Owyhee Backcountry Byway

After making a special trip to see pygmy rabbits earlier this year, this fall I finally saw one in Idaho, excellent views of one off the Owyhee Backcountry Byway.

This road is excellent for mammal watching so I thought I’d share some details. The road runs for 104 miles between the town of Grandview, Idaho and Jordan Valley, Oregon. Much of it is sagebrush, juniper and high desert. My mammal list for the road includes badger, bobcat, long-tailed weasel, coyote, mule deer, pronghorn, white-tailed jackrabbit (higher elevations), black-tailed jackrabbit (lower elevations), mountain cottontail, pygmy rabbit, Belding’s ground squirrel (abundant in spring), least chipmunk and Ord’s kangaroo rat.

A few of the birds you could expect include greater sage grouse, golden eagle, prairie falcon and mountain bluebird. In the few streams/rivers, there are Columbia spotted frogs and desert redband trout.

This is a rugged, remote area. The Owyhee Backcountry Byway is mostly gravel, but it is well-maintained and easily passable in any passenger car (except in winter, when the road is often snowed over).

At around Mile 26 (from the Idaho side), there is a turnoff to Little Jacks Creek to the left. To the right is excellent sagebrush habitat. This is a great place to focus. It is where I saw the pygmy rabbit, and also good for badger, white-tailed jackrabbit, Belding’s GS and weasel.

There are many side roads, but they mostly require 4WD. There are wilderness areas that you can access directly from the road. There are no services and no towns and almost no homes the entire length of the road: American Outback at its finest. I have been exploring it for 14 years and still find new things every trip. I have taken Jon Hall and Steve Morgan there, and am happy to assist others if I’m around. — Matt


  • shofhine


    I’m a Boise area mammal watcher. I’ve never taken the opportunity to explore the Owyhee Backcountry loop (at least not beyond Oolite Trail, Black-throated Sparrows!). Could I get a contact address to ask you my exhaustive list of southwest Idaho mammal watching questions?

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