Take A Hike With Me Through The Gospel Hump Wilderness Of Idaho: Into Shepp Ranch And Back

     A year or so ago I began planning an out and back hike to visit my good pals who just took over as the new caretakers/head guides, of one of the iconic Salmon River wilderness ranches, Shepp Ranch Outfitters. The private ranch is located at the confluence of the Salmon river, and Crooked creek, 15 miles away from the closest road. The first map shows the entire hike, out and back, including a side trip to Black Butte lookout, and a short cut, up a steep ridge we took on the way out.Total Route to Shepp

The White Bird band of the Nimi’ipuu (or Nez Perce) Native American tribe, were the first documented humans to utilize this amazing section of ground. A use that stretches back thousands of years. The Tukudeka, or Sheepeater tribe, now part of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, also utilized this area for winter camps. The Nez Perce, and the Shoshone had a primarily tense relationship, stretching beyond what their oral histories can document. Some inter-tribal alliances between specific bands, including the Shoshone-Bannock and Nez Perce, were forged over the centuries however. As Lewis and Clark, and the U.S.A. Corps of Discovery made their way West in 1804, they encountered the Nimi’ipuu, or Nez Perce as they chose to call them. If not for the great efforts of the Nez Perce to assist, and coordinate with the Lewis and Clark expedition, they would have not been successful crossing the Bitter root Mountains, building canoes, navigating the rapids of the Clear water, Snake, and Columbia rivers, acquiring more horse, emergency food supplies, or interacting with other tribes. The Nez Perce kept the Corp of Discovery from attempting to travel into the Salmon river country, due to its rugged nature, and dangerous rapids, hence the name given to this area, “The river of no return”.  All of this has been thoroughly laid out in the excellent historical book, Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce: Strangers in the Land of the Nimiipuu, which I enjoyed reading during my stay at Shepp.
As more European immigrants to the expanding United States of America began making their way West, the Salmon river gorge, and adjacent mountains attracted thousands, as gold was discovered.
Across the Salmon from Shepp Ranch is the equally historic , Polly Bemis Ranch. The ranch is named for its founder Polly Bemis, the Chinese woman, sold to slavery, who eventually landed in Warren, Idaho, in its boom mining days of the late 1800’s. There she married Charlie Bemis, and they both moved from Warren, and established their mining claim, and ranch on the Salmon River.


Multiple immigrants came through the area of Shepp ranch, in the late 1800’s. According to the linked PBS piece, in 1872 a miner named Malick, who supposedly married a Nez Perce woman, homesteaded the site. A gentleman by the name of Tom Copenhaver, built a large barn on the site as well. Tom Copenhaver made his way up river, to the confluence of the South fork Salmon river, and began to homestead a piece of ground, that a large group of Chinese miners had utilized previously, as well as the Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Sheepeater tribes. When Tom died, the Badley family began ranching the piece of ground, and continue to operate the Badley ranch on a portion of the area today. I am good pals with one of the Badley family descendants, who manages the ranch with her brother.
In 1909, Charlie Shepp, and Paul Klinkenhammer partnered up, and moved their families to the Salmon river, and began building Shepp ranch. Some amazing photographic, and written history is on display, at the lodge they built, that stands today. Over the last hundred years, some modern improvements have been accomplished at the ranch, but much of the historic, rustic, and remote feel is well intact.

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Shepp Ranch, at the confluence of Crooked Creek, on the Salmon River. As seen from across the river.
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The Crooked Creek entrance to Shepp Ranch

     Before we take a closer look at Shepp Ranch, lets take a look at the amazing section of Wilderness I hiked out and back to get to the ranch. (My wife did accompany me on the hike out, after she hitched a ride on Shepps jet boat) The first leg I embarked from inside North America’s second deepest river gorge, the Salmon River, at the Wind River pack bridge. The bridge is adjacent to the confluence of these two rivers.  The pack bridge is about 45 minutes upriver from Riggins, Idaho. The drive along the main salmon is mostly single lane, and breathtaking, as roads go.
The Wind River cuts its way through the Clear Water Mountains on the North side of the Salmon, in one of Central Idaho’s most remote Wilderness areas, the Gospel-Hump Wilderness. The trail follows the Wind River for a nearly 2 miles, and then forks off the Wind, and begins a rapid ascent to the high ridge off of the Salmon. After roughly 3000 vertical ft. up, the trail follows the canyon upriver, curving in and out of multiple drainage’s until the trail meets up with the headwaters of Chittam Creek, where I made my first night’s camp. The pictures below are a collection of my favorites from the hike in, and out. They are organized chronologically as you would see hiking in, though the pictures with the sunny blue skies were from the hike out.

Wind river to Chittam

Leg 2 of the hike continued along the high rim of the Salmon River breaks, at the toe of the Black Buttes, an impressive ridge-line of exposed, and exquisitely weathered granite. The Black Buttes can be seen prominently from the Salmon, when travelling down river approaching Chittam rapids. Once past the Black Buttes, the trail arrives at the wonderfully situated Johnson saddle, a high, narrow ridge-line saddle above the impressive Sheep Creek drainage, and main Salmon drainage. On the hike in I continued down the breaks of Sheep Creek, to the confluence of the Salmon. On the hike out, we chose to camp at Johnson Saddle, and enjoy its nearly 360 degree views, of the surrounding mountains, and rivers.

Chittam to Sheep creek

     Leg 3 of the hike started at my camp at the confluence of Sheep Creek, and the Main Salmon River, 3000 ft. below the trail I had hiked the previous two days.  Spring time in the Salmon River canyon is a wonderful, and special treat, as the emerald-green colors abound, the creeks, and rivers are swollen from the snow melting up high, and the area is vibrantly alive, with insects, mammals, birds, flowers, greening shrubs, and trees.
The trail to Shepp follows the Salmon for the final 8 miles. I had not seen one person on the hike in, and the only people I saw for the final day of hiking were jet boaters, rafters, and kayaker’s making their way up or down the river. On the hike out we saw only one hunting outfitter on the final day of the hike out, a few miles before we were back at the truck.


Sheep Creek to Shepp

     I have included a selection of photos below, from Shepp Ranch proper. This place has a magical quality, unmatched to any I have visited.  Clearly the remote nature of the ranch, and the history of this place is part of that magic. The stunning beauty of the surrounding mountains, and canyon walls, and powerful merging of two flowing rivers, Crooked Creek, and the main Salmon, create a lasting impression that the folks lucky enough to experience understand. If you are a hunter, a fisher, or an outdoor enthusiast looking for an unmatched back-country experience, I could not recommend highly enough, the outfitting, and guest ranch experience the fine folks at Shepp ranch offer.
Of course Shepp is surrounded by some of North Americas finest public lands, and anyone can enjoy it, as long as they have the desire, and experience to venture deep into this wild place. Just remember, you do need to permission to visit the ranch directly.

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6 thoughts on “Take A Hike With Me Through The Gospel Hump Wilderness Of Idaho: Into Shepp Ranch And Back

  1. What a special inspiring place it is! I spent a lot of time at Shepp Ranch as a child – every July for about 16 consecutive years. The land holds so much magic that is hard to convey through words and photos. I am a florist and I know that my love of nature and flowers came to me during my times spent at Shepp. I really enjoyed the historical context in your writing and your photography as well.

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  2. Loved your writing of hike to Shepp Ranch. I spent a week there every summer 2008-20013. I’d love to hike in as you did. Would you lead a small group?

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    1. I appreciate your comment very much. What a way for you to spend a week, all those years. The hike is challenging, but recommended for sure. I am not a licensed guide. If you do not feel comfortable leading the trip, you should reach out directly to Shepp, and inquire if they would. Even though they are a hunting outfitter, in the right time of year I imagine they could be hired to lead you in. 😊

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