South Fork Owyhee River Wilderness Study Area

Services, Getting There:


Hikes & Trails:


Related Areas:

Owyhee Canyon WSA is immediately south


Atlas Information:

Wilderness Area StatusSoOwyhee13_04_BoyerW.JPG

Wilderness Study Area
Year Protected: 1980

Act or Law: 
Acres: 7842(in Nevada) 
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
Visit the website (will open a new window)

Area Description

This area is the Nevada portion of a 52,797-acre Wilderness Study Area shared across the border with Idaho.  In 2009, the Idaho portion of this WSA was designated Wilderness as part of the greater 267,000-acre Owyhee River Wilderness.  The South Fork of the Owyhee River is a welcome surprise in a region of Nevada otherwise devoid of topography and contrast.  While the surrounding sagebrush hills are unique and beautiful, the South Fork Owyhee River Canyon is a sudden and sharp change from the stark desert.  This region offers days of hiking and backpacking, beautiful camping, whitewater and river floating, and tons of seclusion. Within the canyon the silence is overwhelming, only broken by the occasional breeze or animal cry.  The canyon itself provides incredible isolation and solitude for the adventurous, and is truly a vast and majestic oasis.  Throughout most the year, the river is mostly slow moving.  Pools and swimming holes aboundt and provide excellent opportunities to cool off in the summer heat.  The lush environment of the canyon and soaring rock walls are truly outstanding.

Back from the rim, the canyon is almost invisible and may surprise a visitor with its yawning expanse. 

The canyon itself is capped by basalt cliffs, which occasionally have traces of intriguing columnar jointing.  In places ancient basalt flows create a stepped canyon with several cliff ledges, but in other parts the canyon is a wide valley.  This unique habitat is an ecosystem sheltered from the surrounding desert, and near the canyon bottom life is more diverse.  Willows, reeds and other greenery line the river, while fish can occasionally be seen beneath the water.  This river also provides drinking water, the lifeblood of many local animals.  From the river bottom the canyon walls stretch upward in a majestic display.  There are numerous alcoves and places to hike and explore.  During the spring months and monsoon events, the river provides recreation opportunities for whitewater enthusiasts as well.




Both rims are home to many antelope, wild horses, jackrabbits, and numerous birds of all varieties.  Mule deer graze through the sagebrush steppe along the canyon sides.  Although mostly unseen, signs of coyote, mountain lion, and other predators may be found throughout the region.  Many birds flock to the canyon cliffs, nesting and hunting within the canyon confines.  The sage land has also been noted as an excellent habitat for birds including sage grouse, and indeed leks have been observed here in the past.