“We’re super excited,” said Pete Wallstrom of Momentum River Expeditions in Ashland. “It’s one of my favorite rivers in the world, it’s just such a unique place and when it has a season like this, it’s magical.”
It’s been a snowy year all over the state, and the Owyhee watershed is among the most affected. The river’s watershed has a snowpack that’s currently 255% of normal. That could mean an extended season for people who want to raft the river with an outfitter or undertake their own trips.
Typically, rafting trips on the Owyhee take place in May or early June. Some lower water trips can take place deeper into the summer, depending on water levels.
“The outlook is that we’re all pretty excited that there’s significant snowpack, and we’re not experiencing an early melt, so the idea is that there would be water for an extended season, potentially,” said Kory Mahr, the operations manager at Orange Torpedo Trips in Merlin.
Around this time last year, snowpack on the Owyhee was 70% percent of normal. After the first melt, the water got very low, but the Owyhee received a late-season push and an influx of rainwater that kept rafts on the river for some companies.
“Last year the Owyhee actually had a later than normal season, which was a bit surprising,” Mahr said.
Many outfitters called it a season early and wish they hadn’t. This time, they’re hoping for a more reliable season. The big snowpack should mean a great season but Collier was sure to avoid any sweeping predictions.
“There’s way more snow,” Collier said. “It’s going to be one of the best years in decades, in terms of water, but it all depends on how it melts. It does not melt evenly or predictably. It melts when it wants to melt. It could not melt, and we’d have trips into July, but I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’ve tried to predict the Owyhee in the past, and every single time been completely wrong.”
There are two primary trips on the Owyhee that are run by outfitters, but also open to private kayak or rafting trips.
The cost of outfitter guided trips usually range from $1,100 to $2,000 per person, depending on what’s included. The price typically includes all meals and gear required for three to five nights.
Rome to Leslie Gulch
The classic Owyhee trip is five days and four nights through 67 miles of mostly class III whitewater.
In addition to the spectacular canyon scenery, there are Native American petroglyphs along the canyon walls and hot springs to stop and soak in. Most guided trips also offer hiking expeditions to huge sweeping viewpoints.
“It’s a place where you really feel as though you’re stepping back in time,” said Kelsey Helfrich of Helfrich River Outfitters. “There’s a ton of wildlife, thunder eggs, and arrowheads.”
There are lots of nice campsites, Helfrich said, including little beaches and protected spots along the river.
Three Forks to Rome
For those looking for a bigger whitewater challenge, the upper section of the river offers a class IV experience and tighter cliffs that jut 1,000 feet up from the river’s surface.
The trip is 37 miles and normally includes one portage at class V Windowmaker rapids.
“The arid countryside has little vegetation and no human inhabitants,” says the whitewater guidebook “Soggy Sneakers.” “There are no access roads or trails. The canyon has one of the densest rattlesnake populations in Oregon.”
This section is also commercially run, but it requires a little more water and it’s a bit harder to get on a trip.
For full details and a breakdown of the river, go to on.doi.gov/40olIQj or contact one of the many outfitters that work the river.
Charles Gearing is an outdoors journalism intern for the Statesman Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.