Upper Owyhee

The Owyhee Canyonlands' Most Remote Adventure

Overview

The Upper Owyhee puts in at Duck Valley, Garat Crossing, or Crutcher’s Crossing and takes out at Three Forks.

Trip Highlights

  • 5-8 days, 41-103 miles
  • Swift, technical, thrilling whitewater
  • Garat’s gorge, class V falls and portages
  • High adventure
  • Extremely Remote setting
  • Inflatable kayak/ packrafting
  • Birds of prey

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 thrilling, technical whitewater.

The Upper trip begins on the East Fork of the Owyhee, accessed by way of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Idaho. The river flows northwest, converges with the South Fork of the Owyhee, and eventually reaches Three Forks, Oregon. Though there are long stretches of slow-moving, calm water on this section, it is also the most technically challenging portion of the Owyhee River, often with a few portages and lining projects along the way. This stretch gets very little human use and is an excellent place to see wildlife. It is rare to see anyone else on the East Fork. This section is for someone with a great spirit for adventure and a love for remote places–definitely a step off the beaten path, but those who seek it out are rewarded in a special way. On this section people paddle their own inflatable kayaks. For an additional fee guests can purchase a raft seat (this is only to limit the number of rafts on this section with two possible portages).

There are hundreds of miles of runnable whitewater on the Owyhee, and we offer trips on several sections of this remote river, and multiple access points to the canyons make it possible for you to customize your own trip and schedule to do individual sections or to combine them for a longer trip. This trip typically runs in April, and varies between 4 and 12 days. Just ask us for more details!

Keeping Our Options Open: If the water is too low to put in at Duck Valley, Garat Crossing provides a second access point. Garat is 24-miles below Duck Valley and is a 4-wheel drive mission to get into the river. Crutcher Crossing is another access point for the East Fork, another 4-wheel drive adventure. If for weather or water reasons the East Fork is not an option, the South Fork is a great trip as well. Anyone that plans an Upper Owyhee trip should be ready for plan B, but luckily there are many options for great river trips in this section of the canyon.

Play Video

The Stats

Departure Month April
State / Region Oregon & Southwest Idaho
Adventure Level High
Price Range $1500 - $2000
Activities Hiking, Canoeing, Wildlife, Whitewater Rafting, Inflatable Kayaking, Hot Springs

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.

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 Inn (Vista at the Airport) 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.

Sample Itinerary

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!

*When navigating the Upper Owyhee you can plan for one thing, but you might get dealt a different hand. Water levels and road conditions can sometimes limit which section we run. Get ready for an adventure! Laying eyes on this largely unexplored and unknown desert canyon is worth the effort.

FAQs

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. On the Middle Fork Flathead we usually take one “layover” day where we stay at the same camp and spend the day fishing, hiking, or relaxing.

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. This is especially true if you are wearing a wetsuit and splash gear. 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 (locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever we can). For more information, check out our "Sample Menu" page.

Can WRO accommodate dietary restrictions?

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 in which we provide drinks. You are welcome to bring your own alcohol (packed in non-glass containers whenever possible, please). As there are portages on this trip, we recommend thinking about options such as hard alcohol packed in non-glass containers and bagged wine. We are beer and sparkling water lovers ourselves, and if that is your preference, in general a few cans a day are okay, but lighter options are definitely preferable for these types of trips.

How does personal hygiene work during the trip?

We need to keep soap out of the rivers (and the hot springs), 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 the Upper or the Middle section, which may contain portaging or lining boats, which can take several hours. Your lead guide will give you an overview of the day each morning.

What will I do with items I need accessible during the day or on the boat?

In addition to the large waterproof bag issued for packing clothing and camp items, everyone is also issued a smaller “day bag” to carry items you will need access to while on the river (sunscreen, camera, extra layers, handwarmers etc.). Put anything you might need during the day in this day bag, as the larger bag will usually be inaccessible until we reach camp for the evening.

How will I keep my phone/camera/other valuable items safe from the elements?

We discourage bringing any unnecessary valuables on your trip. Phones can be placed in a Ziploc bag or water proof case and put in your day bag if you would like to have it accessible for taking pictures during the day. If you are bringing a large, expensive camera, we recommend you bring a hard waterproof case in which to store it and accessories.

What kind of boat will I be riding in?

The types of boats we bring on the Owyhee depend on the section of river we are running, as well as the size and preference of the group. We will typically bring 12 foot oar frames that guides will row, and packraft/ inflatable kayaks for certain sections. Small paddle boats may be able to be considered in certain circumstances. Contact the office for more specifics on more details on types of boats and the best section of the Owyhee for your interests.

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

Spring temperatures in the Owyhee 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 on the Owyhee 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 at Duck Valley, NV, and Three Forks, OR.

Is it possible to rent a drysuit (spring trips)?

We provide wetsuits for spring trips, but we also have drysuits available to rent for added comfort, which are highly recommended for these types of trips. Let us know if you’re interested in a drysuit and we can ensure we have the right size and add it to your invoice.

Clothing, Footwear, and Gear

What kind of footwear should I bring? What shoes will I wear in the boat?

For most trips you will need two pairs of shoes, one to wear in the boats and one to wear hiking and around camp. For spring trips, we recommend neoprene socks to wear on the river with your river shoes. Old running sneakers can also work well as river shoes. For most trips, sneakers or a lightweight hiking boot will be fine for side hikes. Another nice, lightweight footwear option for spring trips are water-resistant synthetic down camp booties.

What clothing should I wear in the boat?

For spring trips, we provide wetsuits or drysuits, underneath which you can wear long underwear or swimwear. You can wear synthetic long underwear, synthetic pants with rain pants over them, and a fleece or other warm layer with your raincoat on top. Even if renting a drysuit, you will need lots of layers underneath, as they keep you dry but not insulated. You will want to make sure you have plenty of extra warm, dry layers to add throughout the day, including hats and gloves (neoprene work gloves are nice for on the boat).

Why do you recommend synthetics instead of cotton?

While on the river you will get wet going through rapids (what fun would it be if you didn’t?!), or occasionally can get damp when being active and sweating. Synthetic materials are lightweight and dry much quicker than cotton. They also keep you warmer when wet. Comfort is essential to having fun!

What size and type of sleeping pad does WRO provide?

We provide deluxe, self-inflating basecamp “Therm-a-rest” pads. These are very comfortable and fit very nicely in our gear bags.

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.

Logistics

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Boise the day before your trip is scheduled to begin no later than 5:30. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend or on the way to the river. Some examples in Boise include REI, Cabella’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods or Boise Gear Collective.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. Boise does have services like Uber and Lyft, which guests are responsible for arranging.

What happens if my trip has to be cancelled because of water levels?

The Owyhee is a river that is dependent upon spring runoff, which is factored by snowpack in the Owyhee Mountains, as well as what pace and at what time of year the snow melts. This is one of the things that makes this trip so unique and coveted, but also means that it is not completely predictable. WRO does our best to watch the snow pack and weather forecasts and be upfront with our booked guests on the outlooks for the trip as early on as possible.
With booking trips that cancel due to water levels, your deposit will not be lost. WRO is happy to reschedule with you and offer an alternative trip with your same deposit, or issue a refund. For more information, see our company's "Cancellation policy" page.

Miscellaneous

When do we need to be there?

You should arrive in Boise the day before your trip is scheduled to begin no later than 5:30. There will be an evening orientation with WRO guides and guests, where we will go over trip details, answer last-minute questions, and hand out 16 oz Hydroflask mugs and waterproof bags to repack your gear into. You will head to the river the next morning (the official starting date of your trip).

Is there a place to store our non-river luggage while we’re on the river?

Yes, we will store your extra bags and make arrangements for them to be transported to meet you at the end of the trip. However, we do recommend that you leave any unnecessary valuables at home. Your wallet & cash should be placed in a Ziplock bag and taken with you on your trip.

Is there somewhere to purchase last-minute items before the trip?

Yes, there are usually outdoor stores located fairly close to all the hotels we recommend or on the way to the river. Some examples in Boise include REI, Cabella’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods or Boise Gear Collective.

Can I stay at a different hotel than your recommended options before the trip?

You are welcome to stay wherever you’d like as long as you are at 1) orientation the evening before your trip and 2) your trip’s designated pickup location ready for departure the morning your trip begins. We recommend the most convenient lodging, which is usually where orientation is held and where group transportation will pick up and drop off guests before and after the trip. Boise does have services like Uber and Lyft, which guests are responsible for arranging.

What happens if my trip has to be cancelled because of water levels?

The Owyhee is a river that is dependent upon spring runoff, which is factored by snowpack in the Owyhee Mountains, as well as what pace and at what time of year the snow melts. This is one of the things that makes this trip so unique and coveted, but also means that it is not completely predictable. WRO does our best to watch the snow pack and weather forecasts and be upfront with our booked guests on the outlooks for the trip as early on as possible.
With booking trips that cancel due to water levels, your deposit will not be lost. WRO is happy to reschedule with you and offer an alternative trip with your same deposit, or issue a refund. For more information, see our company's "Cancellation policy" page.

Book Now