The Owyhee River (pronounced Oh-WAH-hee, similar to Hawaii) in eastern Oregon near the Idaho border is known as the “Loneliest River in America.” Much of its 346 miles truly flows through the middle of nowhere, but several nice campgrounds are actually easy to reach if a more remote location is what you’re looking for. And all the better if you have a boat or enjoy river rafting. The fishing is usually good, too, especially for largemouth bass and black crappie. The wildlife in this area is the elusive kind— bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and golden eagles.
The Owyhee was named for three Hawaiian trappers who were sent in 1819 by a fur trading company to explore the uncharted waterway. Unfortunately, the men were never seen again, but others discovered this unique area soon thereafter and put it on the map. The headwaters begin in Northern Nevada. It is one of the few rivers that wind north instead of south to its confluence with the Snake River. If you like dramatic desert canyon scenery, you and your camera won’t be disappointed here. The surrounding geography— vertical walls in some places are over 1,000 feet deep, plus rock spires, needles, and arches— is similar to that found in Bryce and Zion National Parks.
The twisty Owyhee River has been manipulated by the Owyhee Dam, which created 53-mile-long Lake Owyhee. Along the eastern shore is where you’ll find Lake Owyhee State Park. The road to the campgrounds is paved, but also narrow and moderately steep in some spots with sharp corners. Drive cautiously, especially when driving a big rig or towing.
About 12 miles below Owyhee Dam, you can take a soak at the Snively Hot Springs Recreation site. The hot spring flows right into the Owyhee River. A “pool” created by a ring of rocks warns you where to step lightly— the water is really hot! This BLM day use site is quite picturesque, and quite popular, so you’re not likely to be alone here for long.
IF YOU GO
Directions to Lake Owyhee State Park (33 miles southwest of Nyssa): From Highway 201, turn west at Owyhee Junction onto Owyhee Ave. for 5 miles, then turn south (left) onto Owyhee Dam Cutoff Rd for 22 miles to the park.
- Seasonal camping is available April 15 – October 31. Campsites are reservable by phone at (800) 452-5687, and are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Electrical/water hookup is $20 per site; tent sites are $17.
- McCormack campground has 31 electric and 8 tent sites, showers, a boat ramp, tepees, a wastewater dump station, and more.
- Indian Creek campground has 26 electric sites, 9 primitive tent sites and a boat ramp.
- Gordon Gulch day-use area has a boat ramp and a large, shaded picnic area.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com