Rafting Oregon’s Lower Owyhee River I 14-Apr-2019


The Owyhee River and its tributaries incise dramatic and awe-inspiring canyons in the sagebrush and grass-covered plains of northeastern Nevada, southwestern Idaho, and southeastern Oregon. These expansive plains and deep canyons represent some of the most stunningly scenic terrain on offer in Oregon.

The Owyhee River and its major tributaries (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite their astounding beauty, the Owyhee River and its canyonlands are still not easy places to visit. They lie in an area of the state that is remote, sparsely populated, and difficult to access. Towns, services (gas, food, lodging), paved roads, campgrounds, and hiking trails are few and far between out here. But we really, really wanted to experience this area. So, after giving these logistics some thought, we decided to make our initial foray into this area via a raft trip (no surprise here) on the Lower Owyhee River, from a put-in at Rome, Oregon to a take-out at Birch Creek. A major caveat here is that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended float levels for this segment of the river are between 800 and 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). These levels are typically reached in April and May but not necessarily every year (our planned 2018 trip here was cancelled due to low water). Another caveat is that the weather during these months can be vary quickly between sunny and snowing.

Keeping these two caveats in mind, we booked a trip for early April with Momentum River Expeditions out of Ashland, Oregon. We chose Momentum because they have an excellent reputation, were offering one of the earliest trips of the season (we weren’t going to miss the optimal float levels this year!), and we’d crossed paths with them last year on the Alsek River. Our five professional and personable guides (Andy (trip leader), Kaity, Shana, Mike, and Rob) worked really hard – initially in less than optimal weather – to give us an AWESOME experience in a truly wonderful part of Oregon. 😀 The food was an excellent mix of vegetarian and meaty choices. These factors, along with a very congenial group of fellow rafters, made this the unforgettable experience we’d hoped for.

Our guides (L-R): Shana, Mike, Andy, Rob, and Kaity

Day 1: Rome Put-in to Lower Fletcher Camp (3,320 cfs)

After driving up the day before, we met our shuttle in Boise for the ride to the put-in at Rome, Oregon. It had rained overnight and we started out under leaden, but dry, skies. The put-in was busy with private and guided trips anxious not to miss their chance to float the lower river with optimal flows.

The put-in at Rome was busy under heavy skies
The LovedOne geared-up and ready to go

We got on the water before noon, just in time for it to start raining. 😟 We stopped just past Owyhee Crossing [at River Mile (RM) 4, with the put-in being 0] for lunch under a tarp (and flashbacks to our last days on the Alsek River).

Passing under the Highway 95 bridge
Approaching Owyhee Crossing
Our lunch stop below Owyhee Crossing
The LovedOne attempts to enjoy yet another meal under a tarp

After lunch we left the flat ranch lands below Rome and floated through the towering walls of Sweetwater Canyon, the grandeur of which was diminished just a little by the gloom and the rain.

Sweetwater Canyon (with rain drops on the lens)

It was still raining when we pulled into our first camp at Lower Fletcher [RM 9.2]. One thing that Momentum does, if you use one of their tents, is put it up for you (you take it down). While this up service was skating perilously close to “glamping,” 🙄 it was, nonetheless, a welcome relief not to have to struggle with a tent in the rain. After dinner under a tarp near a warm fire, we settled in our dry tent to fall asleep to the gentle pattering of raindrops. o_O

Waiting out the rain…

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