Updated: Jan 13
Hugging the border of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho, is a rugged and unforgiving land known as the Owyhee Canyonlands. A trip through the Owyhee will quickly shed light as to why this corner of the Pacific Northwest is so beloved by locals.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 218 miles, 4 - 6 days
Season: Year round (best to avoid after heavy rain or snow), but the shoulder seasons of spring and fall provide the best weather. Summer can bring triple digit heat.
Avg Technical Rating: 2
Peak Technical Rating: 4
Typical Terrain: Graded dirt and gravel roads along with some some bumpier doubletracks.
Recommended Vehicle: Subaru/AWD w/ all terrain tires. Recommended Gear: n/a
Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage this route. If you do encounter an impassible obstacle or washout, most places in the Owyhee have numerous roads/trails for reroutes.
Alternative Routes: Yes! See below. Permits: n/a
Adventure Badge: Get your Alvord Desert adventure badge at our online store.
A tributary of the famed Snake River, the Owyhee River cuts through the rugged basalt canyons and cliffs of eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. An area that while may not be relatively known outside of the Pacific Northwest, it tends to hold a special place in the heart of those that have explored the Owyhee Canyonlands. With it's unique geological formations, rugged red-rock canyons, and rolling hills, the Owyhee Canyonlands form one of the last great unprotected wildernesses in the contiguous United States. Organizations like Wild Owyhee are actively pushing for the government to protect this beloved land from industry and exploitation. Even with the current state of minimal protection, the Owyhees are an expansive wilderness filled with hundreds of miles of dirt roads, hiking trails, and of course the Owyhee River (let's not forget about the trout fishing and other aquatic activities like kayaking).
The area was named after 3 fur trappers that went missing in the early 1800s, all 3 of which were native Hawaiians. They were to be memorialized by naming the waterway the Hawaii River, but the early spelling of "Owyhee" stuck, and so the area came to be known as Owyhee Canyonlands
We begin our adventure at Hwy 201 (Succor Creek Highway). For the next 26 miles, you'll follow the pavement of Lake Owyhee Road that parallels the Owyhee River. Along the way you'll pass various fishing spots and the Lake Owyhee dam. This portion of the route also sees the most traffic as it leads to the popular McCormack Campground, perhaps the most popular campground in the greater Owyhee Canyonlands. If you're looking for a more rugged and wild camping experience, keep moving along! We'll swing a left onto the wide graded dirt of Fisherman Road and quickly ascend the surrounding hills. Don't forget to check out the views behind you as you climb higher up. Notice how the vast rolling hills are broken up by the occasional butte or craggy canyons and gorges-- that'll be a constant theme during your travels through the Owyhees.
Swing a left onto Camp Kettle Creek Road and make your way to Devil's Gate (DP4). Devil's Gate is the perfect embodiment of the Owyhees. A massive craggy butte with an equally giant slot splitting the butte in half juts out from the grassy rolling hills. Devil's Gate is really a site to see, especially if you can catch it in the right conditions-- like at dusk or in the fog. From Devil's Gate, the route descends into the Succor Creek drainage. As you make your way south, the canyon begins to grow, and the walls on the west side begin to extend ever higher into the sky. There are numerous short hiking trails around the campground, many of which lead into the surrounding bluffs. If you're lucky, you might find a cave or two to hid out in! Succor Creek also provides ample water for cooling off during the warmer months. The cliffs and rock formations are a greater primer for what's to come as you make your way west back towards the Owyhee River.