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Three Forks (Owyhee River) Oregon

Without a doubt, Three Forks in southeastern Oregon is the finest hot spring I have ever visited. It is not close to anywhere, so it isn't a trip to take on a whim. Three forks of the Owyhee River flow together about 20 miles south of US hiway 95. Even without the presence of the hot springs, this area is worth a trip. It's simply beautiful! I was there at the beginning of September a few years ago--a good time, since the river was low and it's necessary to ford the river to get to the best springs.

Sunrise at the BLM campground

View downstream Owyhee River

Access to Three Forks is by a BLM road (or ruts, since the "four wheelers" don't let anything stop them, and in the rainy season they destroy the road for anyone else) from milepost 36 about 30 miles east of Burns Junction on Hiway 95. It's a long drive on the dusty road, but eventually you come to the lip of the canyon overlooking the Owyhee. The view is spectacular and the thought of driving down to the river terrifying. But if your car has reasonable clearance, you can make it. At the bottom is BLM camp area with outhouses but no water.

I arrived on a Saturday evening, and there were no other people at the site. I found a nice spot close to the river and pitched my tent. It was dark before I had dinner prepared. The full moon came over the ridge, illuminating the cliffs and river. I could hear the trout jumping at the night bugs through most of the night. Dawn came with the sun casting a golden light on the tops of the red cliffs across the river, rapidly creeping down until the whole river was flooded with light.

A View of Warm Springs Canyon from across the river

A flock of honking geese cruising ten feet above the river flew past heading south for the winter. That reminded me it was time for me to start out for the hot springs.

The hot springs themselves are a couple miles from the campground. It is possible for a very high clearance vehicle to drive the two miles, but it is a pleasant hike through some wonderful country. I found volcanic glass stones on the walk. Always be careful of rattlesnakes, however.

After about two miles of hiking you will come over a saddle of the hills and see the Owyhee River, a gorgeous view. The road leads down to the river and you will pass at least one soaking pool beside the road. Nice soak, great temperature, perfect view, but the best pools are on the other side of the river. You can see the canyon where these springs arise and that is your goal. Once you get down to the water you ford the river--quite easy when the water level is low. I wouldn't want to consider it at high water.

Canyon view from the Hot Springs

Warm Springs Canyon is on the left

Soaking in one pool, looking at the cascading hot water from higher pools

I spent several hours soaking and investigating the springs. The canyon leads back into the desert for 100 yards or more, with hot water seeping out the sides and entering the growing steam of hot water, tumbling into pools and finally over the edge and down 30 feet or so into the Owyhee River.

Some of the final pools are five feet deep with torrents of water falling into them, churning and aerating the pool. It was a singular and exhilarating experience.

As I was crossing the river to leave, a older couple arrived in their Wagoneer to savor the springs.

One caution: the far side of the river is private land, not BLM. There is even a vestige of an old road running high up along the side of the river, which you can see in the photo above. It appears that the landowner is not attempting to prevent access to the hot springs.