South Fork of the Owyhee River

[Image: dirt road in desert leading to south fork of the owyhee river]

Access road to the South Fork of the Owyhee River put-in

The south fork of the Owyhee River is one of the most remote rafting trips in Idaho. The put-in for the float is near the Idaho-Nevada border southwest of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation. Like most desert rivers there is a short window in the spring when the river flows are suitable for rafting. The only problem is that's also the time when the rough, dirt roads of the desert are often impassable due to spring rains.

"We have a real conundrum on the river where a lot of times we'll have great flows but the roads are impassable; or we'll have the reverse condition where we have great road conditions but we're having a low flow year so we don't have enough water to really boat." --Judi Zuckert, BLM recreation specialist

[Image: people rafting the south fork of the owyhee]

Rafting the south fork of the Owyhee River

Those lucky enough to find a combination of passable roads and good flows often have the river all to themselves. While there are just enough rapids on the south fork to make the float interesting, the solitude and the scenery are the prime attraction for most visitors. Near the beginning of the trip the terrain is more open, but as you move down river the canyon narrows and the sheer walls are lined with spectacular volcanic formations.

[Image: remains of a rock cabin]

Remnants of an early homestead

"The scenery here is just spectacular. It's river canyons at their best. This whole area of Idaho — the canyons are absolutely amazing. You get these giant rhyolite walls and you get these beautiful spires . . . it's our secret Grand Canyon. If the river flows were more dependable and the access was easier then this place would probably be swamped . . . we're glad that it is just the way it is." --Grant Amaral, BLM river ranger

There are a number of locations where travelers can get off the water and hike up to the rim of the canyon for a spectacular overview of this remote desert country. In addition to the scenery rafters can also get a little taste of history. Remnants of early homesteads can be seen at several spots along the river.

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