Owyhee River Wilderness
Guide

Introduction

The Owyhee River Wilderness is a quarter of a million-acre BLM managed property located south of the city of Bruneau in Idaho. The landscape of the area is characterized by immense canyons carved over millennia by the force of the swift-flowing Owyhee River. It's a harsh and sparsely vegetated wilderness. Only a light covering of sagebrush exists on the high desert plateaus from which jagged rocks rise like the towering ramparts of a dark and gothic fortress. Designated in 2009, the Owyhee River Wilderness is the second largest BLM wilderness in the US that isn't encompassed by a state park or national forest. It is one of the six Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness Areas, which also includes the Bruneau-Jarbridge Rivers Wilderness and the Big Jacks Creek Wilderness.

The Owyhee River Wilderness is remote from any urbanization and challenging to access but provides endless opportunities for outback hiking in complete solitude over practically unknown terrains. The whitewater of the Owyhee River is one of the wilderness's main attractions, and rafters in search of a serious challenge are among the top visitors to these BLM lands. The waters of the river have a decent population of trout. It's a good spot for anglers who prefer to fish in untamed locations with little competition. There's plenty of wildlife that has made the wilderness home, so wildlife spotters or hunters who enjoy a primitive edge to their pastimes can trek through the wilderness in search of a variety of species of mammals, including bobcats, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope.

Vehicles are not allowed inside the boundaries of the Owyhee River Wilderness, and getting to the edges is difficult even in a four by four vehicle. There are no BLM or Corps campgrounds in the near vicinity. The closest campsite to the wilderness for RVs is at a BLM campground in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCA on the shores of the CJ Strike Reservoir or in the Bruneau Dunes State Park both of which are around 100 miles away.

RV Rentals in Owyhee River Wilderness

Transportation

Driving

When it comes to getting to the Owyhee River Wilderness, there are not a lot of options. You will need to pitch your tent or camp in your RV at your campground of choice and then make your way to the wilderness area in a vehicle that can cope with the poor access road conditions. Expect to be on the road for around three hours at least before you even catch sight of the wilderness. It's a long trip, there and back, to make it in one day so consider doing some primitive camping for the night at Owyhee River Wilderness. Spend your time exploring and enjoy stargazing in the evening as there's no light pollution to spoil the clarity of the night skies.

No matter how you get to the Owyhee River Wilderness or from whichever direction you're arriving from, just accept that you'll be spending a large amount of time traveling. If you're heading to the wilderness after RV camping in the Sawtooth National Forest for a few days, just getting to Bruneau Dunes State Park will take you around three hours. If you've been visiting the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trail Conservation Area, once you hit the I 80 in Winnemucca, you'll have about five hours of motoring left to go.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Owyhee River Wilderness

Campsites in Owyhee River Wilderness

Reservations camping

Bruneau Dunes State Park

The campground in the Bruneau Dunes State Park is one of the closest campgrounds to the Owyhee River Wilderness that is suitable for RVs. The campground has 82 campsites with water and electricity hook-ups and 35 standard non-electric sites.

The campground, which is open all year round, can accommodate RVs up to 50 feet in length. It is ADA accessible and both pet and equestrian-friendly. The campground has good facilities which include a dump station, horse corrals and stalls, an auditorium, and an information center. The site is located near a fishing lake, and there is a boat launch for easy access to the water.

First-come first-served

Cove Recreation Site

The Cove Recreation Site is a BLM managed campground in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCA. The campground is located on the shore of the CJ Strike Reservoir and operates on a first-come-first-served basis with the relevant fees being payable one hour after arrival.

The campsites are furnished with picnic tables and fire rings, although there are no utility hook-ups. The only on-site amenities are a dump station, boat ramp, and a small fishing pier. All campers traveling to the Cove Recreation Site campground must use the designated roadways as no cross-country driving is permitted in the park.

Seasonal activities in Owyhee River Wilderness

In-Season

Hiking

Hiking in the Owyhee River Wilderness, while being rewarding, is a strenuous trek over rocky terrains that will have you scrambling in places. If you're planning a day hike through the wilderness, unless you're backpacking with camping equipment, you'll need to keep track of how far you go, so you have time to retrace your steps before night sets in.
There are no defined trails in the wilderness, so being able to use a compass is a major advantage to find your way back to your starting point.

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater rafting in the Owyhee River Wilderness is not a one-day activity. You'll need to go prepared to spend at least one night, if not more, primitive camping as you navigate different stretches of the river. Just getting your equipment down to the river is a significant accomplishment.

The Owyhee River is a challenging ride with lots of twists and turns, class III rapids, and some calmer areas where it's possible to head to shore for a rest or to camp. If going it alone sounds too adventurous for you, there are companies in Rome, Oregon that organize five-day professionally guided whitewater rafting tours on the lower Owyhee River.

Wildlife Viewing

While the Owyhee River Wilderness might superficially appear uninhabited, it's a wilderness area with tons of plant and animal life. Bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, cougars, and bobcats can be seen high up on the ledges of the canyon walls while coyotes, elk, and mule deer can be spotted in the riparian areas by the river.

If you stay the night, several nocturnal species like bats and badgers might make an appearance too. Birdlife varies between cliff-nesting raptors and shorebirds, as well as many smaller species, including yellow-billed cuckoos.

Silver City Historic Mining Town

Discover all about Idaho's gold and silver mining history by visiting the Silver City Historic Mining Town. While the town is abandoned and classified as a ghost town with 75 empty buildings dating back to the late 19th century, it's cared for by the BLM, and there are a few places open for business.

Explore the town then stop off at the hundred-year-old, partly restored, Idaho Hotel. Visit the small museum and the coffee shop with a porch overlooking the Owyhee Mountains.

Visit Bruneau Dunes

If you've chosen to RV camp in Bruneau when visiting the Owyhee River Wilderness, you won't want to miss seeing the tallest sand dune in the USA. The colossal dune is almost five hundred feet high and is located in the Bruneau Dunes State Park.

If you didn't brave the raging waters of the Owyhee River on a raft, you can have an exciting adventure on dry land by sandboarding down the dune. Sandboards can be rented for the occasion from the park's visitor center.

Fishing

The fast-flowing waters of the Owyhee River mean it's the ideal habitat for several species of trout. The most common catch is brown trout. The best results are achieved by anglers who walk and wade while fly fishing. The trout tend to be of decent size, so you lucky visitors may land a fish measuring twenty-inches or more. If trout fishing isn't your thing, the slower moving areas of the river are great spots for catching bass.

Find the perfect campsite.