SEASON: The river can be paddled between March and June with best peak flows occurring from late March to early May. In some years the raft season can be as short as 2-3 weeks. This one is best run on the way down rather than on the way up. Heavy rains can make passage on shuttle road problematic and bring flows up to dangerous levels rather quickly. Weather can fluctuate and even dip below freezing, but nighttime lows are generally more mild down in the canyon next to the river.
This is a great 2-4 day trip through a remote and incredibly scenic river canyon. The rapids are challenging pool-drop. The most significant rapid on the run is Widowmaker which comes at mile 21. It's a class V and while self-support kayakers can make quick work of the portage, it's no picnic if you have rafts along. It is typically portaged on river right. Depending on flows, rafts can be lined down the right bank, run down the left at higher flows, or de-rigged. Due to the portage, and the challenging boulder gardens at The Ledge and Half Mile, this section is less frequently run than the section below Rome. It's a great self support kayak trip but if you are running rafts you need to be on your game to avoid pinning particularly as flows drop below 2000 cfs. If running rafts, consider smaller more nimble craft. Fully outfitted 14' rafts are occasionally run on this section but it's a bigger commitment and the consequences of a mishap can be severe.
The Vale District of the BLM maintains an Owyhee website with excellent information including a river guide in pdf format, maps, and local contacts for shuttle services. The permit for this trip is a self registration that can be done at the Three Forks or Rome access points. The ranger station at Rome Launch site (the take-out) has been staffed in the past and can be reached at 541-586-2612.
Alternative runs that can be combined with a run on the middle section of the Owyhee include the lower run from Rome to Owyhee Reservoir or the upper run from Crutcher's Crossing to Three Forks.
Check out Steve Stuckmeyer's Owyhee River trip report on the Oregon Kayaking site.
DIRECTIONS: The take out is located in Rome, OR just upstream of the Owyhee River Bridge on Highway 95, river right (east) side. To reach the put in from Rome, return to Highway 95 and drive 17 miles east and turn right (south) onto Lower Soldier Creek Rd (at the Three Forks highway sign). If traveling from the east on Highway 95, drive through Jordan Valley and continue 16 miles to Lower Soldier Creek Road. Follow this dirt road for 35 miles to Three Forks. The final 1.5 miles to the put in is on a steep road with tight switch backs and clearance required. 4WD is required when this road is wet. If it's really wet, the road might be closed.
CAMPING: Camp sites are avaible at both the Rome take out and the Three Forks put in (the camping at Three Forks is more remote dispersed camping without facilities while the Rome Launch has picnic tables, running water, pit toilets, easy access to the Rome Cafe for breakfast or dinner, and a lot more traffic as groups stage for runs on the Lower Owyhee. Camp sites along the river are a less heavily used than those on the lower run and may be less obvious. Bomb Shelter (a cave with a bit of shelter from the weather) and sites on the Soldier Creek delta are good options for the night before running Widowmaker). Soon after passing Sand Hollow (6 miles from the take-out) the canyon walls begin to peel away and camping options become more limited. While on the river, you will be required to carry a portable toilet and fire pan. Check with the BLM for other camping regulations. Side streams are very scarce in the canyon. Carry plenty of water for your trip or plan to purify river water. Water can be obtained from Soldier Creek at mile 18.
Scouting is advised, especially for rafts. At 1700 and 2200 cfs the Ledge is quite technical. Following the Ledge are about 9 miles of easy water before Half Mile.
Half Mile Rapids is exactly that, about a half mile long class IV, consisting of an upper section, a short pool, and then a lower section. At lower flows the rapid becomes a technical boulder garden. At higher flows (>2500cfs) it can be a wild ride with big waves and holes.
After a short pool (at medium flows) Half Mile continues around to the left. It can be scouted either right or left. Start center avoiding rocks and holes and work towards the left at the bottom.
Raft flip is a wave or hole depending on flows.
A read and run rapid with good lines towards the right side fo the rapid.
Outwash from Skull Creek has created a picket fence of rocks including the pointed Sharks Tooth. Line up for the best slot depending on water level.
Widowmaker is the most difficult rapid on this section of the Owyhee. It is a steep class V with a huge boulders and holes creating tight lines. The accepted line changes with water levels. Many parties, probably most, portage this monster. The right side is most often used as a portage route, but the huge boulders make it a rather difficult task for rafts. Kayaks have an easier time and it only takes a few minutes to walk around the main drop and pass the boats down. Rafts are lined from the right side. Depending on the water level, a class III-IV entrance rapid can be run and the eddy caught directly above Widowmaker. The eddy is not large, so be on your toes. Scouting this entrance drop is highly recommended. Some may chose to portage the entrance and Widowmaker both. Note: Plan your day so that you have ample daylight when you reach Widowmaker. The last camps before Widowmaker are located just above and below Soldier Creek.
Following Widowmaker are 2 class IIIs and 10 miles with lots of fun class II rapids. The last 5+ miles to Rome, after you pass Sand Hollow, are flat water with very litte current. If camping, stop well upstream of Rome before the canyon walls drop away and good campsites disappear once you reach Scotts Dam. Several warm spring come in on river right between miles 29 and 30.
Floated Widowmaker last week (if you can call lining the first part, then boat disassembly/portage then more linings a float) and we didn't see a rope in the rapid. Did see one strung out wedged down in the rocks on river left, but couldn't crawl down far enough to recover. Rope was stretched tight between a couple rocks as well.
9 years ago
by Mark Rasmus
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.
River Guide and maps to Owyhee, Bruneau, and Jarbidge
Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee Legislative Hearing Including S. 1765, Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (Tester); S. 2828, Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owhyee Act (Wyden); S. 3427, Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act (McSally); S. 3670, M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act (Udall).
The river can be paddled at lower or higher flows. It becomes more technical at lower flows and you probably wouldn't want to paddle it much below 700 cfs. At higher flows the hydraulics obviously get bigger and precise manuvering to catch eddies at the top of the big drops becomes a necessity. The BLM rates 8000 cfs as high water. Other sources have recommended flows up to 3000, 4000, and 8000 cfs. A good minumum flow for rafts is 1400 cfs. Rapids are technical but still runnable.
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Lower Half Mile Rapid
Canyons below Widowmaker
Class III below Widowmaker
Widowmaker Lead in
Hiking Above Soldier Creek
Wildflowers near Soldier Creek
rapid upstream of Sharks Tooth
Below Bombshelter Rapid
Halfmile, lower half
Halfmile, upper half
Three Forks put-in
River Permit Station
Canyon below Widowmaker
Owyhee River Canyon
lower Half Mile Rapid
upper Half Mile Rapid
Owyhee River Canyon, Three Forks to Rome
Entrance drop in "The Ledge"
Arlo Varri running The Ledge
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