Owyhee Wild and Scenic River, Oregon
The headwaters of the Owyhee River are found in Elko County in northeastern Nevada. The Owyhee flows north along the east side of the Independence Mountains before it proceeds through southwestern Idaho where it is joined by the South Fork of the Owyhee River before reaching the Oregon border. In 1984, Congress designated 120 miles of the Owyhee, beginning at the Idaho-Oregon border downstream to the Owyhee Reservoir (excluding two short segments). The entire segment is classified as ‘wild.’
The canyons of the Owyhee River are dramatic, awe-inspiring landforms. Reddish-brown canyon walls, sharply contrasted by the colorful, eroded chalky cliffs, reach up to 1,000 feet above the pristine sagebrush and grass-covered and talus slopes that form the river's edge. Cliffs occasionally drop hundreds of feet directly into the river. The canyon rims are often eroded into a multitude of towering spires, while in other areas the canyon walls reach to the sky as fractured, blocky monoliths tinted with brilliant green, yellow and orange microflora. Numerous side canyons offer an element of mystery as they twist out of sight, and honeycombed cliffs and perched rock formations add intriguing textures and colors to the vertical landscape.
Outstanding recreation abounds in the canyon, including rafting, drift boating, kayaking, hiking, photography, nature study, fishing, hunting and camping. The Owyhee is recognized nationally as a prime early-season whitewater destination, popular for commercial and non-commercial river runners.
Exploring the canyon on foot provides opportunities for photography and nature study. Despite its limited access and rough terrain, the canyon has become a popular destination for its scenic beauty and unspoiled character.
Sport fishery includes remnant populations of rainbow trout and excellent populations of catfish and smallmouth bass. Mule deer, California bighorn sheep, pronghorn, chukar, quail and sage grouse provide great viewing, study, photography and/or hunting opportunities.
The drop-and-pool river offers thrilling whitewater, and slow-moving, serene pools providing boaters with an excellent opportunity to view an ever-changing scene of water and land forms.
Photo by Bob Wick, BLM.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provides three levels of river classification: wild, scenic, and recreational.
Wild rivers are free of dams, generally inaccessible except by trail, and represent vestiges of primitive America.
Scenic rivers are free of dams, with shorelines or watersheds that are still largely primitive and shorelines that are largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.
Recreational rivers are readily accessible by road or railroad, may have some development along their shorelines, and may have been dammed in the past.