Owyhee - 3. Three Forks to Rome

Owyhee, Oregon, US


3. Three Forks to Rome (Middle Owyhee)

Usual Difficulty III-IV(V) (for normal flows)
Length 37 Miles
Avg. Gradient 16 fpm

Owyhee River Canyon

Owyhee River Canyon
Photo of David Reines by Chris Dawkins taken 04/01/02

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-13181000 1000 - 5000 cfs III-IV(V) 01h10m 164 cfs (too low)

River Description

SEASON: The river can be paddled between March and June with best peak flows occuring 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 derigged. 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 occassionally 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.


Permit Information


Self issue permit can be downloaded from BLM website.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2016-12-05 03:37:14

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.5The LedgeIVPhoto
1.5The LedgeIVPhoto
9.5upper Half Mile RapidsIVPhoto
9.6lower Half Mile RapidsIVPhoto
9.8Raft FlipIII+Photo
14.0Subtle HoleIVPhoto
15.9Sharks ToothIVPhoto
21.0Widowmaker5.0Portage Hazard Photo
21.5No NameIIIPhoto

Rapid Descriptions

The Ledge (Class IV, Mile 1.5)

Entrance drop in "The Ledge"

Entrance drop in "The Ledge"
Photo of Chris Dawkins, Jason Clinch by Sheldon Zakreski taken 03/31/02 @ 1750cfs

After paddling 1.5 miles of flat water from Three Forks, you'll reach "the ledge." This class IV rapid consists of an entrance drop followed by a long, technical boulder garden. It is easily scouted from river left.

The Ledge (Class IV, Mile 1.5)


Photo of Megi Morishita by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

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.

upper Half Mile Rapids (Class IV, Mile 9.5)

Halfmile, upper half

Halfmile, upper half
Photo of James Girton by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

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.

lower Half Mile Rapids (Class IV, Mile 9.6)

Halfmile, lower half

Halfmile, lower half
Photo of Emma Johnson and Grace Bagley by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

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 (Class III+, Mile 9.8)

Raft Flip

Raft Flip
Photo of James Girton by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

Raft flip is a wave or hole depending on flows.

Subtle Hole (Class IV, Mile 14.0)

Subtle Hole

Subtle Hole
Photo of Omar Jepperson by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

Bombshelter (Class IV, Mile 14.3)

Bombshelter Rapid

Bombshelter Rapid
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

A read and run rapid with good lines towards the right side fo the rapid.

Sharks Tooth (Class IV, Mile 15.9)

Sharks Tooth

Sharks Tooth
Photo of James Bagley by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

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 (Class 5.0, Mile 21.0)


Photo of Grace Bagley by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

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.

No Name (Class III, Mile 21.5)

Class III below Widowmaker

Class III below Widowmaker
Photo by Thomas O'Keefe © taken 04/29/16 @ 1850 cfs

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.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 25 2011 (2731 days ago)
JatoJr (152830)
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.
May 8 2011 (2809 days ago)
Mark RasmusDetails
throw rope left in Widowmaker on 5/8/11. dead center of rapid, near crux move.

Associated Projects

  • Conservation System
    The National Landscape Conservation System represents the crown jewels of BLM lands and rivers.
  • Owyhee Conservation
    American Whitewater advocates for the protection of the Owyhee Canyonlands.


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