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.