Oregon & Southwest Idaho
A Desert Lover's Dream
The light has shifted in the gorge. The wrens know it with their inscrutable animal intelligence; they have begun to chatter, their songs twisting up the canyon walls, radiating through its shadowy interior. Up on the plateau, the fragrant sage is growing as green as it ever gets. Arrowleaf balsamroot, brave and hardy, has already begun to flower, but other desert blooms bide their time, anticipating warmer temperatures. The river rolls, same as it has all night—that timeless, implacable sound of water flowing alongside itself, pushing against canyon wall, around boulder, through fissure. After some time passes, the first sun hits the rim of the canyon, and the rhyolite glows gold. Lingering suggestions of winter in the air echo and fade. It is a spring morning in the Owyhee Canyonlands.
The whole anatomy of this place and all the shapes that characterize it have been dictated by the movement of water over time. But looking out onto the Owyhee plateau—a sparsely populated ocean of grass, sage, and juniper—one could remain completely unaware of the river flowing deep beneath the continuous sweep of southwest Idaho rangeland. This wild and lonely tributary originates in northwest Nevada. It whittles a dramatic, narrow canyon through the highlands, continues into Southeast Oregon, and eventually descends into the Snake River Plain near the Oregon-Idaho border. To float the Owyhee River is to travel with this ancient natural force, to experience the stories it has etched into the land—a story of water in the desert, as vital as it is ephemeral. A story of a strange, dusky earth with unfamiliar continents, when glowing molten rock rose through the planet’s crust in southern Idaho, hardening, then eroding. A story of the ebb and flow of seasons, the natural world’s ceaseless change and motion, and a severe and seemingly impenetrable landscape made malleable by the forces of water and time.
(Excerpt from The Owyhee: Desert River, Desert Stories, Dove Henry)
Experience the solitude of a desert landscape...
A true wilderness expedition
While traveling through cattle ranches, extreme 4x4 roads, irrigation ditches, open grasslands, and gas stations that advertise their “Beer, Bait, and Bullets” en route to the river-put in, it is hard to believe that some of the most breathtaking wilderness trips in the West exist at the bottom of the canyon. With a week in some of the most remote regions in the area, you will get a true immersed wilderness experience. Wilderness River Outfitters is founded upon a philosophy of minimalism, leave no trace, and full participation to truly get a sense of what the spirit of adventure and wilderness means for our guests, and our desert expeditions are the quintessential example of what our company strives to achieve. With difficult road access, technical whitewater, demanding portages, and rugged terrain, there are very few other commercial companies that run the Upper and Middle Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau trips. This often results in us having the canyon all to ourselves in one of the most spectacular wilderness trips around. These expeditions are about as wild as you can get, and are a can’t miss opportunity for those with an adventurous spirit.
For the whitewater enthusiasts and the thrill seekers
Our desert trips on the Jarbidge Bruneau and the Upper and Middle Owyhee offer some of our most exciting whitewater options for hardshell kayakers and those looking for high-adventure. On both rivers, there are technical and puckering class III+ to IV rapids in tight, swift, continuous gorges, with many sections having class V portages. Both the Owyhee and the Jarbidge-Bruneau are spring run-off dependent, which Idaho snowmelt sends these rocky shallows into an exciting whitewater frenzy. While Idaho is known for its big water, this special time of the year showcases a different side of the Western whitewater scene that is more “creeky” and committing, with some fun pool drops and wave trains thrown in the mix.
*For a more beginner/ family fun experience, check out our Lower Owyhee trips.
The canyonlands of the Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau are truly a unique experience, with tight, technical gorges cutting through steep desert walls. Geologic formations such as hoo-doos, natural arches, caves, and other abstract volcanic shapes pepper the canyon, and has been compared to places like the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, or even a “set from Lord of the Rings” (but without the crowds or the hobbits).