North Fork Owyhee River Hike

Hike Rating: Difficult
Hike Length: 3.5 miles roundtrip (variable)
Elevation Loss: 430’
Trailhead Elevation: 4,910’
Best Season: September, when days are cooler
                         and the river level is lower
Driving Access: High-clearance vehicle

Plus Points
• A short, demanding hike down into a pristine river canyon with 300'-high basalt cliffs
• The North Fork Owyhee is designated as a Wild-and-Scenic River (in Oregon)
• Beautiful willow-lined stream, still flowing in late summer over water-worn rocks
• Old growth juniper trees, some 3-4' thick, line the narrow river terraces
• Golden eagles, prairie falcons and red-tailed hawks soar overhead
• With no cows, the canyon has a wilderness feel and a sense of seclusion

Minus Points
• The hike down through the rim is challenging and requires basic route-finding skills
• No trail in the canyon, so one has to scramble over rocks and through thickets
• Rattlesnakes are a possibility throughout the summer, so caution is advised

Download (PDF, 637 KB): Photos of North Owyhee River Hike
Download (PDF, 430 KB): Topo Map for North Owyhee River Hike
Download (PDF, 493 KB): Road Map for North Owyhee River Hike
Download (PDF, 586 KB): Road Map to North Fork Campground

Trail Notes
Map of North Fork Owyhee River Hike
From the trailhead in Idaho, about 0.3 miles west of a small stock reservoir, the hike begins north across the sage scrub toward an obvious draw with scattered juniper trees. The route then follows down the south side of this draw as it leads into the North Fork Owyhee canyon. Once under the rimrock, where the draw starts to plunge steeply into the canyon, look for a prominent cow trail contouring west around the hillside. The idea is to contour west for about 100 yards away from the draw (which is now a steep, impassable rock-filled canyon) onto a bunchgrass and juniper-covered slope of the main canyon. The route then switchbacks down this steep slope, following game trails between the junipers to the river below.

Once at the river, the best route all of the way downstream is along the north bank — so one needs to ford the stream here (a step-over creek by late summer) and reach the flat river terrace on the north bank. For the next mile downstream, the easiest hiking is generally through the juniper trees, which grow just below the boulder talus fields sloping off the rim but above the willow thickets at streamside.

At times the boulder fields will force one to hike in the streambed, or even to cross over to the south bank in one section just west of the state line. There is no set destination to this hike, but after a mile downstream, in Oregon, one comes to flat river terraces covered with big junipers, which can make a good lunch spot. Downriver from these flats, the boulder fields almost fill the canyon and the hiking becomes slow and tedious.

Road to Trailhead
From the North Fork Campground, drive about 4.0 miles south on the State Line Road (also known as the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway) to where a dirt road angles off to the west. If dry and hard, turn onto this dirt road and drive about 1.9 miles west, through a wire gate (leave it as you find it), to a small stock reservoir. Drive around the south side of the reservoir, past a fork to the left, for about 0.3 miles northwest to where the road starts bending more westerly and you can see a juniper-filled draw off to the north. Park anywhere off the road here in the sagebrush scrub.

The dirt road to the trailhead is passable only when it's dry and only by a high-clearance vehicle. The roadbed is generally flat and smooth, but there are a few rocky and rutted sections where high-clearance is highly recommended.

Camping Options
The only developed campground in the area is the North Fork Campground, managed by the BLM. It's located about 30 driving miles south of Jordan Valley on the State Line Road (also known as the Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway) and about 6 driving miles from the trailhead. This is a scenic campground on the North Fork Owyhee River, nestled next to the stream below tall rock pinnacles and rims. There are 7 free camp sites here that can accommodate anything from small tents to large RVs. Each site has a concrete pad with a picnic table, a fire ring and a cooking grill. The campground also offers vault toilets, but no drinking water.

Agency Contact: Vale BLM District, (541) 473-3144

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to contact local federal land agencies to inquire about current conditions before traveling.

Page last updated: 1/17/13