Float the Wild and Scenic Owyhee River

Owyhee River

Unplug and spend a week on the Wild and Scenic Owyhee River. This beautiful and remote high desert river has garnered the nick name "Oregon's Grand Canyon" with its deep canyon walls, unique colorful geology, abundant wildlife, and great hiking opportunities.

Overview

Located in remote southeastern Oregon the Owyhee River offers an off the grid adventure through the high desert that you will not soon forget.  The 50 mile section of river from Rome to Birch Creek is usually boated between March and June when there is adequate runoff to support larger boats.  It can also be boated on low water years or later in the year in kayaks or pack-rafts.  The trip itself is typically completed over 4-6 days by private groups as well as the many outfitters that offer fully guided trips.

Along this section of river you will pass some of the most unique geology and colorful rock formations, ancient petroglyphs, abandoned ranches, caves, wildflowers, river-side hot springs, and abundant wildlife.  The Owyhee also offers one of the best birding experiences anywhere in the lower 48.   The corridor also has some wonderful side hikes to view the above mentioned attractions as well as to some beautiful vistas overlooking the canyon and river below.

Permits are self issued at the put-in and there are no assigned campsites on the Owyhee River.  Camps are first come first serve. During peak usage you are likely to find one or more of the camps you planned to stay at occupied.  Some camps are large enough for two parties to spread out but make sure that your neighbors are cool with that idea before unloading your boat.  It is a good idea to have a couple campsite options on your itinerary each day in case your planned sites are not available. 

The rapids of the Owyhee can be described as pool and drop with some fun bouncy wave trains when the flows are above 1000 cfs. Once the river drops below 1000 cfs the river becomes much more technical as the rocks start emerging in the middle of the rapids making the float more challenging.  Make sure to check the USGS site for real time river data when planning your trip.  Some of the major rapids to note on this section of river are: 

  • Bulls Eye (IV) Mile 13
  • Read-it-and-Weep (III+) Mile 20.75
  • Artillery (III+) Mile 21.2
  • Whistling Bird (IV) Mile 31
  • Montgomery (IV) Mile 32.5
  • Nuisance (IV) Mile 37
  • Morcum Dam(III) Mile 37.5

Points of Interest

  • Weeping Wall (Mile 17.75) River left, coldwater springs dripping from a rock wall provide great location to refill water supplies
  • Ryegrass Hot-springs (Mile 23.75) River left, un-maintained hot-springs with small pool suitable for one person at a time.  Campsite on river left is limited to 1 night stay
  • Pruitt's Castle (Mile 24.75) A unique geological formation. Great spot to hike and explore.
  • Lambert Dome (Mile 25) A massive multi-colored dome which has light and dark layering.  Trail leading all the way to the top for those that love to hike.
  • Iron Point Canyon (Mile 31-35) Deepest canyon section of trip made of red and gray rhyolite rock.  Keep an eye out for nesting birds of pray high above on the cliffs. 
  • Jackson Creek/Jackson Hole (Mile 37) Great camp and trail to explore up Jackson Creek to discover some unnamed waterfalls.  Area frequently inhabited by bighorn sheep.
  • Devil's Tower (Mile 42.75) A miniature version of the the more famous Devil's Tower.  Comes into view for a couple miles on the river. 
  • Upper Greeley Bar (Mile 44) River Left, A Hot-springs wetland and campsite.  Camping is limited to 1 night.  Tread lightly as the wetlands in this area are critical breeding habitat for the Woodhouse and Western Toads.  Moor boats at campsite when using the hot-springs.
  • Pothole Arch (Mile 47.6) River left.  A short steep hike up to a natural rock arch.  

Logistics

The put-in located in Rome, OR is just off US-95 in the heart of a fertile agricultural area.  The first 5-6 miles of river are flat surrounded by farms and can be quite a bear if there is a strong upstream winds.  At around mile 6 the river enters a canyon where the wind is typically less of a factor.

The takeout at Birch Creek is located 49.5 miles downstream from the put-in.  The road out of the canyon requires four wheel drive and higher ground clearance due to the rough road and stream crossings.  During periods of heavy rain the road may be impassable due to deep water.

There is an alternate takeout located at Leslie Gulch 15 miles further down river but it requires a 9 mile long flat water paddle on Lake Owyhee.  

Most boaters typically arrange their vehicle to be moved from the put-in to the take out using a shuttle service.

Pack List

  • Raft, Kayak, Packraft, Canoe, or Dory
  • Oars/Paddles
  • Life Jacket
  • Drysuit/Wetsuit
  • Splash Jacket
  • Helmet
  • Throwbag
  • Drybags
  • Cooler
  • Stove
  • Firepan (firewood must be packed in)
  • Portable Toilet System
  • Table
  • Shelter
  • Tent
  • Sandmat
  • Sleeping bag and Pad
  • Water
  • Camera/Tripod
  • Hiking Boots/Gators
  • Backpack
Show More
RT Distance 49.5 Miles
Elevation Gain -900 Feet
Activities Canoeing, Chillin, Camping, Fishing, Photography, Rafting, Kayaking, Swimming, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Winter
Trail Type Point-to-Point
Features
Beach
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Hot Springs
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

WELL WORTH IT

THIS IS AN AMAZING FLOAT. AWAY FROM EVERYTHING. THE LAST TIME I DID IT I DIDN'T SEE A SINGLE SOUL ON THE RIVER IN 2 DAYS. I've doneae this 2 times on a paddleboard. it makes for quite the adventure. such an amazing and untouched place. with the snow this year you may be able to run the river into June.

Unbelievable

Just did this stretch for the second time. Truly unreal experience drifting through those gnarly canyons. Logistics and weather can be a little tricky for this float but adds to the overall adventure.


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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