Want to visit Mars on Earth? If so, you must visit Leslie Gulch. Leslie Gulch in unlike we have ever seen in Oregon in the countless times we have visited Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. When I think of Oregon, I think of lush pine trees, a slight chill in the air, and blue water. Leslie Gulch is the complete opposite in the most beautiful way. It is bright orange, canyon walls rising up with exquisite volcanic geometry, and scorching dry. It’s a bit of adventure to get out there, but worth it if you can make the trip. Read further to see how you too can visit Leslie Gulch, Oregon.
What is Leslie Gulch?
Leslie Gulch is an area of critical environmental concern that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management that is located in Oregon. It has unique geological features that were formed by volcanic activity and remnants of volcanic ash. The volcanoes that erupted near here formed honeycomb-like rhyolite formations. Due to the unique soil makeup, rare plants live in Leslie Gulch. The largest California bighorn sheep herd in the USA lives at Leslie Gulch also.
Where is Leslie Gulch?
Leslie Gulch is located in the southeast corner of Oregon. To access the main part of Leslie Gulch, you actually have to drive to Idaho first and drive gravel roads from Idaho to get there (more info on that a little later). The closest main city to Leslie Gulch by far is Boise, Idaho. We used Google Maps to reach Leslie Gulch, which gave us the correct directions.
Portland, OR to Leslie Gulch, OR: 8.5 hours, 460 miles
Spokane, WA to Leslie Gulch, OR: 7.5 hours, 440 miles
Reno, NV to Leslie Gulch, OR: 6 hours, 380 miles
Boise, ID to Leslie Gulch, OR: 2 hours, 80 miles
Tips on Getting to Leslie Gulch
The road to get to Leslie Gulch is mostly fine in dry weather, but you will be driving at very slow speeds on washboard gravel roads to get there. Once you leave the pavement, there is at least one hour of driving one way on a gravel road.
Before visiting, I was really concerned about the roads and could not find much information regarding the actual status of the road. It really depends on your level of comfort with gravel roads, but we thought that the gravel road was much wider and more well maintained than we expected it to be. For the most part, driving in before you get to the start of Leslie Gulch (denoted by a large Bureau of Land Management sign and cows waiting by the entrance), the road is pretty good and we were not concerned about our car or being able to get out.
The worst parts of the road were definitely down in the gulch close to the reservoir where you can see that flash floods have washed out parts of the road. I can see that it could be easy to get stuck if the roads were wet, but there shouldn’t be any major problems as long as you are driving slow, paying attention, and the roads are dry. Trucks with long campers attached make it down to the campground if the conditions are good, so most cars should be able to make it. Use your best judgement with your car and driving abilities.
Note on Rental Cars
This is important to note if you flew into the area and are using a rental car. Most (if not all) rental car companies forbid driving on gravel or off-road, meaning that if you’re using a rental car, you likely cannot drive to Leslie Gulch. Talk to your rental company if you are in this situation.
While weather isn’t so much a big deal when you’re driving on well-paved roads, it is essential to check the weather before you drive to Leslie Gulch. As mentioned above, if it is raining or there is a change of rain, water can easily cover the road, wash out the road, or cause deep mud on the road that you cannot drive on. If this happens, you could be trapped in the gulch for an unknown amount of time or seriously harm you. Before driving down into the deep gulch, please check the weather and make sure that it will be dry during your visit.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Summer is the best time to visit Leslie Gulch because it drier and hotter, decreasing the likelihood of wet conditions that could make your visit dangerous.
Things to Do at Leslie Gulch
Drive through Leslie Gulch
The main thing to do and enjoy in Leslie Gulch is to drive through the gulch. There are multiple places to pull-off on the side of the road. The road gives some of the best views of the cool and interesting rock formations. From the road, you can see many of the different rock formations. It is interesting to see how the rocks and colors change as you drive deeper into the gulch. Eventually the road reaches a dead end at the Owyhee Reservoir where you can turn around and return the way you came. The gulch looks so different even just driving the opposite direction. The drive through Leslie Gulch was my favorite part of our visit and really showcases what this special area has to offer.
Juniper Gulch Hike
If you’re interested in hiking, one of the most popular trails within the Leslie Gulch area is the Juniper Gulch trail. While down into the gulch towards the reservoir, the trailhead will be on the right side of the road. There is a sign at the trailhead and two pit toilets across the road. The trail is around 3 miles and allows you to get an up close view of the rock formations that make up the Leslie Gulch area. It was extremely hot when we tried this hike, we were unable to complete this trail, but are so glad we got to try even just part of this trail. Be sure to download the map prior to driving into Leslie Gulch because there is no service and you will need the map for the trail since it is hard to find at times. Find the trail on AllTrails.
At the end of the road through Leslie Gulch, you will find the Owyhee Reservoir. The Owyhee Reservoir is open to watersports such as boating, kayaking, or paddle boarding. When we visited in the heat of the summer, the water levels were quite low, making the water and surrounding area smelly, so we chose not to put in our kayak here. However, we did pass several groups bringing their boats down to the reservoir on our way driving out.
At Leslie Gulch, there is a campground close to the Owyhee Reservoir, almost at the end of the road. The campground at Leslie Gulch is Slocum Creek Campground, which is first-come, first-serve and has primitive sites. The campground allows for a maximum stay of 14 days.
Tips for Visiting Leslie Gulch
Leslie Gulch is remote
Leslie Gulch is far from cell phone service and people. It could be very possible that you might be the only person visiting that day. You must be prepared and have a plan in case something goes wrong, such as your tire becomes flat, you run out of gas, or someone gets hurt. Be sure to fill up your car with fuel before heading out to Leslie Gulch.
Leslie Gulch is hot and dry in the summer
Down in the gulch, the temperature is much more extreme than outside the gulch area. It is very dry and there is not running water in any way. Pack way more water than you think you will need, especially in the case that you end up being stuck there.
Look out for animals
There is a lot of unique wildlife at Leslie Gulch. If you decide to do any of the hiking trails, such as Juniper Gulch, watch out for rattlesnakes, which thrive in Leslie Gulch. Wear long pants and boots to protect yourself. If in the case you see one for the elk or bighorn sheep, keep your distance and give the animal the space it needs.
There is no cell phone service
You will lose cell phone service after you pass the last houses before reaching Leslie Gulch, which is around 8 or so miles prior to the entrance. As stated above, be prepared for possible situations that could happen and be aware that you may not be able to call anyone to help you. Also, make sure you have your maps downloaded if you plan on hiking.
There are limited facilities
The only pit toilets we found were at the Juniper Gulch Trailhead, Slocum Creek Campground, and Owyhee Reservoir parking area. Signs on the door denote that the toilets are not regularly cleaned. They smelled very poorly and didn’t have toilet paper. So be prepared! But at least there are some sort of toilets available.
Things to Do Near Leslie Gulch
Visit Boise, Idaho
As stated, Boise, Idaho is one of the closest cities to Leslie Gulch. Boise has a lot of fun things to do and great food to try. For more information on visiting Boise, check out my Guide to Visiting Boise, Idaho blog post.
Visit Bruneau Dunes
Bruneau Dunes is close to Boise and not too far from Leslie Gulch. Bruneau Dunes has the tallest free standing sand dune in the United States. For more information on visiting Bruneau Dunes, check out my Bruneau Dunes blog post!
Do you have any questions about Leslie Gulch? Anything that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!
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Thanks for reading!