Big Sheep Ridge Trail #1685 - Wallowa Mountains, Minam, Oregon


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Distance:
7.82 miles (12.59 km)

Total Elev. Gain:
4,180 ft. (1274 m)
Total Elev. Loss:
-705 ft. (-215 m)

Max Altitude:
6,447 ft. (1965 m)
Min Altitude:
2,975 ft. (907 m)
by Brian Sather — Updated 2 weeks 5 days ago · Posted Tue, Jul 4, 2017
The best way to do this trail is to take an old pair of socks that you want to burn, go hike it and then enjoy a campfire because the Big Sheep Ridge Trail is loaded with invasive cheatgrass that fully embeds in anything it can. Due to limited to no use, the first several miles of this trail have the cheat growing right in the trail which is also helpful to follow the trail because the color is different. As you get higher up on the ridge it disappears though and you can enjoy some more genuine landscape. Aside from the limited use and invasive weeds it is a nice trail the follows the very top of the ridge the whole way, so you get a nice visual of the far north reaches of the Wallowa Mountains. The trail is very rough and rocky for the bottom half especially. It provides a nice tour of the not-so-controlled burn started by the Forest Service in late Fall 2016. It was by far the biggest fire of that season locally, and burnt a lot of timber on Big Sheep Ridge and Cougar Ridge. Sadly, the fire did nothing to take away the cheatgrass. The trail progressively gets better the higher up you get, which is abnormal. However, given that there is no indicator where the trail takes off from the Minam River Trail nor is there even a feint trail seen taking off from it, the limited used from the bottom is no surprise. That, and the cheat. Furthermore, most maps show it coming all the way down the ridge to within a 1/4 of the Minam River Trail, but they don't show it actually connecting. I have confirmed there is connector trail though and I put out a small cairn along the Minam trail to show where it heads up. It is difficult to follow though and zigzags up the slope and then disappears into a big meadow of cheatgrass before emerging on the other side of the meadow. So long as you are heading up to the very high point of the ridge, you'll definitely find it somewhere and continue on up the ridge. The ridge is very sharp for most of the way and the trail tends to stay slightly on the west side of the to of the ridge, presumably because snow drifts hang on the east side into early summer. A few miles up the ridge the trail starts improving. One explanation for this is that the fire crew did some work up and down the ridge top, and there are some fresh cut trees as evidence. There is no water at all on this trail. At the very top of this trail, where it converges with the Murphy Creek Trail, there is a water source called Hideaway Spring. I wouldn't bet my life on it running nor being able to find it--because of the name. It must be a good spring though because it is well developed with a water trough and pipe.

Waypoints:
 Big Sheep Ridge Trail start — 45.500950, -117.687470
 Hideaway Spring — 45.409680, -117.620770

The trail stays right on top of the ridge with views like this.
The unofficial trail connecting the Minam to Big Sheep Ridge heads up this steep hill.

Trail comes up this side of the ridge from the Minam River and isn't visible for awhile.
Almost all of the trail is on top of the ridge.
Looking down at the Minam River canyon.
Collusion Point in the middle of the picture.
A nice old tree burnt to a crisp.
Uncontrolled burn.
Looking toward Cougar Ridge and north.


No cheatgrass up high on the ridge.
Some nice treed sections up near the top, with some recent trail maintenance.


The burn is visible along the entire ridge top, although it didn't get everything.

Trail Junction with Murphy Creek Trail. The sign is on a broken off tree.
Hideaway Spring