Owyhee Canyon Wilderness Study Area

Services, Getting There:


Hikes & Trails:


Related Areas:

South Fork Owyhee River WSA is immediately north


Atlas Information:

Wilderness Area StatusOwyheeCanyonWSA13_02_MooreS.JPG

Wilderness Study Area
Year Designated:

Act or Law:
Acres: 21875
State Region: Northeast Nevada
County Regions: Elko   


Managing Agency: Bureau of Land Management
Local District: Elko Field Office
Contact Info: (775) 753-0200
3900 East Idaho Street  Elko, NV89801
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Area Description

The Owyhee Canyon Wilderness Study Area is a land of desert canyon, high plateau and whitewater. The western part of this WSA is gently-rolling country blanketed with sagebrush, bitterbrush and bunchgrass. The eastern third is a basin cut by over 20 miles of 100-to-300 foot deep canyons, including 18 miles of the South Fork Owyhee River. Walls of the narrow, meandering canyons are mostly vertical. Canyon depth creates a tremendous sense of seclusion from the rest of the world.

Riparian areas support narrow bands of lush grasses, rushes and sedges.

The scenic landforms and diversity attract hunters, fishers and campers. River running on the South Fork Owyhee River is exceptional. Thisr WSA encompasses many acres of beautiful sage steppe and canyon lands.  This region is characterized by rolling sagebrush and bunchgrass hills, cut deeply by the South Fork Owyhee River.  Here a spectacular canyon, capped by basalt cliffs, yawns into the earth.  The WSA includes both land on the canyon rim and within, providing adequate space for isolation and a true feeling of remoteness. 

For the majority of its stretch, the canyon drops steeply with an inner canyon and outer rim.  Peering in from the rim, one sees a vast expanse waiting to be explored.  The river itself flows into and out of small gorges and meanders peacefully through wide open valleys.  Occasional oxbow lake remnants also hint towards its lazy nature.  Birds can be seen soaring over the canyon walls, and ample cliff space provides many excellent nesting areas.  The water itself is a welcome escape from the otherwise dry desert, and this oasis also provides habitat for many antelope, mule deer, and other grazing animals.  From high points on the plateau, thousands of square miles of open space - stretching from the Steens Mountains in Oregon to Juniper Mountain in Idaho to the Bull Run Mountains in Nevada - are visible. These vast, open spaces instill a sense of complete separation from civilization.

The combination of rushing water, colorful sheer cliffs, grassy talus slopes and blue sky creates a dramatic stark beauty that totally envelops the visitor. In places, red brown cliffs drop hundreds of feet to the water. Brilliant green, yellow and orange microflora tint the fractured, blocky, rock monoliths. Eroded spires frequently top the monoliths. Near the base of the cliffs, water sometimes seeps from fractures to nourish small, lush, clinging, deep green plant communities. The sheer rock walls often give way to steep slopes covered with mosaics of red rock rubble and subdued green and yellow vegetation.



Wildlife includes mule deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, river otter, beaver, raptors, waterfowl, chukar and other birds, as well as redband trout. California bighorn sheep may move into the area from the adjoining South Fork Owyhee River WSA.