Photo by Douglas Cruikshank

Highlights: The starting point is a confluence of three spectacular tributaries of the Owyhee River, the North, Middle and Main forks. Beyond here lies one of the top five hot springs in Oregon, where you sit beneath a waterfall right beside the lazy river.

Need to Know: The Three Forks hot springs and much of the riverbank leading upstream for the campground are on unmarked private land.  Although the owners have allowed hikers to visit the hot springs, there is no guarantee this will always be the case.  Please pack out what you pack in, observe fire restrictions, and respect the landowner’s rights.

The road down into Three Forks is best suited for four-wheel drive vehicles or vigilant Subaru drivers with clearance and wherewithal. This road is not good enough to travel on after even a quarter inch of rain: Do not leave the road if this is the case. The final 1.3 miles over the canyon rim is very steep.

This adventure requires route-finding and river crossings. When crossing a river, be sure to gauge the depth of the water and its swiftness. Do not cross if you’re uncomfortable or the water is above your knees. Be mindful of poison ivy in the river corridor. Temperatures on the hike can be extreme in the summer. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Occasionally you can encounter a rattlesnake in the Owyhee. After hearing the rattle, locate the snake. Step quickly in the opposite direction. If need be, use the walking stick or hiking poles you’ve brought to usher the snake away.

Getting There: The best route includes passing the Owyhee Canyon Overlook. From Jordan Valley, head west along Highway 95 for 16 miles to a sign for Three Forks and the Soldier Creek Watchable Wildlife Loop. Turn left and drive along a dirt road for more than 27 miles to a junction, where you’ll turn right. After a few miles, you will reach the edge of the Owyhee Canyon rim. Either drive or walk down the grade into Three Forks reach the boat ramp below.

The primary route into the hot springs is a 3-mile four-wheel drive route that is best enjoyed by walking to take in the dramatic Three Forks Dome and the jagged canyon below. From the camp spot, walk east along the road for a half mile and cross the bridge over the North Fork Owyhee. Walk another quarter mile, following the fork to the right, and ford the Middle Fork.

Continue uphill for three-quarters of a mile to junction and gate, head right toward the canyon. For the next 1.5 miles, the route will skirt the edge of the canyon rim with the river below and to your right. Descend into the canyon and head downriver, where you will see the springs on the other side. Be cautious in fording the river to the inviting pools. This hike makes a great loop if you want to float the final two miles down river to the boat launch.

If walking along a four-wheel-drive route isn’t your thing, consider walking up the canyon to the springs. From the boat ramp, ford the Middle Owyhee and walk through the towering canyon walls along an intermittent path. After about 2 miles you will see the cascading falls of the warm springs on your right.