The Owyhee River
The Wild and Scenic Owyhee River and Canyonlands is an Oregon treasure. A true crowned jewel of the West, it is one of the most remote and wild places in the entire country. It’s recognized nationally as a prime early-season whitewater destination when water levels are their highest. The most popular section is the Lower Owyhee, which runs 48 miles from the put in at Rome to Birch Creek Historic Ranch. It’s filled with class II, III and IV rapids including Montgomery and Whistling Bird.
Noted as one of the least tainted by light pollution in the lower 48, this region is a hallmark for stargazing. The high-quality habitat in this area led the Bureau of Land Management to recognize over 1 million acres of the Owyhee “wilderness areas.” The Owyhee River is home to more than 200 wildlife species. Golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and other raptors soar above while swallows swoop among canyon walls. Golden eagles are abundant year-round. Redband trout and other fish delight anglers in rivers, while 14 species of bats dance through the air at dusk. Big game animals flourish here too, including elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation.
The Owyhee River Rafting Experience
Although the Owyhee holds plenty of big water opportunities, there are also plenty of calm stretches providing time for peace and solitude. Float slowly past the vast spires of Chalk Basin where canyon colors vary from reddish rhyolite to the darker basalt, and Pruett’s Castle taking in rocks exposed from the late Miocene period to the present.
Pure spring water flows right out of the side of the canyon at Weeping Wall. and hot springs are present at Ryegrass or Greely Bar. Dramatic, awe-inspiring geological features where cliffs drop hundreds of feet directly into the canyon are influenced by faulting and warping.
The middle section of the Owyhee from Three Forks to the Rome put-in is a 39-mile challenge, featuring Class III, IV, V+ rapids with boulder gardens, heavy hydraulics and steep drops. This one is not for the faint of heart. The aptly named Half Mile rapid offers nonstop adrenaline, as does The Ledge and the oft-portaged Widowmaker.
From traversing the great-wide-open to marveling at tight canyon walls, the Owyhee Canyonlands delights around every bend. The scent of sage in the uplands yields to rich, green flora in the canyon depths. And water, the lifeblood of the high desert, both crashes through roiling river rapids and meanders in canyon pools. Great fly fishing and angling…
The Owyhee River has been identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of six key strongholds for the Greater sage-grouse in the West. An indicator species for overall ecosystem health, sage-grouse rely on vast expanses of unfragmented sagebrush for cover, diet, nesting and mating grounds. The unique soils create havens for larkspur, biscuitroot, phlox, penstemon and sagebrush buttercup. It is estimated that there are at least 28 species of plants that are found nowhere else in the world save the Owyhee, including Packard’s blazing star and the Owyhee clover.
Guides on the Owyhee know the ins and outs of this river canyon best: Why not have someone cook your meal on the white sandy beach while you take in the desert sunset?