The dramatic Bruneau River Canyon stretches sixty miles through the vast plateaus of southern Idaho and the Owyhee Canyonlands. Much of its southern portion is relatively inaccessible due to the steep canyon walls, reached only by the intrepid on foot or by boat.
But there’s one spot along the rim, at the Bruneau Canyon Overlook, where you can walk right up to the edge and gape at the surprisingly rugged canyon as it drops 800 feet straight down in front of your toes.
Though this land can feel starkly empty from a visitor’s perspective, it played an important role in the history of the Shoshone, Paiute, and Bannock people, the original settlers. Today it’s also used by ranchers, hunters, and outdoor recreationalists. The greater area is protected by the Owyhee Initiative, signed into law in 2009, in an attempt to preserve its varied cultural heritage.
If you’re looking for something to do in southern Idaho, put Bruneau Canyon Overlook on your list for sure. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch and learn about the history of some truly striking landscapes. The remote location means you’ll likely have the place almost or entirely to yourself as you wander the canyon rim and soak up the vastness in every direction.
About Bruneau Canyon Overlook
The overlook itself is surprisingly well maintained for how remote it feels when you’re there. There is a paved parking lot, clean pit toilet, some interpretive signs explaining the history of the region, and a fenced area right on the rim where visitors can safely stand, gawk, and take photos.
Part of the fenced area is concrete and wheelchair accessible, while another adjacent area retains its rocks and dirt. There’s no shade anywhere out here, but otherwise it makes an excellent place for a picnic lunch.
You can walk past the fenced area in either direction to explore the canyon rim further. It’s easy hiking, but of course take care to stay away from the edge. If you’re in a 4×4 vehicle you can drive a short distance north of the overlook and set up camp along the canyon rim (this is BLM land so dispersed camping is allowed).
The Idaho Centennial Trail, a rugged route traversing Idaho from north to south, passes right by the overlook via jeep track and would make a nice mountain bike ride for those wanting to explore further.
Driving Directions to Bruneau Canyon Overlook
Getting to Bruneau Canyon Overlook is part of the adventure and part of the fun. Here are driving directions from Bruneau, the closest small town to the canyon overlook.
Almost everyone approaches from the north, starting in the small town of Bruneau about an hour’s drive south of Boise. From Bruneau you’ll drive another 19 miles south to reach the overlook, partly on gravel roads. In Bruneau you’ll find the Bruneau One Stop, a small gas station / convenience store / restaurant, and not much else.
In Bruneau, turn left / southeast onto Hot Springs Road. The first few miles are paved and pass through farms and ranches on rolling hills. Soon the pavement turns to gravel near a somewhat alarming sign; you’re about to drive through an Air Force bombing range! No worries, just keep going… The road is open to the public, and presumably does not get bombed on a regular basis.
The gravel road is in good condition, wide enough for two lanes in most places, and should be passable by most 2wd passenger cars. Just slow down and take it easy. Traffic is sparse out here, and you can spot approaching vehicles from far away by the plume of dust they kick up.
About 16 miles south of Bruneau, a signed junction marks the turnoff to the canyon overlook. Make a right turn here onto a narrower gravel road, still passable by standard cars but with a bit more care. Follow this road for 3 miles across flat plains as you wonder, where the heck is the canyon?
Bruneau Canyon only reveals itself once you’re nearly right on top of it, a deep gash in the otherwise pancake-flat endless landscape. You made it! Park the car, stretch your legs, and enjoy the view.
When you’re ready to leave it’s best to retrace your route back north to Bruneau. Though the main gravel road does continue south, it’s a long way – around fifty miles – until you’ll hit pavement at Three Creek Highway if you continue south.
When to Visit
The road and overlook are open year round, but temperatures and conditions vary widely throughout the year.
Spring and fall are the most pleasant times to visit due to more mild temperatures. Summer days can be quite hot, in the 80’s and 90’s F.
Winter in this area brings sub-freezing temperatures and mild snow, so check conditions locally before you go. Snow chains are advised if attempting the drive during or after a storm.
What to Bring
Visiting Bruneau Canyon Overlook doesn’t require much in the way of gear, but you’ll want to be prepared to spend some time in a remote area with no services nearby. This includes bringing plenty of drinking water, some snacks, sunscreen and sunglasses, sturdy shoes if you want to hike along the rim, and of course your camera.
You might not have any cell phone reception out there, so consider being self-sufficient enough to fix a flat tire should the need arise. That said, there are enough other vehicles passing through that you won’t be left completely stranded if something goes wrong.
About 13 miles northwest of Bruneau, the CJ Strike Reservoir on the Snake River is a popular place for camping and boating. There are several established campgrounds along the northern section near the dam, including North Park and Scout Park. There are also opportunities for free dispersed camping along the shore of the Bruneau Arm to the southeast.
Much further south of the Canyon Overlook, accessible only by 70+ miles of remote gravel road, the Clover – Three Creek Road leads to Murphy Hot Springs and on to the tiny mining town of Jarbidge, Nevada. This is a remote and adventurous route, but for those who are well prepared it would make an excellent backroads road trip.
More Western US Travel Resources
If you’re considering a trip to Bruneau Canyon, you might also be interested in these:
- 7 Geological Wonders in Central Oregon
- 6 Beautiful Deserts in Southern California
- Best Outdoorsy Things to do in Bend, Oregon
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