DescriptionHells Canyon National Recreation Area is reached via SRs 82 and 86 in northeastern Oregon and US 95 in western Idaho. The 652,977-acre area straddles the Snake River Canyon and encompasses parts of national forests in both states.
Confined within steep, eroded black basalt walls, the surging Snake River has carved North America's deepest river gorge, measuring 7,913 feet from He Devil Mountain to Granite Creek below. White-water rapids alternating with deep pools characterize this 72-mile free-flowing portion of the Snake River as it races north to meet the Columbia River.
The varied elevations of Hells Canyon support mixed plant communities sheltering such wildlife as bears, bobcats, bighorn sheep, cougars, elk, mule deer, mountain goats and many smaller birds, mammals and reptiles. Sturgeon, reputedly growing up to 11 feet long, inhabit the Snake River, sharing it with bass, catfish, salmon, steelhead trout and rainbow trout.
From the desertlike canyon floor to the alpine lakes of the Seven Devils region, the area presents a variety of recreational opportunities, including boating, float trips and backpacking. From Pittsburg Landing, the Kirkwood Historic Ranch and Museum, once the home of Idaho governor and U.S. senator Len B. Jordan, is accessible by powerboat, float boat or pack trail.
The Rapid River originates in the Seven Devils Mountains and eventually joins the Little Salmon River. The forks of the Rapid River provide quality water for raising chinook salmon and, therefore, house the Rapid River Fish Hatchery.
The 214,944-acre Hells Canyon Wilderness, with its extensive trail system, protects a large portion of the canyon along the Oregon-Idaho border. If you plan to fish the lakes and the Snake River shoreline, you must acquire the appropriate state licenses; both Oregon and Idaho licenses are valid for boat fishing on the river.
Scenic Hells Canyon All American Road/SR 86 is a series of routes to and through the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. On the Oregon side the best route is a two-lane paved loop that originates in Baker City. From Baker City follow SR 86 to Richland for approximately 41 miles. From Richland continue on SR 86 north for 11 miles to Halfway. From Halfway follow SR 86 for 20 miles to Oxbow. Nine miles north off Halfway, SR 86 will intersect with FR 39N. Take FR 39N through the heart of the Wallowa Mountains, high mountain country and through the town of Joseph to Enterprise. One mile west of Enterprise on SR 82 is the Wallowa Mountain Visitor Center. Continue along SR 82 west for approximately 64 miles to arrive back on I-84 at La Grande. The highest elevation portions of FR 39 are closed in winter. The entire loop will take approximately 5 hours.
Another possible route from the Oregon side to the recreation area is via SR 82 to Enterprise and Joseph. From Joseph it is possible to go to Hat Point, a 6,982-foot ridge overlooking Hells Canyon, via Imnaha. The route to Hat Point, open summer through early fall, follows FR 4240, a gravel, narrow road with steep grades.
Another route from Imnaha, FR 3955, parallels the Imnaha River as it meanders through rims and benches similar to those along the Snake River. This route connects with the Wallowa Mountain Loop (FR 39), which leads back to Joseph or Halfway. FR 3955 and FR 39 are maintained for cars and trailers. FR 39 can be followed east to FR 3965, which leads to the Hells Canyon overlook. With an elevation of 6,000 feet, the overlook provides a spectacular view of the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon and Idaho. These roads are closed in winter.
Buckhorn Springs, a scenic area overlooking the Imnaha drainage, can be reached from FR 46 off SR 3, a mostly gravel logging road.
For maps and brochures of different drives contact the Baker County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, 490 Campbell St., Baker City, OR 97814; phone (541) 523-5855.
On the Idaho side there are two routes to the canyon. From Cambridge, SR 71 runs 29 miles northwest to Oxbow, Ore., crossing the Snake River near Brownlee Dam. It crosses back into Idaho at Oxbow, then follows the river north to Hells Canyon Dam. The total distance is about 55 miles. The other access point is Pittsburg Landing, 17 miles west of US 95 at White Bird via gravel FR 493. The drive from White Bird to Hells Canyon takes about 45 minutes.
Note: The majority of the Idaho side of the canyon is in the Mountain Time Zone; White Bird, Idaho, and the Oregon side of the canyon observe Pacific Time. It is advisable to check with the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area regarding road conditions and construction. Some roads are gravel and caution should be exercised. Phone (541) 426-5546.
More than 30 outfitters provide float and jet boat trips down the Snake River from Hells Canyon Dam and jet boat trips upstream from Lewiston and White Bird, Idaho, and from Asotin and Clarkston, Wash. For a list of local outfitters contact the Supervisor, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, 2535 Riverside Dr., P.O. Box 699, Clarkston, WA 99403; phone (509) 758-0616, or (509) 758-0270 for powerboat reservations.
Visitor InfoVisit Lewis Clark Valley 847 Port Way CLARKSTON, WA 99403. Phone:(509)758-7489 or (877)774-7248
Things to SeeBeamers Hells Canyon Tours
North America's deepest river gorge is the standout of this ruggedly scenic wilderness region in northeastern Oregon and western Idaho.