UPPER OWYHEE RIVER

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.

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. Just ask us for details!

Similar Trips: Middle Owyhee •  Lower Owyhee •  Jarbidge Bruneau

Departure Month: May
Region: Idaho, Oregon
Rating: High Adventure, Intermediate
Pricing: Between $1500 and $2000

The Owyhee was listed as one of America’s Best Adventures by National Geographic in 2010!

Read a great article on Owyhee Canyonlands adventure by guide Shane Moser

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.

In 2009, the Owyhee Initiative designated 317 miles of the Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau River systems as wild and scenic. The same legislation designated 517,000 acres of the surrounding land as wilderness, protecting these rivers and the landscape encompassing them.

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!

We break the Owyhee into three sections: the Upper Owyhee, Middle Owyhee, and Lower Owyhee.

Upper Owyhee (East Fork)
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.

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 in to 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.

*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.

Upper Owyhee
DATE:

April 11 – 18  Upper Owyhee Adventure Trip
RATE:

Eight-day Trip ~ $2000.00

Additional dates available upon request.  Call for details.

Included: Your trip includes transportation from Boise to the river and back to Boise at the end of the trip. All meals are included starting with lunch on the first day and ending with lunch on the last day. We provide sleeping bags, pads, and tents (or bring your own gear and receive a $40 discount), dry bags, and wetsuits.

Not Included:
Cost does not include hotels before or after the trip, alcohol, or guide gratuities.

DISCOUNTS:
Charter trips
are available for groups of 6 or more. This means your group has reserved the entire trip. Ask for details.
Group discounts
based upon the number of people in your party.
Discounts
are also available for seniors and children. Please contact us for details.

DEPOSIT AND RESERVATION:
Reservations can be made online or by calling our office.
Payment:
A 25% non-refundable deposit is required to reserve your spot. The remainder is due 45 days prior to trip departure.

After your reservation, we will promptly send you a trip packet including general information on your trip, your invoice and statement, a gear list, and medical and liability waiver forms that you will need to return to our office.

CANCELLATION AND REFUNDS:
Operating quality trips is a costly operation with no margin for losses resulting from late cancellations. The space you reserve is held for you, and this may mean turning others away. Each trip is planned for the number of reserved spaces, guides scheduled, supplies bought, and rafts and vehicles assigned. If notice of cancellation is 45 days prior to departure, you may transfer to any other trip in the same season without penalty. A cancellation less than 45 days before the trip is non-refundable. Depending on circumstances, we can discuss other trip options.

Travel Insurance: We strongly recommend that you protect yourself with a short term traveler’s insurance policy.  Trip cancellation will cover your losses on non-refundable air and land cost on unexpected cancellations.

Cancelled Trips: We reserve the right to cancel a trip due to insufficient reservations, weather or water conditions. In such cases, a full refund for the trip is given. If possible, we will offer an option of a different trip of comparable type.

TRIP LOGISTICS

This trip begins and ends in Boise, Idaho
Air:
Most airlines offer flights into Boise.  You will need to arrive the evening before your trip begins.  We usually have an orientation around 6 p.m. that night.
Hotel:
Please make hotel reservations at the Best Western Inn in Boise for the evening before your trip and the evening your trip ends.  If you wish to make other arrangements, please give us a call and we will be happy to assist you.
Best Western Vista Inn
Boise, Idaho
1-800-727-5006

SAMPLE ITINERARY

Day before the trip: Arrive in Boise, Idaho. In the evening, we’ll get together to hand out gear 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 and 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 section as far a whitewater 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.

Day 5-7:  From Crutcher Crossing to Three Forks the whitewater picks up a bit with rapids like Cable and Cabin.  Depending of 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 our four day Middle Owyhee!

Owyhee River Suggested Gear

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

This is the suggested gear list for this particular trip. Having the right gear is important to making it the best possible experience for you. Most of the gear listed you will have or you can use it year-round on any outdoor excursion (football games, boating, skiing, etc.) We want you to have everything you will need to be comfortable and happy.

Please: no stereos, radios, cell phones or watches

GEAR PROVIDED – we provide LIFE JACKETS, 2 WATERPROOF DUFFEL BAGS (one for sleeping bag, pad & ground cloth, and one for clothing), WATERPROOF DAY BAG for items you would like accessible during the day (dry shirt, suntan lotion, camera, etc.), and WETSUITS.  You may use our SLEEPING BAGS, PADS, AND TENTS, or bring your own and receive a discount.

GEAR NEEDED

Owyhee River Suggested Gear

PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

This is the suggested gear list for this particular trip. Having the right gear is important in making it the best possible experience for you. Most of the gear listed you will have or you can use it year-round on any outdoor excursion (football games, boating, skiing, etc.) We want you to have everything you will need to be comfortable and happy.

Please: no stereos, radios, cell phones or watches

GEAR PROVIDED – we provide LIFE JACKETS, 2 WATERPROOF DUFFEL BAGS (one for sleeping bag, pad & ground cloth, and one for clothing), WATERPROOF DAY BAG for items you would like accessible during the day (dry shirt, suntan lotion, camera, etc.), and WETSUITS or Drysuits are available to rent.  You may use our SLEEPING BAGS, PADS, AND TENTS, or bring your own and receive a discount.

GEAR NEEDED

• SYNTHETIC SLEEPING BAG (WARM EVEN WHEN WET), PAD, TENT, GROUND CLOTH (for sleeping out under the stars and or for spreading your gear on).

• HIGH QUALITY RAIN GEAR… good jacket and pants, poncho’s aren’t enough. AVOID VINYL & CHEAP PLASTICS.

• LIGHTWEIGHT SHIRTS…one long sleeved.

• 1 PAIR LONG PANTS… synthetic are best

• SHORTS…synthetics dry faster.

• SWIMSUIT…nylon is best because it dries faster.

• CAP TO BLOCK SUN, & WOOL OR SYNTHETIC HAT for cool evenings…a must for everyone.  In case of wind attach with chums or a shoe string.

• GLOVES OR MITTENS…synthetic or wool.

• WARM SHIRTS…wool or fleece (2)

• LONG UNDERWEAR…Polypro or Capilene (not cotton) tops & bottoms (2).

• WARM JACKET…synthetic piles are popular because they are warm even when damp.

FOOTWEAR: The comfort of your feet will make a big difference in your enjoyment of the trip!

• HIKING BOOTS or sturdy walking shoes …well broken in. No brand new boots please.

• SOCKS…3-4 pair synthetic wool and fleece socks are also nice.

• THIN LINER SOCKS…nylon or synthetic, not cotton.

• RIVER SHOES OR SANDALS…to wear on the river and on short hikes.  Astral, Teva or Keen make good river shoes.

• NEOPRENE SOCKS… wearing these under river shoes is a combination for keeping your feet warm and safe on the river.

• SUNGLASSES AND TIES FOR GLASSES…protects against glare.  Pack an extra pair of prescription glasses even if  you wear contacts.

• SUN SCREEN…maximum strength sun block & moisture lotion.

• CHAPSTICK

• FLASHLIGHT…small one is fine, headlamps work great.

• WATER BOTTLE…1 liter.

• CAMERA… bring extra batteries.

• SMALL DAY OR FANNY PACK…for side excursions.

• POCKET KNIFE

• ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE…if desired (unbreakable containers).

• BINOCULARS (optional).

Wilderness River Outfitters provide a MAJOR FIRST AID KIT.  However, we do recommend you bring your own preferred personal medication and accessories (Advil, Tylenol, aspirin, Band-Aids, cold medicine).

Reviews from the Owyhee River Trip

On a previous trip to Oregon, I had learned about the Owyhee River. It’s only runnable for a few weeks each spring. The river sounded wonderful and I made a plan to return one day.

There are three sections to the Owyhee. The Upper and Middle Sections are very remote and have some great whitewater sections. The Lower Owyhee is easily accessible, tamer, and the scenery is less dramatic.

There are only about 3 companies that ever run the Upper and Middle Sections. Wilderness River Outfitters has been doing it for years. They offered a trip on the Upper or Middle and they also had an option to do the entire Upper and Middle back-to-back. We opted to do the combination trip for 13 days. We started in Idaho and ended up near Rome, Oregon.

We’ve done a lot of river trips all over the world. But we’ve never done one this long and in such a remote area. The scenery is fabulous and is national park quality. The canyon has stupendous rock formations and felt like a cross between Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Wilderness River Outfitters is the perfect company for this trip. They know the river very well and they are very conscious about safety. The guides are all friendly, kind and helpful. Oh, and they’re great cooks, too! The quality of all the gear was outstanding.

If you go on the Owyhee you should be aware of a couple of things. Since the river can only be run in the spring, the weather can vary greatly. Some days were sunny and warm and others were rainy and cold. Use the drysuits offered by the company and you’ll be much more comfortable.

Also, there is a physical component of this trip that we’ve not dealt with on other rivers. Due to the remoteness and infrequent use of the river, there aren’t established trails and portage routes. Depending on water levels, there are at least 2 significant portages around unrunnable rapids. With no established trails, it means helping to haul a bunch of gear over huge boulders or while clinging to mountain slopes—sometimes for a lengthy distance.

Wilderness River Outfitters does other trips in some pretty remarkable places. They do a couple of trips in Alaska, a couple in Montana, and an annual trip on the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. They also do standard trips for the entire summer on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the main Salmon in Idaho.

We really enjoyed this company and we’re currently looking at some of their other remote trips for the future. We hope to see Seth and his crew again sometime soon!

Trip Advisor May 2017
Thanks Keith!