THREAT AREA / DESTINATION TRIP BACKGROUND:The Lower Owyhee has been compared to rivers of the Southwest and has been called the Grand Canyon of Oregon. It’s tough to find comparisons for this desert river that lies in some of the most remote countries remaining in the lower 48 states. The river is a land of hot springs, rhyolite, rimrock, sagebrush, canyons, and plateaus and hosts jaw-dropping beauty for river floaters to soak up as they travel the 50-mile stretch between Rome and Leslie Gulch. There is a reason that the Owyhee is rapidly gaining bucket list status for river runners around the world. The trip features stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, hot springs, and fun, moderate rapids. There are plenty of camps to stay at along the river, most of them on excellent sandy beaches. A five-day trip will allow for a relaxed pace in order to fully immerse ourselves in the experience, spend extra time at camp warming up around a fire in the morning, and heading out on some world-class side hikes in the afternoons. While the area is remote and the weather can be ever-changing, you do not need to be an experienced adventurer, an athlete, or to have spent a night under the stars to join this adventure. This backcountry landscape is lightly visited and is perfect for anyone wanting a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a less-traveled place.
CONSERVATION OPPORTUNITY:Oregon’s Owyhee region is an outdoor recreationist’s paradise. This 4.6-million-acre expanse of public lands is among the most remote and unpopulated in the Lower 48 states. More than 200 species of wildlife live amongst the sagebrush and bunchgrass, and the Owyhee region was identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of just six sage-grouse strongholds left in the West. The significance of this landscape is heightened as we witness the impacts of climate change and look to intact land as a tool to mitigate these impacts, while also protecting critical biodiversity. In the Intermountain West, extreme drought, changing precipitation patterns, reduced mountain snowpack, more frequent fires, and an increase in invasive species are affecting habitats that wildlife species depend on. In addition to a warming climate, increasing development pressures are threatening this vast sagebrush sea. In response to these pressures, in 2019, Senator Wyden introduced a proposal that would designate more than one million acres of Wilderness and help restore ecosystem resilience within the region.
DAY 1:Folks who are flying in will leave Boise, Idaho, and head off on a 2-hour drive to Rome, Oregon. Folks from Oregon will travel to Rome, Oregon the night before and camp at the boat launch, ready to meet the rest of the crew mid-day on the 26th of March. Rome, OR is a very small town with a café/gas station and a boat launch for the beginning of the river adventure. At the boat launch, we’ll pack dry bags, meet the crew, and have a thorough orientation about the water days ahead. After loading the gear and ourselves in the rafts, we’ll push off for a five-day adventure to float the “Grand Canyon of Oregon” as it flows through one of the most remote, unique and spectacular canyons in the continental United States. The first few miles of the trip are relaxing and calm. We will float through the pasturelands of Rome before heading into the first small gorge. Golden eagle nests can sometimes be spotted on the canyon walls as we enjoy our first day of floating. We’ll set up camp for the evening, make dinner and enjoy drinks alongside the river and a warm campfire.
DAY 2:The morning sun brings the promise of another beautiful day. After breakfast and plenty of time for a second cup of coffee, we will break down camp and head downriver as the sun (hopefully) warms the canyon. Our day will be spent running rapids and if we’re lucky, we will camp at Rye Grass camp where a hot spring soak awaits and the entrance to one of the most dramatic canyons in the country can be seen in the distance.
DAY 3-4:After our morning coffee and breakfast, we will set out for the deepest part of the river canyon. We will float through the formations of Green Dragon Canyon with its walls climbing to more than 1000 ft. We will run the biggest rapids of the trip and maybe even see the elusive Big Horn Sheep. This is the most dramatic section of the canyon. For many, these two days are the highlight of the adventure.
DAY 5:Our last day on the river will be a relaxing but awe-inspiring float through Sentinel Canyon’s amazing sandstone spires. We will stop for lunch and enjoy our last riverside meal and possibly view ancient petroglyphs before we float down to the head of Lake Owyhee. Our river journey will end with transportation back to Boise ID (or Rome, OR).