Tucked into the plains of the flat, sagebrush-covered Owhyee and Yp deserts in one of the nation's most isolated wildernesses, the Owyhee River Canyon is a truly shocking display of sheer cliffs, whose layers that take you on a journey through over 16 million years' time.

Because of the Owyhee Wilderness isolation, there are very few access points that would not require a 4x4 vehicle to reach it's flanks. In addition, motorized vehicles are not allowed within the boundaries of the wilderness area, therefore you must hike (or float) into the area's boundaries. There are several spectacular locations that you could check out from these access points, but I'm going to focus on an area near a specific oxbow lake called The Tules. This area is sometimes referred to as "The Owyhee Meanders."  Look at this region on a map, and you'll notice that the river truly runs wild, taking 180 degree U-turns every tenth of a mile. Here is where you'll find some of the steepest cliffs and most interesting geological patterns of the Owyhee.  Note that the Tules can be climbed despite its rotting rock.

Start off by filling your gas tank at Our Grocery Store in Owyhee, NV. It's the only fill-up spot for miles and you wouldn't want to get stranded in the desert on an empty tank. From there head south on Rt 225 and take a right on Boney Ln. In 2.8 miles the road will veer right onto Pleasant Valley Road. Somwhere around here, the road turns to dirt and there is a sign that will guide you to different areas of the wilderness. You will want to stay to the right (East Fork). 3.2 miles later, the road will veer left and Pleasant Valley road will continue to the right - do not go right. Continue to follow the road about 20 miles further and you will arrive at a gas pumping station. It is not recommended that you go any further in your car.

Park your car at the pumping station and hike NE to intersect the Owyhee River Canyon - at this point there is a broad upper canyon and a slot canyon buried within it. You will see a pipeline crossing the river. This is a good landmark to start heading north along the canyon rim, so that you know where to turn back for your car on the return (if you follow the rim on your return).

Do not underestimate this hike. Even though it looks flat on the map, there are plenty of small ups and downs along the way where dried up tributaries feed the Owyhee. The distance as the crow flies to the Meanders would only be about 4.5 miles one way, but if you follow the curvature of the canyon, it can be closer to 8 miles!

Along the way, you'll see the native geology, which includes volcanic rhyolites. Be on the lookout for intercanyon flows where ancient lava streams blocked the flow of the river and cause two canyon walls to be geologically dissimilar. Also noteworthy are the mixed rock formations (breccia).

If you finish hiking and just haven't had enough, then be sure to check out Iron Point and the Green Dragon Canyon further downstream, Big Jack's Creek Wilderness, and the Bruneau Canyon Wilderness - all similarly deep canyons in SW Idaho and SE Oregon! 

Also, this is rattlesnake territory in the summer - best to go in early spring or mid-fall to avoid the heat and hidden creatures. In addition, you will probably hear the buzzing of Air Force jets practicing maneuvers - the nearby Mountain Home, ID is an Air Force base. 

Pack List

  • 10 essentials
  • Water appropriate to the temperature and time of year
  • Backpack
  • Camera - leave the ultra-wide lens at home
  • Hiking shoes
  • Snacks
  • Topography map so you can be aware of what lays around the next river bend
  • Overnight gear if you plan to backpack. It's a wilderness area, so there is no restriction (other than LNT)
Show More
RT Distance 12 Miles
Elevation Gain 1200 Feet
Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
River
Wildlife

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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