Owyhee, Oregon, US
|Usual Difficulty||II-III+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||18 fpm|
|OWYHEE RIVER NR ROME OR|
|usgs-13181000||750 - 10000 cfs||II-III+||01h08m||129 cfs (too low)|
SEASON: The river is typically paddled between March and June with peak flows in March or April. Weather can fluctuate and even dip below freezing. The last two weeks of May are typically the most popular time to paddle this river. Heavy rains can make passage on shuttle road problematic and bring flows up to high levels rather quickly.
DESCRIPTION: The Vale District of the BLM maintains an Owyhee website with information including a river guide in pdf format (note that this guide tends to rate several of the rapids a grade higher than the majority of other guides), maps, and local contacts for shuttle services (Vale District office 541-473-3144, Rome Launch Site 541-586-2612). This is a 4 to 6 day trip and the most popular of the runs on the Owyhee. The launch site in Rome is typically staffed by BLM. The ranger has been giving all groups an enviromental and welcome talk prior to parties launching on their trips. He will go over the best ways to accomplish camp tasks along with explaining areas of concern. These talks have been very infomative in the past 5 years and have significanty reduced the impacts in the canyon. Please support this program so we dont loose it in budget cuts.
The Owyhee's headwaters start in Northern Nevada and flows North through South Eastern Oregon. At the Rome launch site the Owyhee is still a free flowing river fed by snowmelt and spring rains. As one travels down into this remote canyon the adventures from the river trip and hiking the canyon will bring lessons of Archeology, Geology, American history, and survival in the Eastern Oregon Desert. For the first five miles of the trip you will find yourself on a relatively flat meandering Owyhee river through ranch land. The Cliffs of Rome, Jordan Creek, and an old stage coach stop are the major sites until the river flows into Sweetwater Canyon.
Entering the canyons, there are numerous pool drop class II rapids and a few class III rapids depending on flows. One characteristic of the run is at flows around 2000 cfs many of the rapids are bouncy wave trains but as flows drop to around 1000 cfs the lines become more technical as rocks become exposed. Long Sweetwater, Upset, and Bulls Eye are the first significant drops in a two mile section of Sweetwater Canyon (trip mile 11 to 13) and there are interspersed with plenty of additional fun whitewater.
Continuing down the river the next sequence of named rapids begins near trip mile 20 with Read-It-and-Weep quickly followed by Artillery which are both fun bouncy wave trains. You will pass by the old Rustler's Cabin site on river right, an old homestead and one of the few remaining private parcels in the canyon that American Whitewater and other groups have identified as a potential acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. A small hot spring bubbles up near the cabin site on river right with additional springs just downstream of river left. Entering the chalk basin you will be treated to some impressive geologic wonders with the pale, ashy, sediments from an ancient lake that existed 10 million years ago with darker lava flows that poured over these lake bed sediments and baked the clay mud into brick layers that are resistant to erosion. Near trip mile 25 you will see Pruitt's Castle, an impressive colonade of spines of tufted white rock wiith black and brown bands of lava.
Lambert Rock Flows (recent at 4000 to 100,000 years ago) force the river westward near trip mile 28 and here you will find Dog Leg rapid. Potters Cave, a rock shelter that was used by those who made trips into the canyons as long as 7000 years ago comes up on the right near trip mile 30.
The river soon enters perhaps the most impressive canyon section on the trip with two of the more significant rapids. At Whistling Bird (III+) the river flows hard towards the right wall where a flake has come off the wall. Some of the current flows through a narrow slot behind the flake. The move is to pull left and pass by, a manuver that gets more difficult as flows drop and the gravel bar on river left becomes more exposed.There is a flat pool above the rapid that makes for an easy boat scout or you can always get out on river left to check it from shore. The river flows east here through Iron Point Canyon which is formed from rhyolite, an erosion resistant rock fromed from thick lava flows. Rock Trap, Squeeze, and Montgomery come in quick sequence around trip mile 32 to 33 with Montgomery representing one of the most challenging rapids on the run (III+). Here the river drops thorugh a long stretch of whitewater along a big wall on river left. A couple of boulders sit at the bottom and you can either ride the tongue between them or pull around on the right. If you didn't grab one of the camps in the Chalk Basin there are a number of great camps in Iron Point Canyon.
A few miles downstream you come to some additional named rapids with Tanager, Nuisance, and Morcum Dam between trip mile 36 and 39. Rinehart Falls comes in on river left just before Morcum Dam and is a good water stop if you replinish. The dam is a rock weir that was constructed in 1963 to provide water for Hole-In-The-Ground Ranch which you will pass on river right.
The canyons start to open up slightly here but you will still be treated to plenty of impressive scenery and a highlight of many trips comes at trip mile 44 where you can enjoy the best hot spring on the river. The BLM asks that you do not pull in right at the spring because the wetland between the hotspring and the river is important breeding habitat for Woodhouse and Western Toads during the spring boating season. Instead run the next rapid and pull out on river left at at Upper Greeley Camp. From here you can walk the trail back up to the hotspring. Please follow these simple rules so we can all continue to enjoy the springs.
The Owyhee Breaks offers one final chapter in the geologic tour down the river--look up to Pothole Arch on river left. Around the next bend the Birch Creek ranch comes into view, now managed by BLM as a histroric site. The take-out is about a mile downstream of the ranch buildings on river right just past the old water wheel. Trips also routinely continue another few miles down the river to the slackwater of the reservoir.
The road into Birch Creek is steep with tight turns and water crossings (motorhomes and trailers over 12' not recommended) and 4WD is recommended. The road may be impassable during periods of heavy rain. If you take-out on the reservoir you'll have 10-12 miles of slackwater before you reach the Leslie Gulch access. A common practice is to hire a motor boat tow. For those who want a longer and more challenging trip you can add the upstream sections of Three Forks to Rome and Crutcher's Crossing to Three Forks to your trip.
Self issue permit can be downloaded from BLM website.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|-84.3||Morcum Dam (Rock Dam)||III|
|-73.8||Birch Creek Take-out||N/A|
Scout left. Debris fan on river left forces river to the right where you need to avoid a rock slab. Difficulty increases as flow drops.
Most challenging drop on this section. Difficulty increases as flows drop. River drops into a tight constriction with rocks below that are to be avoided. Scout from river left.
An old diversion structure for the ranch. Scout from left. Difficulty increases as flows drop.
Last take-out before the reservoir. Alternatives are to take-out here (4WD recommended) or continue on down to the reservoir and get a tow out (about 10 miles down the reservoir).
BLM Guide to the Owyhee River
Brochure - Protecting Our Desert Heritage
A comprehensive set of actions to direct and guide future management of the Main, West Little and North Fork Owyhee Rivers.
Protecting Oregon's Owyhee Canyonlands
August 3, 2015