Owyhee Kayaking

Paddle Through the "Lonliest Corner in the West"

Overview

The Owyhee offers hundreds of miles of river trip options for a wide range of paddling skills, with the same stunning, remote desert landscape of the Owyhee Canyon. This river is spring run-off dependent, and is a largely sought-after, elusive river in the area, not only because of the  limited spring season, but also for its notoriously confusing backcountry 4×4 access roads. The wild Owyhee River whittles a dramatic, narrow canyon through the highlands of southern Idaho and Oregon, cutting through the rhyolite and basalt plateau as it has for millennia. There is a reason this tributary of the Bruneau has so often been likened to the Grand Canyon. But unlike the Grand, the few that venture to this extraordinary river have its magic all to themselves—the sound of songbirds echoing against thousand-foot sheer canyon walls, the springtime bloom of desert wildflowers, and rapids that vary from fun, Class III waves and holes to technical whitewater. This hidden gem offers an incredible opportunity for paddlers of all levels looking for adventure and a sense of solitude. 

Our Upper and Middle Owyhee trips are better suited for solid intermediate/ advanced paddlers, while the Lower Owyhee is a great option for more beginner/ intermediate skill levels. *See WRO’s skill requirements overview.)

Upper Owyhee (Duck Valley to Crutcher’s Crossing to Three Forks)

  • 5-8 days, 41-103 miles
  • Swift, technical, thrilling class III-IV whitewater
  • Lambert’s gorge, class V falls and portages
  • High adventure
  • Remote setting
  • Inflatable kayak/ packrafting

The Middle Owyhee (Three Forks to Rome)

  • 3-4 days, 37 miles
  • Swift, technical, thrilling class III-IV whitewater
  • Class V falls and portages
  • High adventure
  • Remote setting

The Lower Owyhee (Rome to Birch Creek)

  • 5-6 days, 68 miles
  • Friendly, class II-III whitewater for all experience levels
  • Easy access
  • Simple logistics

For more specific information about each individual trip, check out the general trip pages for the Upper, Middle, or Lower Owyhee. 

There are more than 250 miles of navigable river in the Owyhee Canyonlands! Each section offers abundant hiking opportunities, wildlife, whitewater, pioneer history, and an extraordinary glimpse into geologic time. Spring on the Owyhee during the snowmelt runoff is truly glorious: the wildflowers are blooming, the red-wing blackbirds are singing, and the rapids get exciting. A hike to the canyon rim to spot an antelope in the distance, an eagle chasing its prey, or just to admire the “awesome vastness” of this country is often a trip highlight. We can also venture to historic trapping and homestead cabins along the way and marvel at the determination of those who carved out a living in this rugged country. The Owyhee River’s reputation as a big-time whitewater river is well deserved, but there is a quieter side to these beautiful canyons, especially in the Middle and Upper sections. Between rapids there are long, calm stretches of water, allowing us time to listen to the river and take in the sheer walls of red-gold rhyolite towering thousands of feet over our boats.

We have extensive experience on the Owyhee, and all the different sections and access points to these river canyons create endless possibilities for customizing your trip. Ask us for details and we can help make sure you get the trip you’re looking for!

Why Raft Support?

When self-support kayaking, you often have to be a minimalist. When traveling with raft support, you are able to bring all your heart desires, and probably more! Our rafts carry all of your personal things (costumes and dry shoes anyone?), and other items that self-support boating does not allow for such as coolers for gourmet food prepared for you (no more ramen and MREs!), beer, extensive safety supplies, a full-sized firepan with a daily fire, latrine facilities, logistics taken care of, etc. Without the bulky weight of your gear in your kayak, it allows for quicker, more responsive (and fun!) paddling, and also opens up possibilities for more low-volume styles of boats for those looking to spice up the class IV. 

If running this type of river without ever seeing it makes you nervous, or you are traveling alone, having a safety kayaker/ kayak guide is a great way to travel. Traveling with one of our knowledgeable safety kayakers is a great way to gain confidence and expertise through this technical run. Lastly, this type of trip also allows for you to bring non-kayaker family and friends to also be able to enjoy a perfect river vacation for everyone involved.

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The Stats

Departure Month April
State / Region
Adventure Level Moderate, High
Price Range Under $1500, $1500 - $2000
Activities Inflatable Kayaking, Hard Shell Kayaking

Reviews

Logistics

This trip is relatively simple logistically for your travel plans as it begins and ends in Boise, Idaho (BOI). The before and after trip plans are the same for the Upper, Middle, and Lower Owyhee, the only thing varying being driving times to and from the river.

WRO Kayak Rentals

WRO has a wide range of playboats, half-slices, and river runner/ creek boats to reserve for the week in a variety of sizes. WRO does not provide paddle, skirts, helmets, PFD’s, or personal dry gear. For more information, contact Seth, [email protected] (Reservation website coming soon.)

Before the trip:

Travel to Boise, Idaho (BOI) no later than 5:30 pm one day prior to your trip’s launch date, with lodging arranged for this first night. We recommend staying at the Best Western (Vista) Inn for logistic simplicity. The hotel has a free airport shuttle or parking available to leave your car if you plan on driving to Boise. 

Plan on meeting for orientation at 6 pm the night before the launch at the Best Western Inn (Vista) (1-800-727-5006). Here you will meet your trip leader, other guests that will be on your trip, and we will hand out dry bags, discuss the trip details and answer any last minute questions. 

The next morning we will depart the Best Western Inn and drive as a group to the river put-in, which the length of drive will vary depending on what section of river (Upper, Middle, or Lower) you are doing.

After the Trip:

We provide transportation to Boise from the river take out. The length of the drive will vary depending on what section of river (Upper, Middle, or Lower) you are doing, but we typically aim to arrive by late afternoon. 

* When running the Owyhee, one can plan for one thing, but get dealt a different hand. Water levels and road conditions can sometimes limit what exact section we run.

Sample Itinerary

The itinerary will vary slightly depending on which section you are boating and how many days you would like to do. Owyhee trips can be custom designed depending on your interests, so feel free to contact the office to discuss dates and trip options.

Day before the trip: Arrive in Boise, Idaho no later than 5:30 pm with lodging arranged for this first night. Plan on meeting for orientation at 6 pm the night before the launch at the Best Western Vista Inn. Here you will meet your trip leader, other guests that will be on your trip, and we will hand out dry bags, discuss the trip details and answer any last minute questions. 

Day 1: We’ll get an early start for our drive to the river at the Garat Launch site. We usually have lunch, gear up and have a river safety talk before taking to the river. The first day we have a pretty mellow float to camp at the Tules. This spot is a beautiful place with great scenery and hiking options, either for that evening or the next morning.

Day 2-4: We usually start off the day with a dutch-oven breakfast around the campfire in the morning. After packing our bags and strapping our loads down we’ll hit the water.  We try to customize our activities to the interests of each particular group.  Our days on the river vary with many opportunities for hiking, exploring and relaxing around our beautiful camps. The Upper Owyhee from Garat to Crutcher Crossing is a pretty mellow whitewater section with spectacular canyon scenery, especially through the tight section of Lambert Gorge! Owyhee Falls is in the Lambert Gorge section, and requires some time to portage or line the rafts through depending on water levels. There are also several interesting old homesteads and historical sites of Native Americans and pioneers that once lived in this area. We’ll usually get to camp in the early evening, try to have some time for hiking and enjoying the scenery, followed by a delicious dutch-oven meal around the campfire. 

**At the end of day four we will camp at Crutcher Crossing, where the first half of the Upper Owyhee ends and the second half begins. We often do a resupply here and people can join or leave the trip if they wish to do just one of the four day options.

Day 5-7:  From Crutcher Crossing to Three Forks the whitewater picks up a bit with rapids like Cable and Cabin. Depending on water levels, sometimes we have to line the rafts through Cable. The scenery is impressive with some more great hiking options too. We will try to camp a few miles above Three Forks the last full day.

Day 8: The final day we will try to stop at some warm spring to check those out before arriving at Three Forks.  After lunch, we will load up in the vehicle and head back to Boise.  Or if you haven’t had enough or want the full Owyhee experience, continue downstream the next day on the four day Middle Owyhee extension!

 

FAQs

Kayaking/ Miscellaneous

Will I have to paddle the whole time?

We generally ask that if people sign up for a trip as a kayaker that they plan to paddle the entire trip. This is mainly because we base our number of rafts, guides, and gear distribution off of planning on having people in their kayaks. That being said, we can absolutely make accommodations for individuals in certain situations, (Not wanting to run a particular rapid, medical situations, etc.)
All and all, this is your trip and we are here to ensure you have the best trip possible.

Will safety kayakers/ kayak guides be on the trip?

WRO provides safety kayakers on trips at paddlers' request or if there are more than four kayakers on a trip. We especially try to make sure this is true during high water/ spring trips. Our kayak guides have experience on each of our rivers, as well as with instruction and rescue. We currently cannot provide one-on-one instruction with the types of trips we run, and try to focus on providing river beta and safety.

If I'm on a mixed raft support/ kayak trip, will I be able to scout rapids/ play/ separate from the group?

Generally, yes, to an extent. We try to stay together as a group to keep our repair and major first aid kits accessible to both rafters and kayakers at all times. A certain amount of playing is okay, and we definitely encourage you to do so, but we try to keep our group about a quarter mile distance within each other. If there is a particular rapid you want to scout, try to have an idea the morning of, and let the trip leader know, we will all scout as a group.

I am a whitewater canoeist, are there options for me?

If you are a confident whitewater canoeist with comparable experience, (see skill requirements) we encourage all types of whitewater enthusiasts out there. There are different types of rivers and trip times of the year that may fit your paddling experience and style better than others (high water, big hydraulics versus more creaky and technical), so please check in with the office or read on our kayak trip pages on what those might be. WRO does not currently offer whitewater canoes or accessories in our rental fleet, so you will be responsible for transporting your gear.

I am a part of a kayak school/ company and would like to book a trip for a group of my clients with a WRO permit. How does this work?

As you would charter the whole trip, this needs to be planned well in advance to ensure that there is a full trip date open for your group. The only exception to this might be if another chartered trip was canceled. Call the office for details on charter fees, guide expectations, available dates, etc.

What does portaging/ lining a boat mean? Why does it have to happen? What does the process entail?

Portaging and lining boats occurs when rapids are deemed to be too high of risk and consequence to safely and assuredly run with people in the boat. Certain rapids can be “lined,” in which all guides and guests get out of the raft, walk around the rapid with the gear, and the boats, oar frames, oars, and coolers are lowered down the rapid with ropes in a controlled manner. Other rapids need to be completely “portaged,” in which everything (including boats, coolers, etc.) need to be carried around the rapid. Both of these processes are made much quicker and easier with as much help as possible, so we encourage guest participation with carrying gear if they are willing and able. This is by no means a requirement. Time for the line/ portage depends on the number of people, number of boats, and the character of the rapid, but can take between 30 minutes to an hour per boat.

How old does my child have to be to participate?

The Upper and Middle Owyhee can be fast, often cold, and can be high consequence. We would not recommend children under the age of 14 for these trips, but have made exceptions based on river experience. The Lower Owyhee is better suited for younger-aged children, but can still be cold temperatures, as it is a spring trip. Contact us to ask about your child age and river dates.

What if there is a family emergency back home? How will they locate us?

We always carry a satellite communication device for emergency situations and stay in contact with WRO staff in Salmon, who are aware of our location and campsites during the trip. If our office staff is notified of an emergency they will let our crew know, but it is definitely not immediate as we are typically traveling in remote wilderness areas.

What happens if someone gets sick or injured?

All of our trip leaders are certified Wilderness First Responders, along with the majority of our other highly capable guides, several of whom are Wilderness EMTs. All guides are trained in Swiftwater Rescue. Evacuation plans are in place for each trip in case of an emergency, and a satellite communication device is carried at all times.

What is an appropriate gratuity for your guides?

Guides are usually tipped 10-20% of the cost of the trip, more for exceptional service. The guides equally split the total tip amount from each guest. They are most appreciative of receiving this directly from the guest, which will usually be given to the trip leader at the end of the trip to distribute to the rest of the guides, so we recommend planning ahead to have cash or checks on hand. Please do not make tip checks out to Wilderness River Outfitters. They will need to be made out to the guide or to cash. Most of the guides also use Venmo.

Is there an option for a trip for only my group?

We do offer chartered trips. You often will need to plan these types of trips well in advance, as you will be booking out the entire trip for your group and need the launch date to be empty. Chartered trips must pay for the entire slot to reserve the trip, which minimum number of guests vary depending on the river you are interested in. For more information, check out our "Chartered Trips" page or ask the office for additional details on chartering a trip with us.

Camp Life and Meals

Will we be at a new camp every day?

Yes, we do normally change campsites every day. This allows us to cover new scenery, rapids, and side adventures each day at a fun, comfortable pace.

Will there be a campfire every night?

Yes, we almost always have a campfire every evening and morning.

What clothes should I bring for camp?

Spring trips in Idaho can be very cold and unpredictable. It is recommended to have plenty of fresh, warm, dry clothes to change into at camp. Ensure that you have fresh thermal-layers, fleece or wool, synthetic down, warm hats and gloves, and wool socks. Some sort of sturdy/ insulated pants are also nice. Winter camp booties or close toed shoes are recommended for around camp.

How big are the tents? Do we have to share a tent with someone else?

Most of our tents are high-quality three-person tents, but we only put two people in each tent. If there is an odd number in your group we will not make you share a tent with a stranger. We offer brands like Mountain Hardware, North Face, and Sierra Designs.

Will my tent be set up for me?

In the interest of a more genuine wilderness experience, we encourage people to pick their own sleeping sites and set up their tents (or sleep under the stars, weather permitting!). If you need assistance, we’re happy to help and always show you how the gear works.

What kind of food will we be eating?

Wonderful, gourmet backcountry cooking! We are consistently told by guests that we out-do their expectations when it comes to our food’s quality that we can accomplish in the wilderness. Breakfasts and suppers consist of culinary delights like wild Salmon and steak, many of which are cooked over open campfires and dutch ovens. Lunches are a combination of tasty salads, sandwiches, fruits, and assorted snacks. Healthy and nutritious options are always available, and meals always include fruits and vegetables (local and organically sourced ingredients when we can). For more information, check out our "Sample Menu" page.

Can WRO accommodate dietary restrictions/ allergies?

WRO will happily do our best to accommodate any dietary restrictions at no additional cost. We have experience working with vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut allergies, etc. Please notify us of any dietary restrictions or allergies as early as possible so that we can adjust the menu accordingly. In certain cases, individuals may want to supplement meals and snacks with some items of their own.

Does WRO provide drinks/ snacks?

WRO provides ample snacks as well as plenty of drinking water, fruit juices, and coffee, tea, and cream in the morning. We do not provide soda or alcohol, with the exception of a fiesta night that we provide drinks. You are also welcome to bring your own alcohol (packed in unbreakable containers whenever possible, please). As there are portages on the Upper/ Middle Owyhee trips, we recommend thinking about options such as hard alcohol packed in non-glass containers and bagged wine, though canned beverages are okay if that is your preference.

How does personal hygiene work during the trip?

We need to keep soap out of the rivers, so if you want to use soap and bathe on the trip, you need to do so above the high water mark. The guides can help carry and heat up some water if needed. Face and body wipes also work well for helping stay clean.

How does the bathroom system work during the trip?

In order to keep these places beautiful for years to come, all rivers are “pack it in, pack it out.” We bring fabulous portable toilets and handwashing stations that we place in a private location away from camp with the best bathroom view you will ever have.

On the River

How long will we be floating on the river each day?

Each trip is tailored to the desires of the guests, but generally we will be on the water a total of 5 or so hours each day (give or take a couple of hours), broken by a lunch stop and any other side adventures. We usually start floating when the sun hits the water each day and arrive in camp late afternoon. Each day will be different, with varying options for hiking, exploring, and great lunch stops. One exception for this specific trip is if you are on a trip that has a portage, which can take several hours. Your lead guide will give you an overview of the day each morning.

What will temperatures and weather be like? Will it be cold? Will it rain?

Spring temperatures in the Owyhee Canyonlands can fluctuate dramatically in a 24-hour period, from freezing at night to 50s and 60’s and sunny the next afternoon. Storms can also roll in unexpectedly, and it’s best to be prepared for anything. Rain (and sometimes even snow) is possible in this area this time of the year. The water temperatures are cold, as they are early spring snowmelt rivers. Expect to dress warmly on the river. Be sure to check out the weather section of the packing list for specific seasonal information and average temperatures for your trip, as well as doing your own research a week prior to your trip, checking anticipated weather close to put ins/ takeouts.

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

Can I bring my own sleeping pad/bag/tent/other gear?

You are welcome to bring your own sleeping gear if you wish, but if you do, please bring your own complete sleep kit and let us know ahead of time. Our sleep kits consist of a "Therm-a-rest" pad, a 0 degree sleeping bag, a pack-able pillow, and a ground cloth. We can provide an empty dry bag to store your sleep kit in.

How big are the waterproof bags and how much stuff can they hold?

Everyone is issued a waterproof “day bag” to carry items you will need access to during the day while on the river. This day bag is 9 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. Everyone is also issued a large waterproof bag for your personal gear and clothing. This bag should be plenty large enough for everything listed on our suggested packing list. We recommend limiting your personal gear to 35 pounds. You will be able to use your own dry bag if you would like, just let our office know.

Logistics

Can I bring my own sleeping pad/bag/tent/other gear?

You are welcome to bring your own sleeping gear if you wish, but if you do, please bring your own complete sleep kit and let us know ahead of time. Our sleep kits consist of a "Therm-a-rest" pad, a 0 degree sleeping bag, a pack-able pillow, and a ground cloth. We can provide an empty dry bag to store your sleep kit in.

How big are the waterproof bags and how much stuff can they hold?

Everyone is issued a waterproof “day bag” to carry items you will need access to during the day while on the river. This day bag is 9 inches in diameter and 20 inches tall. Everyone is also issued a large waterproof bag for your personal gear and clothing. This bag should be plenty large enough for everything listed on our suggested packing list. We recommend limiting your personal gear to 35 pounds. You will be able to use your own dry bag if you would like, just let our office know.

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