The Lower Owyhee River

by Nathaniel Wilson

Sitting comfortably awash in Oregon’s sagebrush sea, Rome is the sort of place that takes some determination to get to. My own path to there started in Ashland, Oregon and lasted about eight hours. Arriving near sunset, there was just enough time to unload our boats and catch a glimpse of the Owyhee River as it meandered through the surrounding ranchlands.

The Owyhee River

The Owyhee River | Photo by Nate Wilson

The rest of our crew arrived the following morning and we were all anxious for the opportunity to explore what is often referred to as Oregon’s Grand Canyon. Beginning at the Highway 95 bridge, our trip would end at Birch Creek, some sixty miles downstream. By the afternoon of the first day, most signs of humanity had disappeared and we eventually made camp in a canyon that bore little resemblance this stretch of the Owyhee’s wide open start.

Painted hillsides of the Owyhee River Canyon

Painted hillsides of the Owyhee River Canyon | Photo by Nate Wilson

Free from civilization’s glare, the stars in the canyon were fiercely bright and just as spectacular as anything seen during the day. The following morning brought warmer temperatures and a progressively deepening canyon as we made our way downstream. In what became a theme for the trip, the scenery only kept getting better.

The Owyhee River cuts a beautiful canyon through Eastern Oregon wilderness

The Owyhee River cuts a beautiful canyon through Eastern Oregon wilderness | Photo by Nate Wilson

Days on the river were narrated alternately by bird songs and the rumble of rapids. The scenery fluctuated from lava flows to ancient sea floors as the miles passed by. Several of our camps even had hot springs to relax in at night. It was in short, a paradise.

After five days of wilderness, it was almost jarring to see the Ranger Station at Birch Creek come into view. Only a few miles upstream, we had watched the silhouettes of bighorn sheep march across a ridgeline. Soon the boat ramp came into view, and as they all do, presented the opportunity to reflect and promise to be back again.

I certainly plan on my first trip down the Owyhee River not being my last and cannot wait to get back there again next Spring!

Originally Published: | Updated on



Nathaniel Wilson

Originally from South Carolina, Nate has gone on to guide trips on rivers from North Carolina to Alaska, and has for the past five summers, called Oregon's Rogue River home. In addition to summers spent on the river, Nate is a photographer and film maker, focused primarily on projects that advocate for the responsible management of public lands and waterways. Click on his profile picture to see more of his work.

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