day.

From Glenss Ferry, head south on Rosevear Road to Slick Ranch Road and follow it up to the Three Island Crossing overlook. Interpretive signs guide the way and remind us of the difficulty of the crossing. The currents, deep water, and shifting channels were challenging at best, and deadly at worst.

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Next, head toward Three Island Crossing State Park and visit the Oregon Trail History & Education Center (check here for open hours). Here, you can get up close with a pioneer wagon and learn all about their journey. Glenns Ferry also has an interesting historical museum in town in a converted school house — definitely worth the visit for history fans.

To continue on, we’re going to head north out of Glenns Ferry to Old Oregon Trail Road. This road is located just north of Exit 120 on Interstate 84. It is the Westernmost exit of Glenns Ferry. Look for small marker signs to guide your way.

Once you cross I-84, turn west (left) on Old Oregon Trail Road. Stretching in front of you are the nearly identical vistas the pioneers would have seen. Of course, they would’ve been experiencing the veracity of nature up close and personally, not from the comfort of their air conditioned SUV. 

To your left will be I-84. We’ll move away from that shortly. 

About a mile up this road, look for an interpretive sign on your right. You can take a quick detour here up about a ½ mile to some well-defined wagon ruts. Throughout this drive, especially near creek crossings, there are markers delineating pioneer campsites with additional ruts visible.

Continue on along Old Oregon Trail Road to Bennett Mountain Road. Where the two roads cross, hiking trails lead to additional wagon ruts still visible within the sagebrush.

Follow the route through farms, ranches, and sagebrush to the Teapot Dome Hot Springs obelisk marker. While no longer a hot spring, this was a popular stop for pioneers. As you drive west, take your time and take in the vistas. But if you want to stop for photos or a break, please take care to pull off the road to the best of your ability.

Eventually the Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway intersects with Highway 20 just north of Mountain Home. A few miles south, near IWS Sales, there are detailed interpretive signs providing historical accounts of this former camp and stage stop, which eventually grew into the city of Mountain Home.

If you’re looking to shorten your trip, this is a great place to head south to I-84 and back to your starting point. Otherwise, backtrack north to Reservoir Road. Follow this road West to the Canyon Creek Stage Station.

The Canyon Creek Stage Station features remnants — some restored, some not — of the stage coach stop facilities, an historical cemetery, and loads of interpretive signage to explain it all. You definitely don’t want to miss this stop.

Return to the Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway and head west. Much of this is private property. Do not explore private property without permission. There are official pullouts featuring interpretive signage near Ditto Creek valley and elsewhere. In this area you’ll be crossing several creeks, including Bown’s Creek, where a large rock has many emigrant names written in axle grease or carved in the rock.

A few miles further you’ll run into Mayfield, one of Southwest Idaho’s earliest homesteads. Remains of the schoolhouse and community hall still stand, but are on private property slated for development as of this writing.

Just about 11 miles down the road is Bonneville Point, at the southeast edge of Boise. Here, you can enjoy stunning views of the Boise Front Foothills and the valley below. There’s a gazebo for shade, detailed interpretive signage, and wagon ruts. Hiking and biking is popular in the area.

Congratulations! You made it to the end of the Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway!

 

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