The Owyhee River

The Owyhee River is a 280-mile long tributary of the Snake River, carving a deep canyon as it runs. Surprising to some newcomers, the river flows south to north from Nevada, through Idaho, and into Southeastern Oregon before meandering back towards the Snake River. On October 19, 1984, 120 miles of the Owyhee was designated to be protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. The stretch where we go rafting on the Lower Owyhee is 65 miles between Rome, Oregon, and the Birch Creek Ranch historic site. There will be plenty of calm stretches to soak in the scenery, as well as several big water, Class III-IV rapids to keep things exciting.

The Owyhee River

Rafters taking their time to appreciate the incredible scenery on the Owyhee River

The Name Owyhee

According to many stories, the name “Owyhee” is an early spelling of Hawaii. The area and river were named after the Owyhee’s, natives of Hawaii, who traveled to the area as part of Donald McKenzie’s fur-trapping expedition of 1819. The men were sent out trapping and did not return. McKenzie investigated and found one man murdered in camp, it is assumed by native Americans, with no sign of the others.

The Owyhee River Chalk Basin

Passing by Lambert’s Dome

Owyhee River Rapids

The two stand-out white water rapids on the run are Whistling Bird and Montgomery. Whistling Bird has a cobble bar on river left pushed river to the right. The expert raft guides have to follow the water flow and avoid the rock slab on the right. Montgomery, the most challenging rapid on the Owyhee River trip, is formed by the river constricting and dropping into a long boulder garden, which forces guides to navigate between rocks to get through the rapid. The only way to truly experience the beauty of this river is to join us on a 5-day guided rafting adventure.

Rowing the Owyhee River

Wet Planet Guide Jeremy rows through the rapids on the Owyhee River

The Owyhee River Geology

The spectacular Owyhee River Canyon shows off 14 million years of exciting geological history. The one thousand-foot walls towering around you as you float down the river were formed from massive volcanic events. These eruptions occurred 17 to 15 million years ago, and the explosive eruptions combined with glacial rivers slowly carved out the canyon for the last two million years. The Owyhee River geology truly features some of the most stunning sights that you can see anywhere in the west.

The Owyhee River Canyon

A Wet Planet trip rows through a 17 million year-old rhyolite canyon on the Owyhee River.

Wildlife in the Owyhee River Canyon

The Owyhee Canyonlands is home to more than 200 wildlife species. There are golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, prairie falcons and swallows that nest all along the cliff faces. Antelope, the largest herd of California bighorn sheep in the nation, and mule deer gallop around the sagebrush plateaus. One of our favorite things about being in these desert canyons is the song of the canyon wren bouncing off the canyon walls while the sun shines throughout the morning.

Owyhee Sage Grouse

Photo of a sage-grouse by Kevin Smith for

To experience all the Owyhee River has to offer, join Wet Planet on a 5-day Owyhee River rafting trip this May! For more information and availability, click here.

Information in this article is from our expert Owyhee River guides, American Whitewater,, and the Bureau of Land Management Owyhee, Bruneau, and Jarbridge Rivers Boating Guide.

Author Mikey Goyette leads Wet Planet’s Marketing team. When he’s not in the office, you can find him in his kayak on the river, or on the river bank playing Spike Ball.

Wet Planet marketing manager Mikey Goyette in the Grand Canyon

Mikey relaxing on a day hike in the Grand Canyon.