Fordyce Canyon/Sheep Gulch


Why? Views, elk.

Season: June through November

Ease: Moderate to difficult, depending on how far you walk.

The Fordyce trail was a surprise the first time I hiked it – a pleasant one as evidenced by several return trips. The start isn’t anything to write home about, as the trail works its way around brush and through a fence or two. Then, as one of the other hikers said, it was like walking in an oasis surrounded by bare, dry brown hills.

The trail parallels an intermittent stream up Sheep Gulch, and there’s enough water in the stream to keep the gulch bottom green and lush. The trees along it are big, especially the ponderosa pines, and the flowers can be lovely, especially the clumps of red and yellow columbines that abound in June.

The trail up the gulch ends at a road about 4 miles in. A return down the gulch would make a fine in and out hike. Be sure to note Red Fir Spring, which has a bathtub that holds water. The way it looks most of the time, however, it’s not a place I’d choose to bathe.

Flowers of note besides the columbine have included galardia, clarkia and elegant cat’s ears.

You can add a mile plus to each leg of your out and back hike by turning left at the top, on another old road, and following it till it ends, then turning around and retracing your steps.

I’d been told we might see elk and wild sheep, and I’ve seen both on this trail. The elk were in a good-sized herd up on top, and we saw the sheep as we drove out. We also saw deer and a couple of bouncy coyote pups.

Trail Notes: The trail up Sheep Gulch is distinct most of the way. There is, however, one sharp right turn within a half mile after Red Fir Spring. After the spring, you’ll note an occasional fence line to your right. Then you’ll come to a spot where there’s fence in front of you, partially blocking what looks like the trail ahead. But that’s not the “real trail.” The real trail makes a sharp right and heads up the hill. A few yards later, it heads left and continues along a bench up to the old road for another mile or so.

The first few times I hiked Fordyce, I was able to hike a circle by combining it with the neighboring Sourdough Gulch and the Lick Creek Road. However, the circle hasn’t worked on recent trips, and I’m not sure why. But if you continue to the left along the road at the top of Sheep Gulch, and hike a short ways up the hillside at its end, the views are rewarding. You’re in the open, with views of Sheep Gulch and all the hills between you and the flat lands east of Lewiston. It’s a great lunch spot.

If you sidehill from there to the low saddle you can see to the south, then up from it to the east, you will eventually find Sourdough by looking for and following the faint tire tracks in the grass below, to the south.

Directions: Turn right 14.3 miles up the Asotin Creek Road. The Fordyce trailhead is 5.7 miles later, in an open area on the left with a small, faint trailhead sign.

Note: The Asotin Creek Road is usually gated between December 1 and March 31 each year about ½ mile before the right turn, which is why you should wait until after then (or before, depending on which end of the year you’re coming from, so to speak) to do this hike.

Information: Pomeroy Ranger District, UNF, (509) 843-1891.

Maps: USGS Peola and Pinkham Butte, Washington.

Connections: You can connect Sheep to Cabin Gulch without the difficulties you might have trying for Sourdough. Turn right when you reach the road at the top of Sheep Gulch and hike about a mile to find the Cabin Gulch Trail. Or visa versa. The combined hike makes for a total of 7 to 8 miles, with a short bit on the road at one end or the other if you have just one car.